Christmas Traditions

Hallowe’en has come and gone. The Santa Claus Parade was two weeks ago. And now it is early December. Even those of us who refuse to get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas are getting into the mood of the season. Although the dark comes earlier, the city lit their lights last weekend, and the neighbourhood is aglow with the decorations which always make me feel warm and cosy.

Christmas baking has been a traditional harbinger of the season. When our children were growing up, I and several friends used to start the season with an all-day Christmas baking bee. Each person would bake double recipes of their favourite family treats, we would cook them together in a marathon session, and then we would spread them out on the dining room table, tally them up, and divide the product of our day’s labours equally among us. Our time together was always great fun; lots of white wine, and a chance to catch up on all the news as we decorated the gingerbread. filled the tarts with mincemeat, or cut the shortbread. Because there were five or so families involved, we always left with a great variety of goodies which we packed away into our boxes. Some people used the baking for gifts; others stored it away in the freezer to keep the family supplied with sweets throughout the season.

Over the decades, we marked the fact we were getting older by the number of recipes we baked. Initially, we actually did three double recipes on our baking day. Those days stretched late into the evening. Then we reduced our expectations to two double recipes. A few years later, we changed to bringing one recipe already baked, and only baking one together. Then we could not believe that we had once actually done all that baking on a single day.

Our all-day baking bee is no more. Friends have passed away. Children have grown up. Health issues put a damper on eating fancy sweets. Treasured family recipes seem obsolete beside the light cuisine now in favour. The time has come to create new traditions, preferably ones that don’t involve food. 

The West End YMCA Walking Club, organized by Lori Myers out of the College Street (West End) YMCA four months ago, typically walks to and from lesser known attractions in the city. On Sunday, we visited the opening of the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower Show. Allan Gardens is a downtown park, between Carlton and Gerrard, Jarvis and Sherborne, in the heart of Toronto. It features, among other things, a complex of glass Victorian greenhouses, including one that was moved from its original site at the University of Toronto. The conservatory is filled with lush tropical plants, ferns, orchids, violets, succulents, cacti, all manner of greenery to warm the soul when the weather is cold or damp outside. As of yesterday, the greenhouses are replete with colour: poinsettias, azaleas, anthurium, kalanchoe, cyclamen, croton of all shades and varieties, people fashioned from plants, a Christmas tree decked with oranges and cloves, wreaths of evergreen with the freshest holly, tropical plants blooming chartreuse, orange, yellow, and the reddest of reds.

Sunday there were horse and carriage rides, Victorian carollers, hot cider and cookies to mark the beginning of the season. On December 7th and 8th, 14th and 15th, 21st and 22nd, the conservatory will be bathed in candlelight from five to seven o’clock. I cannot imagine anything that could be more magical than to visit Allan Gardens by candlelight in the dead of winter. We had an absolutely lovely visit to the Gardens. Maybe this is the beginning of a new tradition.


Poinsettias, etc.






Barrel cactus & kalanchoe

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