What are some of your fondest memories of being a child at Christmas?
For me, Christmas started with the arrival of Eaton’s Mail Order Christmas Book. What a delight and dilemma to crawl through the catalogue, narrowing my choice to just one or two treasures. And then getting to share that choice with Santa—in person!
I don’t remember my first Christmas but I’ve been told it was not a white one. Dad was a fireman with the CNR and on a run that was delayed by snow. Knowing he’d be back late Christmas Eve, Dad bought a tree in Wainwright and put it in the coal tender. Neither shaking nor spraying that tree with water would get the soot out. But I’m sure I loved it anyway.
In pre-school years I wanted presents like a toy hammer and a saw (dad and all my six uncles were skilled carpenters), a train set with a transformer to emulate my Dad, who was now an engineer, tinker toys and a MECCANO Set. Mrs. Claus snuck in a pair of pyjamas (to be opened Christmas Eve, rather than the present that looked suspiciously like a hockey stick.) When I was five, Mrs. Claus upped her game to get me a navy wool blazer and pants that looked spectacular in pictures but were very itchy.
After moving from Biggar to Saskatoon, I spent more time in the sports section of the catalogue. I yearned for shin pads to replace the magazines bound to my legs with sealer rings, I lusted for a Red Wings jersey and I wasn’t thrilled with the leather helmet Santa thought would protect my glasses’ frames that kept getting broken.
What might have caught mom’s eye in the catalogue?
Mom would have wanted to look swishy at the New Year’s Eve party so she might have circled “A” on the page below as a hint to dad. “DREAM of a dress…perky self ties at back….Crisp Rayon Crystalette with gold-colour splashed print.” Would mom have wanted Grey (shown) or Deep Teal Blue? $10.98.
I remember family holidays in the summer, stopping on a side street in Wenatchee so mom could get into her girdle before some “big city” shopping. Spice thinks “E” might have been what mom would order for herself. “NUBACK CORSET…firm boning and sliding back panel for comfort and support. Order 2 sizes less than waist to allow for lacing. $4.95.”
What does every woman often get her man for Christmas? A sweater. “E” looks like something mom would choose for dad, but $7.95 would have been a lot of money in 1948.
On Christmas morning, Mom was even more excited than me. She paced the hallway, knowing exactly where to step on the one board that squeaked. If flushing the toilet wouldn’t wake those sleepy kids, why not flush it two or three times more? Our lights were always the first ones on in the neighbourhood.
Christmas was different then. Kids received just one or two presents each and rarely gave gifts to their parents unless they were homemade. That being said, every year from the time I was eight years old until last Christmas I bought my mom a spatula for her Christmas stocking.
After breakfast, the whole family went skating on the forty-by forty foot rink that Dad built in the backyard every year, along with a six-foot-high toboggan hill. In the afternoon, even if it was forty below (same in both Fahrenheit and Celsius), he lit the Weber bbq to roast the turkey. What a challenge it was to keep the charcoal fired and try to coordinate the turkey’s timing with the vegetable dishes. After dinner I curled up with a new book or magazine, wearing my new jersey while dreaming of my best move around Red Kelly of the Toronto Maple Leafs to score the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final. Having been up since 4 am, it was time to crawl into bed, happy.
Timothy Eaton’s first catalogue, published in 1884, was a 32-page booklet distributed to out-of-town visitors at the exhibition in Toronto. Eaton expressed his vision for the catalogue in 1887: “This catalogue is destined to go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion. We have the facilities for filling mail orders satisfactorily, no matter how far the letter has to come and the goods have to go.” It became the first nationally distributed catalogue in Canada, and by 1894, Eaton’s was filling more than 200,000 orders per year. Colour was added in 1915, and photographs were added in 1919. The most anticipated catalogue of the year was Eaton’s Christmas catalogue, which, by the 1950s, grew to be a hefty wish book, slick and glossy with more than 200 pages and a kaleidoscope of colours.
Pictures Source Library and Archives Canada
Catalogue Pictures Copyright:
Eaton’s Fall and Winter 1948-49 Source: T. Eaton Co. Catalogue [English edition]Fall & Winter — Toronto : T. Eaton Co., [188–197-] — v. — P. 1-574© Sears Canada Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Sears Canada Inc. 029006-nlc003958
Eaton’s Christmas Book 1956 Source: T. Eaton Co. Catalogue [English edition] Eaton’s Mail Order Christmas Book — Toronto : T. Eaton Co., [188–197-] — v. — P. 1-187 © Sears Canada Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Sears Canada Inc. 029006-nlc003955