Past, Present & Beyond – Christmases Past – Pt. 1: At last, Old Man Winter’s here

Barbara Roden writes about life in this area from the early days. In this case, it's Christmas in the later part of the 1920s.

It’s a somewhat sad fact that The Journal office does not possess a complete run of the paper. There are bound volumes of the paper from 1979 to 2013 on display (and they make fascinating reading), but in order to see every issue one must visit the Museum. There are,  however – for reasons unknown – a number of isolated volumes of the paper in the back room, dating as far back as 1910 and as recently as 1972. These, too, are fascinating to dip into, so the other day I closed my eyes and picked a volume at random. My hand fell on 1928, and I pulled it off the shelf and turned to the November and December issues, to see what Ashcroft and area was doing during that long-ago Christmas season. What I found was what I find so often, when looking through old issues of the paper: that there is nothing new under the sun, and many connections between the present and the past.

Festive teas and bazaars, for example, are still a staple of the holiday festivities in our area. This fine tradition was in full swing in 1928; The Journal reported that the St. Alban’s Church Bazaar in Ashcroft was “most successful, both socially and financially”. The bazaar was hosted in the Community Hall by the St. Alban’s Church Women’s Auxiliary, and attendees came from as far afield as Clinton and points north. Tables were devoted to such items as fancy work, candy and flowers, home cooking, candles, and towels. A week later the Clinton Bazaar was equally successful. Leonard McCarty won an embroidered bedspread in one of the raffles, and among the offerings was something tantalizingly called the “mystery table”. The dance which followed was attended by people from Clinton, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Lillooet, Pavilion, and along the Cariboo Road. They were hardy folks, back in 1928: the last dance of the night, called the “home waltz”, didn’t take place until 3 am.

Every year at Christmas we see a slew of articles about seasonal shopping. These days the focus is on online shopping, as more and more people switch from battling crowds at the mall to shopping from the comfort of their computer. In 1928, however, The Journal reported that early Christmas shopping was the new trend, stating that “The day when Christmas gift buying was left to the eleventh hour has gone the way of the long skirt and the wasp waist.” Businesses enjoyed the more leisurely pace as shoppers avoided the last-minute crush, while the post office had played its part by encouraging people to send their packages early, thereby eliminating “the congestion at or near Christmas”. With all this planning and forethought, said Journal editor R.D. Cumming, a customer would realize “the advantages of beginning early and thus getting the responsibility ‘off his chest’ before the last frantic moments.”

In his “Social Items” column, Cumming wrote that “the Ashcroft store windows have been very beautifully decorated with Christmas suggestions during the past week. Look them over before purchasing elsewhere.” (Encouraging people to “shop locally” is not a new concept.) He also noted that “the Ashcroft Meat Market has a fine display of Christmas turkeys for sale. Don’t leave it off till the last moment.”

Merchants advertising in The Journal in the run-up to Christmas 1928 included Harvey Bailey Limited of Ashcroft, whose “stock of Winter Goods is now Complete – Everything for the COLD WEATHER”; Mark Dumond Hardware, offering Common Sense Bobsleighs (“Specially designed and built for the North West”); J.J. Ting and Co., whose stock was “going fast” and warned customers that “last minute shoppers always receive disappointment owing to a small assortment to pick from”; Canadian National Railways, which promised to get travelers back to “the Old Country for Christmas” via special sleeping cars from Vancouver to Halifax and thence by ship to points including Plymouth, Liverpool, Glasgow, London, and Belfast; and The Journal itself, which announced that it had a nice new line of “Personal greeting cards for Christmas” on display.

Finally, the sudden descent of Old Man Winter on our area last week finds its echo in a poem that appeared in The Journal on Dec. 4, 1928. Cumming wrote that “A local poet, probably a school boy or girl, sends us the following, without revealing their identity. There is nothing in the poem to be ashamed of, and it is seasonable. We would like the author to give us their name.” The unnamed poet was never identified; but although the piece was written almost 90 years ago, much of it will resonate today:

 

Dad says that winter’s here for good—

“Go, fill the woodbox full of wood.

And see the coal is all brought in;

Are there potatoes in the bin?

“Haven’t you swept that snow up yet?

You’d better do it quick, you bet;

And chip that ice from off the path:

Now you move fast and dodge this lath.”

 

And so it goes, when winter’s here,

Snow is bright and Christmas near;

And everybody’s feeling good;

And you keep splitting up more wood.

 

But, oh! The other side of it—

Skates, sleighs and mufflers, big warm mitts,

Hockey, snowballs, skating, coasting;

Each and every fellow boasting:

 

“Look how far MY sleigh will go!

I don’t care if north winds blow—”

Parties, shows and Christmas cheer:

Oh boy! At last, old winter’s here.

 

Barbara Roden

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