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.
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.”
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.