Past, Present & Beyond – Christmases Past – Pt. 2: An old-fashioned Christmas

Barbara Roden concludes her column of Christmas in Ashcroft in 1928.

Looking through The Journal during the run-up to Christmas in 1928, I’m struck by how many similarities there are to Christmas today. Many readers will doubtless be getting new electronic gadgets this holiday season, and will be spending Boxing Day – or longer – getting to grips with how they work. There was a newfangled entertainment device available in 1928 that many people were still trying to figure out: the radio, which was so new that the terminology surrounding it had yet to evolve. What, for example, did one call people who listened to the radio? We have, of course, settled on “listeners”, but in 1928 there was no clear-cut word for such folk, and writers were left to their own devices.

Journal editor R.D. Cumming came up with his own term, in an article describing a concert that was broadcast on Dec. 15, 1928: “The radions of Walhachin were greatly interested in the program from CKWX in Vancouver on Saturday evening last. One of our local boys, Willie Felker [from Walhachin], was one of the singers and during the evening sang several baritone solos. The entertainment was in aid of the Vancouver Christmas fund. Bill, as he is known, goes on the air as the Cariboo Cowboy baritone.” I can find no other instance of the use of the word “radion” to describe people who listened to the radio (it is not recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary), so Cumming can probably lay claim to inventing the word; and it is probably just as well that “radion” fell quietly by the wayside.

Christmas entertainments came thick and fast in December 1928. A “Christmas Tree and entertainment” was held in the Walhachin Town Hall on Dec. 20, put on by the school children of that community. It was called “one of the most enjoyable evenings ever experienced in Walhachin”, and Santa Claus himself appeared at the end of the event, to give a present to every child in attendance. The Journal noted that “While these little school entertainments at Christmas time may seem a bit trivial, yet, to the child’s mind they are very important events in their lives, and they mean so much to them. These early events are, perhaps, the very happiest memories in the great store-house of the mind, and probably never again will that same joyous thrill be experienced.”

On the same evening the teachers and students in Ashcroft held their own Christmas event at the Community Hall. There was a “very beautiful Christmas tree display, from which each of the pupils received presents of candy donated by the teachers”. Father Christmas was very busy that night, for he managed to appear in Ashcroft as well as Walhachin: “Santa Claus appeared at the right moment and distributed the presents from the tree. The jingling of his bells announced his arrival in the hall and all the children waited with eager anticipation.”

Amidst the celebrations, during that long-ago Christmas, there was the fear that “Christmas, with its endless demands, has become a nightmare, and that the real spirit is not there. Some say it has degenerated into a commercial enterprise.” Such fears find an echo in the present day, with many lamenting that the holiday has been turned into little more than a marketing exercise. However, Cumming was at pains to point out that there was another way of looking at Christmas. “When we think of the millions of little ones whose hearts have been made happy; when we think of the humanizing influence it has upon the lives of all; and of the general joy and goodwill set free throughout the world to work its wonders in the realm of brotherly love, we think it exceedingly cheap at the price, and the real lasting good of Christmas cannot be reckoned in mere dollars and cents. The writer, on a Christmas morning, once heard a little child say, ‘I wish every day could be Christmas.’ If this simple wish of the child could become a reality, we would really have something in the human race to be proud of.”

Christmas Day 1928 brought with it a most welcome sight: snow. Everything had pointed to it being a green Christmas, but the area awoke on the 25th to “an ideal Christmas Day – everything beautiful in its coverlet of white, yet warm enough to be comfortable. We like snow on Christmas Day because we associate the two, and then everything looks so pure and clean.” Still, there was the occasional disappointment; The Journal recounts the tale of the Walhachin lady who prepared a fine turkey to serve at dinner, then put it outside to keep cool. When she came to bring the bird in for the feast, she found only “a platter of bones – the cat enjoyed his Christmas dinner.”

What comes across, over the almost ninety years separating us from Christmas 1928, is the magic feeling of the season; something that has remained constant. “Already there is that strange wonderful feeling in the air – call it cheer, good will, brotherly love, or what we will, it is strange and wonderful because it is rare. It is a condition produced by millions concentrating upon one grand and glorious event; millions intent upon one happy objective. It brings home to us the fact that happiness is really a state of the mind, and that the elements of happiness come from within. Let’s make the most of the opportunity to make each other happy at least once a year.”

I can do no better than echo R.D. Cumming, and hope that your Christmas is a happy one. Just make sure not to leave your turkey outside to cool; if you do, keep the cat away from it. You – and your guests – will be glad you did.

Barbara Roden

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