Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Derek McCormack’s Christmas Days (2005)

When I was a girl, I had the same kind of advent calendar that Derek McCormack describes receiving every year from his mother, the flat ones made of cardstock, with winter scenes decorating them, little images behind each flap as you discovered them. No toys, no candies.

House of Anansi, 2005 Designed and Decorated by Seth

Nonetheless, I found the discovery of each image stupidly exciting. Partly because I didn’t know, obviously, that other kids were getting toys and candies.

When I was very young, I loved the images of toys best.

When I was a little older, I preferred the images of woodland animals (and still do).

Most of all, what I loved was the element of surprise.

So I’m not going to spoil the subjects that are in Derek McCormack’s advent-styled book, Christmas Days.

Instead, I will say that it begins with “Fake Snow”, which I read, devotedly on December 1st, and there are twenty-four different subjects in total. There is also a cluster of images by Seth at the beginning of the volume and one image which marks each segment, in red and black and white.

Derek McCormack begins by pulling readers to the windows of Lord & Taylor, an upscale department store in NYC in 1938, when the display director (Dana O’Clare, who had been born in Montreal and KNEW snow), ignored the Fifth Avenue Associations edict that motion in displays would “cheapen” the avenue.

Instead, he “frosted his windows with a solution of beer and Epsom salt. A hidden hair dryer blew around barrels of bleached corn flakes”.

There is talk of Quebec, Halifax, London and Manitoba, even in this single short segment. Sure, it begins in NYC, but the segment — the whole book — is Canada-soaked, history-soaked.

Nonetheless, Christmas Days never feels like a schoolbook; the prose reads like a cross between an article in a popular magazine and the fortune in a Christmas Cracker.

(Yes, there’s a chapter on them: I thought it would be dull, but it’s interesting too, especially for the talk of toys in the crachers — maybe I”m not out of the ‘toys phase’ after all.)

Stylistically, the prose is not pretty. That’s for the outside of the advent calendar after all. And what’s inside those windows? It’s a limited view.

Derek McCormack shares his information, succinctly and serviceably, and because it is interesting, it doesn’t matter. (Quite likely there is eggnog involved and noisy household company when you’re reading this anyway.)

***

Random Facts from Christmas Days:

“Canadians mailed Christmas cards sans envelopes. Envelopes were expensive and unnecessary. Christmas cards then [1840s] were almost always what we would call postcards.”

“Eaton’s outdid all. Up until the end of the First World War, it staged Santa spectaculars in theatres. In Toronto, it rented Massey Hall, distributed thousands of tickets for free. In Winnipeg, the show went on at Walker Theatre. ‘The stage had been transformed into a cave of wondrous beauty.’”

“‘But one day, I recall the first occasion, when, at Kitsilano Beach we took a small axe and started off, with the children, to cut a Christmas tree in the Indian Reserve.’ He did not cut a tree because the trees had all been cut. That was in 1913.”

About the Dionne Quintuplets (they don’t have their own section, but appear nonetheless):
“Christmas Days, Mrs. Dionne carted food and family to Quintland. Dr. Dafoe, ward of the Quints, greeted them. In 1935, Dr. Dafoe forbade the family from touching the Quints on Christmas Day. Lest the girls get germs. The Quints stayed behind glass. The family waved.”

***

Project Notes:
Day 40 of 45:
Christmas Days
would make a lovely gift to pop in the mail — with or without a card, but definitely avec envelope — mid-November, for friends and family. Particularly for those who have had their share of Canadian holidays but are celebrating elsewhere for now.

It is a pleasure to have a copy near the couch and  sit for a minute with an open window each day.

 

4 comments to Derek McCormack’s Christmas Days (2005)

  • Oh this one sounds like a delight. I can’t remember us having advent calendars when we were young but when my daughter was young we started buying then every year and for some reason it felt as if I had some connection with them from my own past. They are such a neat idea. I will need to track down a copy of this, not the least of which because I like Seth’s work.

    • I didn’t have an advent calendar every year either, and often lost track of the days even when I did, opening two or three in a morning at times, when I’d lost track, but I do like the idea of marking each day ritually like that, even now. Funny that you embroidered upon the tradition you started with your daughter, so that you feel a connection via your own past as well: what we do with memory! Don’t let the Canadian bits of this one put you off…not only is Seth’s work just as enjoyable despite the preponderance of red-and-white illustrations, but the those bits are entertaining and not likely the kind of detail about us northern folks that you generally read about south-of-the-border! I think you’d get more than a few giggles and guffaws out of it!

  • Oh the Canadian parts wouldn’t dissuade me at all. Louise Penny has single-handedly turned me into a Canada-phile!

    • She can have that effect on people, I understand. Heheh. If you haven’t yet had a chance to try Giles Blunt’s mysteries, I think he would appeal to you as well (although a markedly different tone and setting). But I know, I know…a million books on the ol’ TBR stacks and lists. And there’s OUAT just around the corner too!

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