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Newfoundland and Labrador archivist Larry Dohey shares Christmas memories

Larry Dohey was known for his storytelling, research and passion for the province’s history.

When Larry Dohey passed away in August this year, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians mourned the loss of the well-known archivist and captivating storyteller. 

Dohey was the director of programming and public engagement at The Rooms in St. John’s. He died on Aug. 28. The 59-year-old’s love of the province, its people and its history has been heralded by politicians, journalists, researchers, colleagues and others whose lives he enriched with his soft voice, kind smile and terrific sense of humour.

Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section
Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section

Whenever he was contacted for interviews for information about province-related topics, Dohey was glad to share his knowledge and memories. He did just that during a phone interview on Aug. 23, when he answered questions about Christmas traditions and memories of the season while growing up in St. Bride’s on the province’s Cape Shore. 

We publish this in his memory and with blessings from his family.

Q: What would you consider one of the oldest Newfoundland Christmas traditions?

A: I suspect one of the oldest would be the tradition of mummering — going from house to house. There are two mummering traditions. One is a tradition that developed around the bay ... where you went from door to door ... dressed in a disguise ... where you’d sing a song or recite a poem ... but the St. John’s tradition was always the Mummers Parade. The oldest one would be the rural Newfoundland one.

Q: What is one of your fondest Christmas memories as a child?

A: Getting the Christmas presents. I came from a large family (seven girls and six boys), so there was always a party atmosphere in our home. Christmas morning came and you opened up your presents and, because there was so many of us, there was always joy and enthusiasm and awe in the air. You went to bed and there was just the Christmas tree. Then, you woke up in the morning and the whole downstairs would be filled with presents.

Q: Is there any one particular present you remember?

A: I remember getting this little plastic car .... And another Christmas, I remember ... getting up and my brother, Pat, had gotten up before the rest of us ... and he laid claim to just about all the presents .... [Their mother sorted things out.] When I got older, Grade 7 or 8 ... we were in a small place, St. Bride’s. There weren’t many stores to go to. 
Mother would go up to Miss Louisa Conway’s store in advance of Christmas ... in October or November ... and put [the gifts] on layaway .... Gradually, Mother would pay it off ... and come Christmas Eve, we’d sneak up there and bring it all home for the little ones .... Another memory is the Christmas catalogue .... We spent hours looking at the toys .... That particular car or that particular toy or that particular slide .... We often ripped the page out and brought it to school to show our friends. 

Q: Is there anything about Christmas in the past that has changed over the years?

A: One thing you don’t see much anymore is the family going in the woods and cutting their Christmas tree .... We really looked forward to going into the woods with your father and a few brothers and getting that tree and bringing it home. You’d know Mother wasn’t going to be pleased with that first tree or maybe not the second tree or the third tree. Then, you’d bring in the first tree again that our father may have cut a branch off ... and that tree was great .... 
Another thing that people forget about is the Christmas parcel or the Christmas box. If you had relatives outside the province ... you’d always look forward to the Christmas parcel. It would be clothes that their children had outgrown .... They’d send it all home to relatives in a box or a barrel. 

Q: When did Santa start showing up in homes in Newfoundland?

A: My parents were born in the 1920s. The Santa then was St. Nicholas and his Christian spirit. The modern-day Santa was developed by Coca-Cola in the late 1920s and early ’30s ... the jolly old St. Nick, who was chubby and had a beard. 

Shortly after this interview, Dohey shared several Christmas-themed stories he’d written for his blog, Archival Moments. You can find them at archivalmoments.ca

This content originally appeared in YULETIDE PREPARATIONS, a SaltWire custom publishing title. 

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