Glenn Ells: Christmas traditions of years gone by

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It is starting to act like winter and we aren’t halfway through December. I’m writing this before daylight on Friday, Dec. 13, so anything could happen before this day is over. The forecast says cold, maybe flurries, and a big storm on Sunday, but weather forecasts are written by fiction writers it seems.

The bulldozer work I was telling you about left a lot of bare soil exposed to the weather. Now that there is a snow covering, it doesn’t look so bad or so in danger of erosion. I’d like to get it covered by straw or old bags if I get a chance before winter really sets in.

With the holiday season approaching, travel plans and the effect of weather on them seems to be a concern. Thinking about travel during the Christmas/New Year’s season when I was a small boy on the farm, it was always a concern, but it was very different. Travel, then, was usually determined by how far a horse could move a family during daylight. Cars were put away for the winter then, because there was no snow removal programs, snow tires or heathers. Now, we have adapted cars and roads for winter travel and the usual concern is if the airport is open and planes are flying.

If a family member was living in some remote place like Halifax or Annapolis Royal, the only way to travel was by train, which was sometimes undertaken in the winter, but not often.

There were four families in the Ells clan that took turns hosting on Christmas Day back in the 1930s and 1940s. Three of these families live across the road from each other, but Aunt Ruth’s family lived a whole mile away.

One year, there was a heavy snowfall on Christmas Eve and there was concern about whether a sleigh could stay upright during the one-mile trip to the W.E. Ells home. Aunt Ruth had a broken leg, which was still in a cast, and they were not going to take the chance of the sleigh overturning.

Dad was a farmer most of the time, but in winter, his main interest was the woods, and he had a good team of horses and a very flexible set of bobsleds for hauling logs. He put a plank floor on the sleds and covered it with straw. We called the Bakers on the party line and told them to get ready, that Floyd, Barney and Bruce were on their way.

I can still remember the sound of those “team bells” that distinguished each team when heard through that crisp winter air. It was quite a sight to see my cousins and their parents all wrapped up in blankets and on the straw when they arrived on that Christmas Day. The black horse was steaming and Dad was in his glory as our Christmas tradition was preserved for another year.

Organizations: Annapolis Royal

Geographic location: Halifax

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