My first Christmas in the North: 1961

Donna found peace, happiness and calmness during her first simpler Christmas in the North. PHOTO: Pixabay


I was 11 years old when we moved from Dawson Creek, B.C. to Haines Junction, a community of perhaps 500 residents. It really wasn’t much of a shock leaving what I considered a “big place” for a small community at the base of the St. Elias Mountains. I had adjusted well to the move and was looking forward to my first Christmas in the north.

As the days got colder and the snow fell and hid the lines and crevices on the mountains that I had memorized during the summer, the excitement of the school Christmas pageant kept me occupied. I had no idea what to expect. I was used to seeing houses decorated with lights and wooden cutouts of Santa on his sleigh being pulled by Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer. It was always exciting going to the stores in Dawson Creek and finding just the right gift for my parents. There was none of that here.

It seemed something was missing.

On the morning of December 1st the thought struck me and I panicked: where was I going to buy gifts with the money I had earned working at my dad’s gas station over the summer months? More importantly, where were my folks going to buy me a gift? There was Madley’s store that had everything including the shoe box that the mail was kept in, a little bit of clothing and, of course, food. Nothing that would constitute a gift!

I decided now was the time to take action. I approached my parents to ask about driving to Whitehorse – 98 miles east – to buy gifts. “No,” I was told. “Too cold to travel that far.”

“Well, there had to be somewhere to shop!”

“No,” I was told, “This year will be different. We will make our own gifts.”

I was horrified.
Maybe moving to The Junction wasn’t such a good idea after all. I had no gift, and my parents seemed to think I could make something. 
Me? Make something? Were they crazy?

All the kids in the school were kept busy practicing for the pageant. There were skits planned and singing of Christmas carols. If my parents weren’t concerned about a gift for them, then so be it, I wouldn’t worry about it either. That would sure teach them!

With all the hard work everyone had done preparing for the pageant I knew the parents would all be pleased with the performance.

It was Christmas Eve and as we walked to the school the sound of our boots on the crisp snow reminded me of walking on sharp glass. 
The northern lights lit up the sky all around us and were so close that we could hear them crackle and hiss. 
I swear I could hear them singing “Silent Night.”

I don’t remember a lot about the pageant. I felt strange somehow.

It seemed I was closer to a religious experience than I had ever been. We never attended church or talked religion in our house, but it felt like God was speaking to me from the mountains and whispering to me through the northern lights.

It’s really hard to explain.

Later that evening as we walked back home I felt at peace, and truly happy. A calmness I have never felt since.

In the morning there was a gift from my parents. A drawing board that dad made out of plywood and two yardsticks and a pencil. I could draw an exact duplicate of a picture by moving the yardsticks.

My mother had burned into the wood the names of family members that couldn’t be with us along with the year of our first Christmas in the north.

My gift to them? I did make something after we had come home from the school pageant – a thank you card to my parents for bringing me to Haines Junction. For teaching me that material things are not important.

It’s the closeness of family and the feeling of God that I swear I felt the night before, on Christmas Eve.

Ready for Christmas Eve

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