This week listening to Radio-Canada in the morning I heard some old Christmas favourites from my childhood. One was Mon Beau Sapin, Roi des Forêts known in English as O Tannenbaum. This was the song the second wife of my maternal grandfather, we called Tante Fernande would sing each Christmas at lunch at my grandfather’s house when all his children and spouses and us grandkids would gather for the traditional meal, gifts and benediction. It was an old, I dare say a very old tradition going back several generations, the family patriarch would bless is family for the New Year. Tante Fernande would have cooked a turkey it was always an excellent birds and very juicy, serving peas and mash potatoes and cranberries which she called Atoka, dessert would be a mix of chocolates, Bûche de Noël and other sweets. I always thought that Atoka was the real name for cranberries but it turn out that Atoka is a Quebec recipe for processing cranberries after they are harvested. It gives a much sweeter fruit and has none of the tartness found in canned cranberries. Tante Fernande was a cook who did everything from scratch including her cranberries. You could not buy canned cranberries back then or if you could it was not done on good homes.
The dishes used to serve the Christmas meal was on two dinner sets, one was white with a dark blue and gold rim, the other set was their wedding dinner set which I have now.
There were other songs and my aunts knew one each, a favourite, one was Petit Papa Noël, my Mom use to sing that one. It is not an old song, the melody is taken from an old Ukrainian song and the words written in 1944 were about a child asking Santa to bring his father home for Xmas from the POW camp in Germany. After the war the words were changed erasing any reference to the war to what we hear today. It is a song that you would learn in school and my mother knew it well. It was part of every Christmas music recital at school in French Canada. Tino Rossi premiered this song in 1946 and it became his Christmas signature song. Radio-Canada played it today as part of their weekend Christmas show it brought back a tidal wave of memories.
On this score the French service Radio-Canada is doing a much better job with their Christmas programming than the CBC who is playing a mix of commercial music. Tomorrow 23 December, the CBC will have an all day Christmas concert as they do every year from the European Union broadcasted live starting at 9am. Radio-Canada will have its programming, vintage shows from the 1940 to 1970. Despite the fact that such programming might be speaking to an older generation, it is still enormously popular.
Maybe it speaks about a time when Christmas was not about shopping and stress. The Media today puts a heavy emphasis on how stressful and unpleasant it is, with those awful relatives. I wonder why it has to be this way, not to mention the trove of bad news. It sounds almost perverse.
Gifts use to be in my mother’s childhood an orange which was a luxury then, books, clothing like a scarf or a sweater. For us it was books, sweets or the dreaded Fentex slippers your gradma knitted for you, some small amount of money like a $5. bill new and crisp or a board game. The adults were not stressed, no one was driving around shopping in malls, it was a nice holiday with a focus in Roman Catholic Quebec on religion and midnight mass recalling the traditions of Old Canada and France.
The other popular song and remains so to this day is J’ai vu maman embrassé le Père Noël sung by Line Renaud who is 90 years old. This 1956 version is one you will hear on the radio. Renaud was and remains one of the great French singer of her time.
Well we avoided the stress of Christmas and it is something I never quite understood why so many people whipped themselves into a frenzy. I think that a lot of the stress is made up on false notions about gifts and having to please other people, it is somewhat artificial. I hope you all have lots of fun and enjoyment out of the Holiday Season.
My Best Wishes to You!