Gus’s Family Christmas

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Photo by Raymond Farand

Christmas has changed so much, but then family’s have changed so much. Christmas used to be the holy grail of holidays. You could be in Mongolia, deep in the jungle with one foot shot off and malaria, but when Christmas came around you got your ass home, period!
It was that big, remember? It was the family holiday. You could get away with not seeing your family for the whole year if you really tried but on Christmas there was no excuses big enough.
Here was a typical Christmas day at my house when I was a kid. Wake up at the crack of dawn, parents really hung over from the night before. Open presents. Eat. Load car with all kinds of crap. Drive to various family members houses to give and receive gifts, and eat. Come home mid-afternoon. Unload all the new crap from the car. Parents slept a bit while my brother and I played with our new toys, and eat. Late afternoon, get ready to go to my Grandparents house for the Party. This was “the Party” of the year. Every Uncle, Aunt, Cousin, Second-Cousin, neighbour, Tom, Dick and Harry was gonna be there. On arrival we would eat, then everyone would adjourn to the basement. Please try to keep in mind that this was before there were strict drinking and driving laws, even before you had to wear seatbelts. My Grandfather would station himself behind the bar, (I think every basement had a bar in it back then, it was the standard), the records would come out (LP’s and 45’s), and the Christmas party was ON! My cousin’s and I would be kept busy all night. The kid with the steadiest hands got to change the records, god forbid you lifted that needle and scratched a record, while the rest of us ran drinks from the bar for change.

Every family Christmas party I remember had many highlights but it was the recurring ones that stand out in my mind. At a certain point in the night you knew that my grandmother, a very stern woman, was going to tell the DJ (one of my 10-year-old cousins) to put on ‘The Night they Drove old Dixie Down”, she would take control of the dance floor and you could see the years turning back as she danced. For a few minutes she was young and carefree, drink in one hand, smoke in the other (oh yes my friends, everyone smoked in that packed little basement). Somewhere else during the Christmas festivities, my mother and her three sisters would take the dance floor. I don’t remember the song, something from the Supremes I think, but there was this whole choreographed dance and it was Spectacular! It was Motown right in the basement of my Grandfathers house. The end of the night was marked by my Grandfather letting someone else tend bar while he came out to thank his guests and give the dance floor a twirl. He had a wonderful dance style that us kids would imitate.

We would help Aunts and Uncles up the stairs, cabs would be called, people would be walked home. There was one Uncle who did not drink, so he was, what is now called, the designated driver. He always made a couple of runs making sure everyone got home safely.

These memories are gold to me and as you read this I hope it brings you back to Christmas memories of your own.  Families are more spread out these days it seems, farther away. I know people who go to the movies on Christmas, or just stay home and watch movies. It just doesn’t seem to be the holiday it used to be. Or maybe it is just me changing? That could be too.

My Christmas wish for anyone who reads this is… I hope you have people around you that you love and who love you back this holiday season.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas

Gus

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