Memories of the Okanagan – one invariably thinks of sunshine, the lake, fruit – in one word, summer. As a child growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, the winter season also had its charm and delights which remain etched in my memory.
The first sign of winter was a visit by Jack Frost as one woke up to window panes etched in white with delicate patterns resembling ferns, spider webs or whatever triggered a child’s imagination. Then out came the sleighs—remember being able to coast all the way from Stiller’s Corner to our driveway without obstacles such as cars. And the hike over the hill to the pond past Uncle’s house, where we could skate till dark! And the snow – soft, fluffy snowflakes big enough to eat off your mittens.
Preparation for Christmas started early at the Okanagan Centre School. The highlight would be the Christmas concert. Mrs. Parker, our teacher, with her baton, would lead us through songs, dances, recitals, and plays. We would be sick with nervous tension but it was a chance for talents like Sonny Olson to strut their stuff. My forte was the piano solo – the livelier and faster the piece, the better to cover the errors.
The party after the concert was the best part. A huge fir tree in the corner of the hall was laden with presents for every child in the community, thanks to the Women’s Institute and the School Board. I recall the hulky figure of Mr. Pixton as Santa Claus, and wanting to run when my turn came for a gift. Other kids screamed. Jello, cookies and tea, followed by a rousing round of “here we go gathering nuts in May” with Mrs. MacFarlane, ended an exciting but exhausting day.
Another Christmas tradition was the annual community carol singing led by Mrs. MacFarlane and other Sunday School teachers of the United Church. Starting at the Speight house, along Lakeshore Road south to Mr. Kennard’s, we covered over two miles stopping at every house to spread the spirit of Christmas in joyful song. Despite the cold, it was heartwarming to see the face of an elderly or housebound villager light up with the sound of singing. With hoarse throats and frigid toes, we were glad to get back to the Kobayashi house to observe an annual ritual with pots of hot tea and coffee, Christmas cake, and sweets. As a special treat, my father would proudly produce a bottle of his homemade wine – a very clear, rosé pink with a delicate bouquet – which was very well received. Good Christian Men Rejoice!
By Christmas Eve we would be bursting with anticipation. Piles of gifts surrounded the tree (there were seven of us plus Mother and Father). Each day we would count, pinch, and feel to guess what they were. As long as I believed in St. Nick, I would wonder how he got through that long, black stove pipe, with his bag, without getting stuck. Somehow he always managed and in those days, simple gifts like dolls, a sewing kit, bubble pipe or a box of chocolates (a real prize) delighted our hearts. How times have changed.
Everyone was up early on Christmas Day. Father beheaded two chickens the day before (whoever heard of turkey), plucked and cleaned them ready for stuffing. Mother and my older sisters prepared the vegetables and the special dressing with dry bread crumbs and lots of grated carrots. Delicious home-made pickles completed the menu. Dessert was always Jello. Dinner was at two p.m. and Mr. and Mrs. Kanamaru always joined us – Kanamaru-san in his best dark suit and Obasan in her ankle-length dress with stiff, starched collar in keeping with her straight-back posture. Behind this exterior was a warm, generous-hearted woman with a marvellous sense of humour and a hearty laugh.
After dinner and dishes, it was the pond for the older ones, skates in hand, while I was left to enjoy my newly-acquired gifts. For Mother work was never done. She had to think about supper and putting on a big pot of steaming, hot udon for visitors and the hungry skaters.
The holiday season wasn’t complete without New Year’s but that is a story in itself. Celebrations over and life returned to normal. The fruit trees needed pruning, the kids were back in school, the older girls took housekeeping jobs and for Mother, as always, work was never done.
Winter in the Okanagan never was as severe as we know it to be in Alberta or Ontario but, rather, as an interlude between fall and spring. By the end of February the snow disappears, the earth stirs, and buds start swelling in the trees. Another season, another spring, and where better to be but in the Okanagan.
By Susan Suzuyo Kobayashi Hidaka. From Kakonosedai. A Century of Community. Lake Country, BC: Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society, 2013. pp. 108-110.
Additional reminiscences on this website: Christmas concerts at Okanagan Centre School .