‘Tis the season to be jolly” the old song insists, and here in this small, willing community set in pristine snow it is an easy command to obey as we drive or walk through the squeaking snow and the fog of wood smoke to some of the gatherings of this holiday season.
Pete and I have attended a few of the many private parties, enjoying the opportunity to dress up a little: a shirt for Pete, a skirt for me, and to have a convivial few hours among folks we have come to know and like, people who have in the last couple of years become friends.
It’s hard to beat such an evening; the special attention paid to the menu, the festive drinks and the sheer joy of being in a warm place after the chilly journey.
Local offices host staff parties, as do the local businesses, keeping caterers busy for the season. Then there are community events. I tell you, it can be a dizzying social whirl, Christmas in Watson Lake.
The seniors’ club hosts a turkey bingo one month and then a Christmas feast the next, complete with gifts.
The gifts, I understand, are distributed in a bizarre ritual of trade and coercion and outright stealing that, one day, I hope to experience for myself.
Though the hope is not such that I long for senior status, it is something positive to look forward to as I am dragged, choiceless, towards 65.
Each year, the local library organizes a Christmas Fair, with some of the vendors coming from other Yukon communities to share their talents and sell their goods.
A lot of Christmas shopping gets done at the fair. It’s a chance to buy unique gifts for special people is appreciated. The home baking is extraordinary – discouraging to those of us who aspire to such heights in the world of the baking pans and the oven mitts, but to be purchased and gratefully appreciated nonetheless.
Moonlight Madness has a parade. Yes, Uma, a parade in 20 below zero weather. There is, on this night, an outdoor fire to warm up one’s nose and fingers before going to the next place of Christmas action. The local merchants stay open till 9 p.m., offering special prices and prizes, and kids can attend a free movie at the Northern Lights Centre while their parents shop.
Super A has wine and cheese for drinking and nibbling as one warms up after the walk from the little church hall where there are bake sales held by various groups, free hot chocolate and draws for prizes.
The gingerbread houses designed and built by the girls’ club were really clever; there was a whole neighbourhood of them on display, slightly crooked, heavy with decorative candies and icing.
Santa Claus visits Super A and people bring kids and dogs to have a moment with the king elf while getting their picture taken.
One of the annual events is the community Christmas dinner, hosted by the common efforts of all the local churches, and attended by what seemed to be most of the townspeople.
The meal was delicious and plentiful with something to tempt every sort of taste and appetite, and the buzz of talk in the big hall sounded comfortable and happy. Children ran about while adults sat and visited, waiting for the busy crew in the kitchen to declare it was time to eat.
Last year, I remembered, there was an exodus of well-fed people leaving before the hymn-singing began, probably to get home and settled in time for a televised hockey game.
This town may enjoy community dinners, but hockey is cherished.
This year the Christians, being good marketers always, declared there would be no dessert served until after the hymns were sung. Although a few diners still chose escape, either choosing the hockey game over pie, or simply not having a sweet tooth, most people stayed.
Unlike the previous year where sheets of printed Christmas carols were passed around, the piano was played and everyone who could or would sang, this year featured a live choir.
Local men and women took to the stage, arranging themselves with practised ease, while on the floor in front costumed, and unpractised, children were urged into their places.
The children were better than any dessert.
My view of their tableau was somewhat obstructed, but I am going to go on the assumption they represented a nativity scene. Although I could not see if there was anything in it or on it, the pile of hay in the midst of them was presided over by a sweet-faced young girl in blue.
Standing guard was a boy wearing the striped robe, which usually means the wearer is a shepherd or a wise man.
This one, if he was the latter, wore glasses and likely had little trouble locating the star that led them to the scene.
There were angels, known by their wings, though one of them carried what appeared to be a star-topped wand with glittering streamers. A good fairy?
Whatever had brought this charming little creature to the mound of hay, she was thoroughly enjoying herself, waving her wand without discrimination over her fellow thespians and the audience.
One of the other players was a more committed angel, wandless and all in white, except for her pink snow boots. This one gravely watched over the hay pile, her little face intent on doing a good job.
There were some kings, too. I think it was a crown I saw slipping over the eyes and face of one of the actors, rendering his (or her?) journey to the hay bale somewhat perilous.
There may have been more kids involved in the scene, but when the lambs appeared I ceased to watch anything but them, the little scene-stealers.
They gamboled out in front of the stage with their ears flopping and big grins on their faces. They waved to the audience as they were guided to their designated places, there to stand sometimes and to wander other times, during the entire concert.
They were accompanied by a shepherd, the real thing, with a large crook in hand. She used this crook well, hooking it gently around the lambs when they threatened to wander too far, and bringing them back to their rightful spots.
The singing was pleasant, the hymns well-chosen, and other than a few not unexpected remarks about The Truth the Only Truth, the little sermon between songs was not unduly lengthy.
As Christmas events go, I found it pretty good, largely because of the spirit (not the Holy Ghost) that brought us together to share food and simply warm ourselves with one another.
In a place where everyone knows everyone else, it is wonderful to see these times when the simple act of drawing together is a celebration. It is not only a celebration of family, community and the season, it is a recognition of one other and how important we are to each other.
Living in an isolated place, and in a climate that can kill, we are reminded by these gatherings of how we need togetherness to survive and how that needing is not a burden but a genuine comfort and joy.
Ho Ho Ho
Heather Bennett is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.