This is a story about the Astra family, before they moved to Revelstoke. It was first printed in the Vernon Morning Star in 2011.
I grew up in Northern Manitoba along with my sister and three brothers and our parents who always celebrated their Norwegian Christmas traditions.
There was no power and the closest big general store was 100 miles away in Winnipeg, so we really learned how to make all the Christmas tree decorations and improvised on everything possible.
Out Christmases were always such jubilant times. It seemed we began preparing for Christmas about nine months before. Every spring we’d select red willows that were the thickest and cut them into six-inch lengths for it was in the spring of the year that the sap was loose and runny.
We’d cut as many as we’d need for candles for out Christmas tree. Each six-inch piece we’d tap lightly and roll round and round in out hands until the inside of the wood would let go from the bark. These round barks we’d save until they were dried or cured.
Then we’d help our mom (mess and all) make Christmas candles from rendering a tallow mixture and pouring it into the dried round willow tube bark to set.
We made wicks from seaming twine from our dad’s fish nets by cutting the twine about seven inches long and rolled into soft wax and then centred into each candle carefully and allowed to set for several months before peeling off the red willow bark and seeing such pretty and variegated coloured candles.
Our dad would make candle holders that would be clamped and tied to the Christmas tree branches.
We also gathered wild hazelnuts in September for part of our Christmas treats.
Some years we weren’t able to get many as the squirrels had beaten us to them.
We gathered wild rose bush buds and wild moss berries that grew in swampy places, which was part of our treat to go with either our stuffed wild goose or mallard ducks.
Dad would take us kids by dog team in the carry-all toboggan to choose our Christmas tree.
We always tried to choose a tree that would have extra-ripe spruce gum, which, when chewed would turn into lovely pink colour (no sugar). This was an extra gift in itself as that was the only kind of gum us kids ever knew.
We had a lot of work ahead making a chain of connected decorations to be draped around the Christmas tree.
We made this by cutting paper strips from unlined scribblers or drawing books, three-inch by one-inch lengths and painting them bright colours from our water paints, then gluing and joining each piece together chain-like with glue we had previously made from rendering down pickerel and perch fish scales and fins.
It made the nicest glue and it didn’t show.
We also made stars, angels and Christmas tree and having the thrill of seeing how many candles each one of us kids could blow out before being tucked into our beds.
Christmas Day was such excitement and thrills. Dressing up in our Sunday best and seeing what gifts had been left by Santa for us.
I remember well my first pair of skis one Christmas made from large wooden barrel staves with just a toe strap. I was five years old. What spills and thrills.
On Boxing Day, mom and dad would hitch up our dog team and tuck all us kids into the carryall long toboggan and we’d visit with our neighbours who loves about seven miles away.
The Norwegian way, mom would make our delicious rice pudding with raisins, eggs and milks and served with brown sugar and cinnamon.
In the middle of the pudding, mom would make a well and put large blobs of butter. That always was out Boxing Day supper treat after Christmas day’s celebration and hearty foods.
On New Year’s Eve, there was always sleigh bell rides either by teams of horses and sleighs or dog teams with carryall toboggans and someone on skis and sing-alongs with people playing mouth organs and Hohner button key accordions.
Now, many Christmases later, everything is so electrified, but still beautiful. I have journeyed long and far but I still love my Christmases and I am still playing my button key accordion and still making good memories.
Many of my loved ones have passed on, but as one dies, another is born, and that is why we celebrate what we call Christmas.