It was December sometime in the mid-1950s.
I was in the Baptist Mission School here in Whitehorse.
Behind the fenced-in grounds of the school were several long buildings that were once used by the army. There also was the Army Theatre where we would perform our annual Christmas concert.
We would practice in the long dining building.
Someone would play the piano while all the students would sing a traditional Christmas hymn. That year it was “Joy to the World”.
Tap, tap of the baton; practice, practice, practice!
A group would do the Nativity story. There were recitals of bible verse. There were musical drills performed by junior to senior girls. The girls marched in time to the music, pretty crepe paper dresses swishing, and tinsel twinkling. The boys practiced their gymnastic performances, which ended with a soft collapsing of the human pyramid.
And, the Peterson sisters usually performed a song. My three sisters and I would practice with one of the teachers. That year it was “Silent Night”. Over and over we practiced singing this song in order to not make mistakes.
Excitement began to build, as we got closer to that eventful December night because we knew that there would be the traditional brown paper bag full of hard candies, nuts, apples, and mandarin oranges, and even more so because after the concert, some of us would be able to go home for the holidays.
It seemed that there were hundreds of people in the audience. Our parents were there. I loved the applause!
It was a happy time.
We went back to our dormitories afterwards. The brown paper goody bags rustled. Tastes of our treats were relished. Decisions were made about which ones to eat first and which ones to save for later. It was very difficult to crack open the Brazil nuts. Some wise student figured out how the feet of our fold-up bunk beds could be used as a nutcracker. A familiar sound was the crack, crack of nuts being opened.
Then, we, the Peterson sisters, would make the trek home with mom. It would be cold, with the Northern lights swishing and crackling. We walked, our steps crunching in the snow. Dogs barked, their owners talking to them, telling them to be quiet.
Finally, we were home. We lived at the very bottom of the clay cliffs, on Seventh Avenue, where the Whitehorse Community Garden is now. Our house was a renovated army barracks with a wood heater fashioned from forty-five gallon oil drums. It was cozy warm; the wood crackled as it burned.
We ate mandarin oranges and put the peelings on the heater. The peels smelled wonderful while they crackled and popped.
We were free from school for a couple of weeks.
Mom was excited about getting the Christmas trees ready. She liked to have an outside tree decorated with lights also. She would sing, “Jingle Bells”.
The closer Christmas came; she would start singing, “Here Comes Santa Claus”. On Christmas Eve, she said, “Go to sleep now; Santa Claus will be here when you are sleeping.”
It seemed that we couldn’t sleep for all the excitement.
Morning came; it was Christmas!
There were presents under the tree.
Mom said, “I saw where Santa Claus landed his sleigh; you can go and look for yourself.”
She pointed to a little hill, a short distance from the house and said, and “Look for the sleigh and his boot tracks.”
There they were. We followed his boot tracks back to the house. There was the proof.
Back in the house, it was time to open our presents. That year, the Peterson sisters each got a beautiful set of glass play dishes. We could use some of these to eat our breakfast from.
Mom started to prepare our turkey for dinner; she was busy with the pots and pans. The clank, clank of the pots and pans was a happy sound, promising a tasty Christmas dinner.
Now we could go outside to play. We marveled at the spot that Santa Claus landed his sleigh before we started sliding down that hill. Over and over we slid down the hill, happy that we had a perfect spot for him to land next Christmas.