Memories of a Prairie Christmas Ed & Gail Peekeekoot, December 2020
Listen to Ed's song, "Memories of a Praire Christmas"
My memory of the Christmas concert the year I was 5, sparkles with joy. One night after supper just before Christmas, our little family bundled up and went by horse-drawn sleigh to the old community hall at the sports grounds on Sandy Lake reserve – now known as Ahtahkakoop Cree First Nation. It wasn’t a long trip – maybe a couple of miles – but it was COLD outside.
Through the frost on my eyelashes, I watched the stars twinkling by in a velvet black sky as the horses crunched across the snow with an occasional snort and fart. (Remember – I was 5.) My little nose dripped inside the scarf wrapped around my red-cheeked face.
As we opened the door and stepped into the community hall heated by a big old wood stove, clouds of ice fog swirled around our feet. In the warmth, the excited crowd murmured expectantly – greeting family and friends and looking forward to the evening. There would be a Nativity play and Christmas concert put on by the high school. Carols would be sung. Most importantly, Santa would visit!
Beneath the chatter of the people, I could hear the putt, putt, putt of the generator outside the hall that powered the lights on the tree. To my eyes, the Christmas tree on the stage was huge and completely magical… shimmering with red, blue, yellow, and green lights.
We settled in happily to enjoy the concert. The only memory of it that comes up for me when I think back is of a little First Nations girl dressed up in a kilt and doing the Highland fling. It was clearly a real cross-cultural event that made a big impression on me!
Then came the carols. I was fine with “Silent Night” but got a little lost with the next one, worrying about the shepherds who couldn’t find no well. I knew about wells and that they were important.
Finally, the Big Moment arrived for Santa to appear! All eyes were on the stage and you could hear a pin drop. Time passed. More time passed. And then bits of paper started to fall on us from above. We all looked up – and there was Santa leaping across the rafters! The adults all laughed, and the kids all cheered.
To this day, I don’t know how Santa got from the ceiling to the stage but there he was, jingling…jiggling… and jigging as Andrew Ahenakew played the “Red River Jig” on his fiddle. Funny thing, Santa looked a lot like my grandpa George Albert and he sure could dance!
When it came time for Santa to give out the gifts, everyone got a brown paper bag filled with an apple, an orange, nuts, peanuts, and old-fashioned ribbon candies. We ate those candies like they were going out of style. And an orange was an amazing treat for a kid who mostly went to school with just bannock, jam, and lard sandwiches – with a little moose meat if I was really lucky!
Under the tree, there was a wrapped present for every child. Mine that year was a little red racing car. Kids these days sometimes get lots of presents so they can’t know how much that little car meant to me. I treasured it and my mom got used to dodging it as I pushed it around our little log cabin for hours.
When I was growing up, nothing much was easy but thanks to my family and community, my prairie Christmas memories are always full of love and magic.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All of you from both of us!
Ed & Gail Peekeekoot