I guess Christmas tends to be a time of nostalgia for a lot of people. When I think back to the earliest Christmases I can remember, I recall the packages that were sent to us from England. The pretty tins with birds, animals or landscapes that contained biscuits and toffees and even pipe tobacco, before "smoke" became a four-letter word. Brown paper packages tied up with string - again, before "string" became a four-letter word as far as the post office was concerned. Or if not string, then that brown paper tape that smelled of fish when it got wet. We kids also used to get individual presents from the grandparents - often books, sometimes small toys. When it was a book, it was often one of those children's annuals like Rupert's or the Daily Mail Annual for Girls, that were so popular in those days. I seem to remember one of them contained a cartoon with twin mice named "Mimi" and "Marmi" (short for Marmaduke). My grandmothers and, I think, one of my grandfathers, were still alive in those days, although I never met either grandfather and I didn't meet my grandmothers until I was nearly eight.

Putting up the tree, one evening a couple of days before Christmas, was always a special event because it meant digging out ornaments I hadn't seen in a whole year - quite a major proportion of my lifetime at that stage! There was the horn that you could really blow into and make a sound with, the glittery white angels, some of which had lost their wings (or maybe, like Clarence Oddbody, they hadn't earned them yet), the birds that clipped to the branches, and the tinsel that tarnished with age. Most of the ornaments were breakable, of course, but I don't remember all that many mishaps. Just before my parents' old house was sold, some time early in this century, one of the things I salvaged from it was some of those vintage ornaments.

I remember a few of the presents I received as a small child. Usually there was a doll for me and often some accoutrement like a pram or stroller. One year when they were the latest thing, I got a Slinky - but I guess I was really too young for it and just tangled it up. The pull-toy sausage-dog with a Slinky as its "sausage" was a little more successful, however. When I was around six or seven, there was one magical Christmas when I got skates, a watch and a Chatty Cathy doll (which I still have, though she no longer "chats"). Then there was the dollhouse.

I think I was only about five when I got that. It seems to have been a real family project and to this day, I've no idea how the rest of the family managed to assemble and furnish it without my suspecting a thing! The dollhouse was another item I rescued before the house was sold. And I'm glad I did, because my grandson seems to be quite captivated by dollhouses these days.

It wasn't one of those made from a kit. Someone (my father or brother?) would have had to cut out all the pieces from scratch (or I guess from some sort of pattern, whether homemade or out of a book of carpentry projects). It was two-storey and one half of the roof could be lifted on a hinge to access the upper floor. The roof was painted red and most of the exterior (including one side of the house that fastened on with hook-and-loop fastenings when you were done with playing with it) was painted white, with a strip of green "grass" and a door.

Inside, while there were some store-bought furnishings in the kitchen and bathroom, the rest of the furnishings - the upholstered ones - were sewn by hand. There was also a family inside - a mother, a crossdressed dad (the female clothing had been removed and a tiny shirt, trousers and tie sewn together to replace it) and a baby.

When my daughter was a child, she too had a dollhouse - but that was one we assembled together from a kit (from the Little Dollhouse Company in Toronto) and although it's bigger and more intricate, to me it still doesn't quite have the soul of my childhood dollhouse. It does have a few nice homemade touches to it though, and one of these days maybe we'll finish shingling the roof...
On Thursday, our neighbours south of the border gave thanks for all that they had. Then the next day, they dashed out to their local shopping malls in search of more.

I've been a bit bemused at how enthusiastically "Black Friday" sales have been adopted by retailers here in Canada. Maybe it's part of the whole thing of iconic Canadian stores like Hudson's Bay Company being bought out by Americans. Zellers stores are giving way to Target stores. Nordstroms will soon be moving into the retail space vacated by Sears in the Rideau Centre. I guess the idea of "Black Friday" sales was to discourage cross-border shopping - but now you can shop the big American chains without leaving your country - without even leaving your home! Let your fingers do the mousing - the carpal-tunnel syndrome is thrown in for free!

Buy-nothing day, as I understand it, originated some years ago as a protest against the madness and commercialism of Black Friday. Well, I can't honestly claim that I didn't buy anything yesterday - we did go out and get groceries. I CAN, however, truthfully say that I bought nothing on Thursday - a day which, in Canada, is just a regular weekday. I got out for my daily walk, but I didn't set foot in a store or other place that involved spending money. I must admit that this was more by chance than by design, though I HAVE been deliberately avoiding the sorts of places - electronics stores, for example - that typically go in for these one-day, blockbuster, get-people-to-camp-out-all-night events.

To be fair, I think maybe the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season is probably just as early in Canada as in the U.S. - maybe even earlier, somewhere around Remembrance Day. I don't think it's quite as early as CANADIAN Thanksgiving, though Halloween and Christmas decorations often seem to reside cheek by jowl in the aisles of supermarkets and department stores. And the Sears Christmas catalogue usually lands on our doorstep in early September. Does our colder climate and shorter winter days put people in a Christmasy mood sooner? Or does the same phenomenon occur in the southern hemisphere, in places where Christmas is celebrated?

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