Now and Then: Times change, but greeting stays the same

The hurry-flurry of the Christmas/holiday season is upon us.

For some, that could elicit a joyful “Hurray!” For others it could be a resounding groan. This season certainly demands a lot of our personal and financial resources – and once Dec. 26 arrives… well, the excitement/agony balloon is deflated and it’s on to the January doldrums.

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The celebration season of my childhood in Flin Flon back in the late 1940s was clearly defined as “Christmas” as the majority of the town’s population – and Canada, for that matter – was primarily Christian-Caucasian. There was no debate or even conversation about appropriateness of terminology. It was Christmas. Period!

The shifting sands of time have brought several new cultural and religious elements to our communities. There are now considerations being made to create a larger circle of appreciation of the diverse nature of those who share the season. December now encompasses the Christian and Jewish celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah and includes spiritually significant days for Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and other traditions.

Behind the curtain of history stands yet another significant but less appreciated event in December.

The observation of Winter solstice, which signals the end of the darkest days of winter, has existed worldwide for thousands of years. It forms the basis for many of our current holiday traditions but, most importantly, Winter solstice gives us hope for the renewal of life as sun awakens and wraps us in an ever-expanding realm of light – and eventually warmth. The observation of Winter solstice is set deeply in the Celtic culture as well as the indigenous cultures of the northern hemisphere. Fire ceremonies symbolized the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. Bringing greenery into the home to symbolize spring, circle gatherings, food, story and celebration were fundamental to the early winter solstice observations – not unlike many aspects of our present holiday celebrations.

There you have it! Trees, lights, decorations, food, libations and gifting!

The Flin Flon Christmas of my early childhood days held many wondrous sights. The setting of the Christmas tree and the stringing of lights on Main Street was certainly a big deal for us Uptown Church Street kids. The HBM&S would bring in a tree of great size and they with help from the town crew would install it in a somewhat precarious position right smack-dab in the middle of the Main Street and Third Avenue intersection. This location was eventually shifted a half-block south in the early 1950s. The current tree is prominently on display on Pioneer Square – well out of the way of traffic.

Another Christmas icon was the greeting that flashed atop the North Main shaft. MERRY XMAS. M-E-R-R-Y-X-M-A-S. MERRY XMAS. Gee whiz, those poor kids who lived below the hill never had a chance to stand and stare in wonder at this Flin Flon phenomenon. (Rumour has it that the Uptown kids did not learn the correct spelling of Christmas until much later in their development.)

Other traditional sites such as the arch of lights at Wallenberg Heights and the glitter and glow of the elaborate display at the Flin Flon Museum provided a warm and welcoming site in the darkest days of winter.

The proliferation of outdoor lights and decorations we see today were unheard of back in the day. It was enough of an effort to get your own tree, add a string of lights on it, hang a few decorations, throw on some tinsel and hope the darn thing didn’t fall over in the dark of night. The early indoor tree lights were wired “in series.” If one bulb burned out, they all went out and each bulb would have to be removed and tested. This was an opportunity for Dad to teach the children some new vocabulary.

Time marches on and the face of the Flin Flon and area community has changed. A downward shift in population has created a new business dynamic. The 1940s and 1950s saw Main Street with an abundance of stores with loads of toys for the kids to preview. It would take a whole Saturday to visit Keddie’s, Bell’s and WB hardware stores, the Co-op, the Bay and Woolworths. The Bay and Bell’s Hardware had especially wonderful window displays of toys and holiday decorations.

With this glance back into the past, and with whatever your reason for celebration, the theme is the same as ever. Be grateful for the blessings in your life. Be reminded of the things in your life that really count; health, family, friends and the opportunity to help others along the way.

Happy Holidays, everyone! And yes, Merry Christmas!

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