“The clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes….”
The year-end celebrations that are and have been part of our culture (and many others) for as long as we can remember are a way for us to bid farewell to the old year while preparing to welcome the new 365 days.
But how was this last day of the year celebrated in the old days, when life was so different in many ways? When living conditions were so diverse and traditional, and the means of communication and transportation were limited?
Well, here are some samples of such a life as told by Canadian seniors who once lived in remote areas of our country, from the Prairies and the coasts of Canada to some isolated communities in the north.
“In the old days, when I was a Legion member, I used to celebrate the arrival of the New Year by sharing stories, enjoying a delicious dinner and, of course, having some drinks,” said Julie Gibson. “But most importantly, having lots of laughs!”
“My mother had bought a house on the farm while my father was overseas during the war years,” said Linda Henry. “In the winter months we rode the horse and sleigh every time we visited our grandparents, especially when all of us got together to celebrate the Year End. The Manitoba winters were very cold, so we used to heat up a large log, wrap it up and put it in the bottom of the sleigh to keep our feet warm! I always joined my family for a big dinner on New Year’s Eve. And since I had lots of cousins, we used to dance until the clock struck 12 midnight.”
“I was born in Bodman, Saskatchewan, at the time the First World War had just ended and our Canadian troops were gradually returning home from the battle fields in Europe,” said Bertha Levesque. “Life was hard in some areas of the Prairies, but despite the tough and uncertain times, we as children also had good and enjoyable moments that I remember vividly.
“One of the things I enjoyed the most during the winter months was when my older brother used to take me to school by pulling my sled. It was so much fun for me, but I am not sure if it was for him! On the last night of the year we had an open house for our friends and neighbours with lots of refreshments for everyone. It was a real good community spirit. And when the clock struck midnight, we all hugged and cheered (and the men began kissing the girls!).”
“As a young girl, I lived on a farm in Saskatchewan,” said Elsie Forbes. “The last day of the year was more or less the same as the rest of the days, except for the special dinner with family and friends. Being too young, I was not allowed to stay up till midnight as I wished to, but as I grew up, our parents let us play board games and dance. Later on, in the mid ’50s, I came to Port Alberni where I got married and had my children. Every New Year’s Eve we used to go for dinner and dance at the Legion Hall.”
“My husband, who was a hunter, used to fire his rifle from our house porch on the reserve at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” said Anne Tatoosh. “This was a custom we had in our household for a number of years. When he was not able to do it anymore, his son took over this tradition. The whole experience was fun for all our guests, friends and family who joined us for dinner.”
“I was born in Prince Edward Island and I was the second oldest of a family of six (three boys and three girls),” said Edith MacLean. “Our Christmases and New Year’s festiveties were always special celebrations in our household because it was an opportunity for a family reunion with big dinners, a small Christmas tree and lots of fun. But in those days, regardless of the celebration, we as young children had to help with the farm chores. We had to go to the barn and milk the cows and do the cleaning, even on Christmas day and year end! We also helped mother with the cooking.
“These celebrations take me back to the days gone by when we played, sang and enjoyed the festivities of such a special day in the year!”
“I was born in Surrey, England, in 1930,” said Doreen Leach. “Most of my memories about Christmas and Year-End are connected to the war years because when the war broke up in Europe, I was only nine years old. In December, I used to get together with my young friends and sing on the city streets to fund raise for charity. The other memory, still fresh in my mind, had to do with when we used to sit by the chimney to see if we could hear the city siren sound announcing the raids by the enemy airplanes.
“Things of course changed when I moved to Canada after the war. The celebrations became a happy affair.”