We were poor so our Christmas preparations were not about shopping for gifts in fact gifts in our whole extended family were just not a priority. What mattered was preparing food for "réveillon" after Midnight Mass and preparing a great meal for Christmas dinner wherever that would take place.
Réveillon was a "celebration" after Midnight Mass that sort of kicked of the rest of Christmas day. Of course, it was about breaking bread together as we would say today. It was a must to have tourtière (french meat pies) and apple pies that Mémère usually prepared for the family.
As children, we all looked forward to being allowed to stay up on Christmas Eve in anticipation of leaving just before 11:00p.m. for church. Midnight Mass was so well attended that it was difficult to find a seat if you did not go early. As parishioners of "La Paroisse Ste-Anne" (Ste-Anne Parish) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, we were privileged to have a chapel where daily mass was celebrated in what we called the "big" church where all special celebrations such as Christmas and Easter was celebrated as well as Sunday masses.
The chapel had once been the parish church until it became too small for the number of families in the parish. Above the chapel was a beautiful parish hall that included a balcony. All parish events were very well attended and at times there was standing room only once all of the seats were filled. Eventually, the chapel was converted into a second parish hall. In the upper hall, school plays, turkey cheers and big events were held. In the lower hall the parish would sponsor whist parties and the like. (Whist was a popular card game at the time.)
My grandmother (accompanied by me) would always arrive at church early and save the pew for other family members. I remember the then pastor Père (Father) Forestier who was a member of the Society of Mary (Marist). He had seen the completion of our beautiful new "big" church. He was beloved by all parishioners and was greatly appreciated for his devotion and dedication to the parish. I remember some of the scaffolding was still up when we attended our first Midnight Mass in the big church. It had not been possible to take it all down by Christmas. No machines to do these things in those days.
The parish choir lead by Mrs. Desjardins who was our organist and choir director would begin to sing Christmas carols at 11:00p.m. I remember sitting and listening and soon I was dozing while leaning against my Mémère's very comfortable fur coat. Just as mass was about to be celebrated she would nudge me awake - I was always surprised to see the rest of the family had arrived unnoticed by me.
So many people attended Midnight Mass that communion could last anywhere from a half hour or more. My grandmother always sat in the first pew so I got to see all of my uncles, aunts and cousins pass by as they went to communion.
Midnight Mass was always the ultimate in ushering in the Birth of Jesus. We all loved it and it was a very special time for our families. There was always a big beautiful manger in the big church as well as in the chapel. My Mémère had a special crêche she would take out. I remember it had little angels and she had fashioned wings made out of yellow cellophane. Everything was gorgeous - the angels, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph were set in a log cabin setting. Something that had come with her family when they migrated from Canada. You could tell this was very special to her because of the care she took in displaying her crêche.
After Midnight Mass, réveillon would take place at one of my uncle's homes (my mother's brothers) because most of the time Christmas dinner was at our home. I remember my mother staying up a good portion of the night so everything would be ready for noon on Christmas day with aunts, uncles and cousins arriving between 11:00-11:30 a.m. I would awake on Christmas morning to the smell ragou, turkey in the oven, tourtière and apple pies. Dinner time seemed so far away to the child that I was!
So when Christmas time rolls around, my head is flooded with wonderful memories of what it was like to celebrate Christmas back then. Nostalgia fills the air as well as a longing for parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family. When I was growing up, family was everything and as mentioned before, celebrating Christmas was never about gifts - either giving or receiving - Christmas was about being together, having an unforgettable dinner prepared by Mama and spending the rest of the day together talking, singing, laughing, playing and have a memorable day. Mama and a couple of uncles played the harmonica and others played the spoons. It didn't take much to entertain ourselves in those days. Life was good! Where has all that simplicity gone?!
I hope you all have such wonderful family memories of Christmas past to recall as you prepare for Christmas 2010.
Your cousin Lucie
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Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Lucie LeBlanc Consentino