“I'll be home for Christmas, you can count on me...Please have snow and mistletoe and presents on the tree. Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”
That Christmas melody never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It seems that for the last decade or so, it has been impossible to have all of our kids and their families together for Christmas, just like in the “good old days”. But then I stop and consider that no matter where they are, they will always retain the precious memories of Christmas mornings at home and even more importantly, are creating their own traditions to pass on to their kids and grandkids.
I'll always remember fondly the holiday season when I was growing up in Carlington. Christmas was a religious holiday for us. Oh, some families did celebrate at a «réveillon » after Midnight Mass but the important event was New Year's at my grandparents on Chatelain.
My grandfather, the eldest in a large French-Canadian family, faithfully kept his ancestors' tradition on New Year's Day – the Family Gathering. He would set up long tables in the living/dining rooms and grandmother would prepare the traditional «tourtières », « ragoût », turkey, a variety of pies, etc. On New Year's Day, it was « Open House » at my grandparents for all relatives, not just the immediate family. Uncles, aunts, cousins, sometimes their “visitors”, would drop in at Jos and Diana's to wish everyone a Happy New Year. They were usually coaxed into staying a while, singing their song (everyone, as I recall, had their own particular «chanson à répondre»). There were several “sittings” though dinner – one group would sit and eat, drink and be merry and then get up to let the next group sit and eat. The women gathered to clear and serve the tables, wash, dry and put the dishes away. But before all of that could take place, there was the solemn moment when my grandfather would sing, as per the established custom, his «chanson à répondre». It is not easy to translate a song but it went something like this: “Well do you know my friends why we are gathered here today? It's the first of January when we have a get together. Let us repeat together, bless our father, bless our mother… “
Later in the evening, everyone would kneel to receive the paternal New Year's blessing, another old French-Canadian tradition.
In 1961, I was expecting my first child, my parents' first grandchild, when my grandfather died. I was brokenhearted at the thought that not only would my children not get to know my grandfather, but would also miss out on the wonderful New Year's custom. On that point, I should not have worried. My parents have always continued to gather the family together on New Year's Day and now, my eldest sister, accompanied by my parents, joyfully sings out, in my grandfather's and all our ancestors' name, the chorus « Mais savez-vous pourquoi mes amis… » and we, the children, grand and great-grandchildren, spouses and friends all respond « Vive notre père, vive notre mère ». My father very solemnly gives us the paternal blessing and so the New Year's Day traditions continue with the new generations. Perhaps the younger ones don't fully understand why we're doing all of this but hopefully, some day they will tell their grandchildren stories about New Year's in the good old days.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!