Ann Tatoosh, Ben Thomas and Jannie Ryper, all of the Alberni Valley, share memories of Christmases past with Valley Seniors writer Orlando Delano. (PHOTO COURTESY ORLANDO DELANO)

Ann Tatoosh, Ben Thomas and Jannie Ryper, all of the Alberni Valley, share memories of Christmases past with Valley Seniors writer Orlando Delano. (PHOTO COURTESY ORLANDO DELANO)

VALLEY SENIORS: Port Alberni residents recall Christmases past

Christmas celebrations have changed throughout the years



No doubt that the Christmas time is a special occasion for many in the world. We also know that the celebration of this important date in our calendars has also changed throughout the years.

Many say that aspects of this traditional year-end celebrations have remained the same as they were in “the old days,” with the customary decorations in the houses, the carol singing, the piling up of presents under the tree and, of course, the traditional family gathering for a festive dinner.

They would also tell us that in those days children received simple gifts, like hand-made toys often made by dad or an uncle, or pieces of garments transformed into quilts, rug dolls or dresses made by mother or grandmother, and that the Christmas stockings were mostly filled with edible items such as nuts and candies.

Today’s world looks different in several fronts, from going to the store to get presents almost in bulk or ordering items online. Also, as someone put it: “It seems like the holiday season is arriving earlier and earlier these days!”

Some Alberni Valley seniors reminisce on their experiences from Christmas past:

— Ann Tatoosh was born in Tottenham, London, England, and was the oldest of three girls in the family. She moved to Canada with her parents and two sisters in 1960.

She fondly reminisces on the Christmas time in her hometown as a young child.

”We all walked to church for mass on Christmas morning while all the church bells were ringing,” she said. “When we were older we went to Midnight Mass and came home to have hot chocolate and cookies.”

With Christmas being such a special and meaningful time of the year, Ann’s parents used to take their children up to the city to visit the churches to see the nativity scenes or crèches. They also looked at the window displays in big department stores, like Harrods and Selfridges.

“At home, in our neighbourhood, carol singers would come to homes and sing for us,” said Ann. “My nana would invite them in and give them hot chocolate and cookies.” She adds that at Christmas dinner, the family always had turkey, plum pudding and mince tarts for dessert. Then they listened to the Queen’s speech on the radio.

— “Sinterklaas” (St.Nicholas) celebrations in the Netherlands take place on Dec. 5 and usually wind down on Dec. 6, when St. Nicholas departs. Jannie Ryper was born in Holland in 1928 and was the oldest of two brothers and two sisters. She grew up in a country that was occupied during the war. She recalls some of the Sinterklaas festivities that took place every December in her home town.

“My parents owned a bakery and were always busy, especially in December,” she says. “But we all made time to celebrate the Lord by praying, having a special dinner, going to church and listening to my sister playing the piano.”

Several years later, in 1952, Jannie and her family moved to Canada. She then met and married Hank Ryper, who worked at the plywood mill. They both later bought a bakery on Johnston Road.

“Hank was a baker by trade and also he became a preacher,” said Jannie. “He was a good man who was always trying to help people.”

Maintaining their faith and tradition, the Rypers and their nine children celebrated this special time of the year with devotion.

— “I keep good memories of my Christmas as I was growing up,” says Ben Thomas, who was born in Port Alberni on Dec. 17, 1929. “As a kid, I have vivid memories of the presents under the tree, the Christmas dinner and the time we spent working on the decorations around the house. It was fun! But what was more special for me was going to church and doing the reading, out loud, of passages of the Bible and poems related to Christmas. Too bad that Christmas is becoming too commercialized today!”

Ben worked at various jobs during his life in the Valley, while also giving his time for a number of years as a hockey coach and as an Alberni Valley Rescue Squad volunteer. He also produced artistic work in the form of painting, mostly native art and sculptures. He was married to Bernice Fisher for more than 50 years until her passing a decade ago. They had two children.

Many of the Christmas traditions he experienced as a youngster were passed on to his children.

“You know, Christmas has always been a very special celebration for me and my family!” said Ben.

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