By Phila Munn – Oxbow, Sask.
We were a very poor and unhappy family by the Christmas of 1960. Mum and us kids were on our own. I was the eldest at 12, then my brother, 7, sister, 5, and baby brother, 2.
We were on welfare and mum was a great manager of money. We always had enough to eat, to buy wood and coal, and pay rent on the house. Our clothes were mostly hand-me-downs, even mum’s. There wasn’t anything left over for extras like Christmas presents though.
We always got a parcel at Christmas from nana and grandad in England, and this year we did too. Mum would not pretend that Santa had sent that parcel. She wanted us kids to know her parents and family cared about us, and rightly so. It was only 14 years after the war, and England’s people were still getting back on their feet and didn’t have much either.
“The Kids” as mum and I always called my younger brothers and sister knew there was a parcel from England, but they didn’t know that Santa may not come that year. Mum and I knew though, and we were devastated.
A delightful surprise
During the time leading up to Christmas, we’d received some food gifts for the whole family. The Royal Canadian Legion gave us a turkey and soda pop. I was so excited about that pop! We never got pop, or hard candies, nuts, or Christmas oranges.
I belonged to The Canadian Girls in Training (CGIT). We’d gathered at the United Church and made baskets of homemade candy and delivered them to people who wouldn’t have much for Christmas. Imagine my surprised delight to find a basket had been delivered to us when I got home!
We knew the Anglican Church was to send us a parcel for Christmas, but when Christmas Eve morning arrived and there was no parcel, mum and I were stressed and panicky. We told each other things would work out, then worried about the kids being so disappointed Christmas morning.
The parcel came in that afternoon. We managed to get it home from the post office and hidden before any of the kids saw it. Mum and I were giddy with relief and anticipation of the contents of that parcel.
One song each
Mum always read the kids bedtime stories and this night was no exception. Across the Ribbon of Steel for my oldest brother, Cinderella for my sister, and Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn for the youngest.
Following this, as a rule, I’d sit on the stairs going up to the second floor and sing to the kids until mum got exasperated thinking she was never going to get a minute to herself and she put an end to the concert!
This Christmas Eve, however, I wasn’t wanting to sing much. They each got one song and were told to get to sleep so Santa would come. Finally, they were sleeping so mum and I got to open the parcel.
In that parcel was the most beautiful baby doll wearing a red corduroy coat and bonnet with white lace trim and white booties. I was so excited, but of course, it wasn’t for me. My sister was so tickled with that doll. She named her Peggy and kept her to pass on down to her own daughter many years later. The boys got “boy” toys and I got a sweater and a necklace.
I’ll never forget how thankful mum and I were that the kids got gifts that year and we didn’t have to tell them Santa didn’t come.