GARY MACDOUGALL: A Christmas gift

Memories of Christmases past enrich and follow us throughout our lives

Gary MacDougall
Published on December 23, 2016

‘Christmas at the Basilica’ attracted more than 1,000 people on Tuesday night to hear seasonal choral selections. The evening concluded with several timeless carols by candlelight.

©(Gary MacDougall photo)

Sometimes it’s easier to see with your eyes closed. The clutter, chatter and chaos of December can make it difficult to focus.

If I close my eyes, I can easily picture when my older brother and I warned our father that it wasn’t right for him to hang his Christmas sock alongside ours.

“Christmas is for kids, not Daddies,” we said.

We were proven correct the next morning when our socks were filled with candy and other delectable things, while our father’s was filled with rocks and lumpy old vegetables.

If I close my eyes on another Christmas season, I can recall both the embarrassment and discomfort of having my tongue stuck to the metal railing at Lidstone’s store in Tyne Valley. As people who know me will attest, my tongue survived the incident, but sadly the old store and its memories are no more.

Closing my eyes again, I am on the hunt for the family Christmas tree, a serious family responsibility I carried for a few years. I wasn’t interested in any Charlie Brown-type tree. I looked for the full-figured trees, and it didn’t matter if it was spruce, fur or pine. As I recall, I also didn’t worry too much about trespassing. But, neither did the landowners.

In the time it takes to blink I can recreate a mental scene of the annual Christmas school concerts. The study-free two weeks of practice time was a welcome bonus, but the moment of truth was always nerve-wracking when the curtain was drawn and it was time for the recitations and skits.

But no matter the quality of the concert, Santa Claus always appeared with gifts, and fudge was plentiful. Speaking of which, it was always a guessing game to pick the fudge made by the mothers who were more liberal with the sugar.

Even to this day, my Christmas season of doubt is only a thought away. It’s a mental fork in the road everyone faces when it comes to Santa Claus and his magical powers – or supposed magical powers.

On Christmas Eve I stepped into our backyard and looked up at the multitude of stars. I tuned my Sony 9-volt transistor radio to CJRW in Summerside to hear that Santa and his sleigh had been spotted on radar — by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) no less. That was good enough for me; I remained a believer.

Another vivid Christmas memory is so recent there’s no need to close my eyes to recall it. It was this week’s “Christmas at the Basilica” in Charlottetown, and it proved there is still plenty of “Christ” in Christmas. Music conductor Leo Marchildon and his orchestra and choir mesmerized the over 1,000 people who packed the magnificent St. Dunstan’s Basilica. It was standing room only, but no matter where you sat or stood, you could feel the music as much as hear it.

Father Floyd Gallant quoted poet and singer Leonard Cohen in referencing the Christmas spirit. “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in,” wrote Cohen.

With the artificial lights turned off and all in attendance holding candles, the hymns “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” soared into every heart. I closed my eyes and was rewarded with memories of the faces of loved ones from Christmases past. They may no longer be in my “here”, but they are definitely out “there”.

My Christmas gift to all is a simple one: take the time to close your eyes. And, speaking in the spirit of the beloved Charles Dickens character, Tiny Tim, I say “God bless us, every one!”


Gary MacDougall, a long-time P.E.I. journalist, can be reached at