To my mind, there are just four gifts of Christmas that we need: peace, freedom, good health, and love. Without those things, there is no meaning to life or to Christmas.
In recent times, we have perhaps become somewhat jaded about the Christmas season. People are much more materialistic than they used to be, so much so that we often forget what is really important.
As I live in Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia in Canada, I decided to take a trip back into the past and see what Christmas was like here over 100 years ago. Have things changed and, if so, how far have we come from the days of those old-fashioned Christmases? One of the best places to visit to find the true meaning of Christmas long ago in Victoria is Helmcken House, the home of Dr. James Helmcken, the Fort doctor, who was much beloved by his patients.
It was definitely a simpler time then. The main “business” center of Victoria over 100 years ago was on Government Street, bounded by Fort, Douglas and Yates Streets. There were no large department stores. Government Street boasted mainly dry goods stores and a few toy shops, which always delighted the children.
Most people apparently did their shopping on Christmas Eve, not weeks or even months ahead of the big day! On Christmas Eve they also could admire the decorations and greet their friends to offer the “compliments of the Season.”
Going further back into the 1860s, the main butcher in town was also the first mayor of Victoria, Thomas Harris, who loved to wander the town at Christmas talking (and oft times arguing a political point) with people.
Harris was a well-known character, and as Victoria's first mayor, he made quite an impression on people because of his enormous size. At the first council meeting, he apparently sat down and promptly broke a chair.
Later, a butcher shop called Messrs. Goodacre and Danley stood at the corner of Government and Johnson Streets. The shop always held an annual fat beef show at Christmas when evergreens and holly hung next to sides and quarters of grain-fed beef. An 18- to 20-pound roast of prime beef was favorite Christmas day fare in those days, but there were also the traditional turkeys, geese and little suckling pigs (usually with an apple in the mouth).
In the 1880s, if the weather obliged, Christmas Eve in old Victoria often ended with a sleigh ride into the countryside of Cadboro Bay, Oak Bay or Fairfield, with the horses' harness bells jingling as they traveled through the snow. Such simple pleasures.
Of course, admittedly, the population was much smaller then and with fewer stores, there was far less commercialism. I often think it would be nice to bring back those days when people seemed to appreciate the four gifts of Christmas much more. They certainly enjoyed the peace of this area and the freedom of living here; and if they had good health and love in their lives, that was all they needed.
So, with a little less commercialism and a little more true human spirit, miracles can happen even today. Merry Christmas to all and . . . to all a good night. See you in 2018.