Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 18, 2006
'You could hear the people coming'
Metis elder recalls bygone days when you could feel and breath Jesus in the Christmas air
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
"My mother played the violin and accordion and we would dance and sing."
"They came from all the reserves. Nobody was any different in those days until the government came along and tried to separate us (separating Metis from First Nations). And it was all dog teams. That's how we travelled - dog teams.
"You had to tie the dogs separately because they would fight. And they were big dogs."
As the visitors filled the town, young Alvena marvelled at the beaded parkas, mitts and mukluks.
"The women must have sewed for months."
Even the dogs wore beaded blankets and the harnesses studded with bells broadcasted their way through the night.
As the travellers trekked through Fort McMurray, they knew Philomene would make them welcome. "My mother would take in anybody. She was friends with everybody and would make beds all over."
There was always a tree in the Laboucane house. Decorations were sparse. The frugal mother cut silver strips of empty silver tea packages and green and red tissue paper.
Time to go to Christmas Eve Mass and Alvina would hear her dad Patrice say, "You go to Mass and I will go tomorrow morning. I'll stay and watch for Santa Claus."
Out into the cold and they would hurry through the snow with the little ones hauled behind on toboggans. Cold. So cold trees cracked and split.
Finally they were inside the church.
The Mass on the Christmas Eves of Alvena's youth was said in Latin and the hymns sung in French, English, Cree and Chipewyan.
Joe Couture, the father of Dr. Joe Couture, the 76-year-old university professor and psychologist from Wetaskiwin, "would sing and that church would just echo with his voice," remembers Alvena.
Questioned about the faith of the congregants, Alvena replies simply, "Christ was there. Everybody believed so much. They weren't pretending. They felt it, because they were raised that way."
"Children were good in those days. We were taught to be afraid. We never fought. We were taught to respect each other."
Presents were opened the next day and the boys received little toys and girls a doll each.
"That is the only time we got oranges," remembers Alvena
Christmas dinner featured a turkey - "probably brought in by Mr. Skelton the butcher" - potatoes from the cold cellar, carrots that were buried in sand and onions dried upstairs.
Time for dessert and it's Philomene's apple and raisin pies and steamed pudding with sauce.
"Mother could not read or write, but she could cook the tastiest meals," says Alvena.
After dinner, entertainment was produced by the family itself.
"My mother played the violin and accordion and we would dance and sing. My dad was a dancer and he taught us how to dance. And I still do the Red River jig today."
Asked to compare the Christmas of yesteryear to today's, Alvena's answer comes swiftly.
"It was much better then than it is today because everything is so superficial now. There is nothing about Jesus anymore. It's about how many toys you can buy and how expensive can they be.
"We never thought about things like that. We believed."
Alvena's work as an elder with troubled youth gives her another vantage point.
"Children were good in those days. We were taught to be afraid. We never fought. We were taught to respect each other. Today there is no respect for anybody: The parents don't teach their children anything today."
Alvena is asked if she could give a Christmas gift to everyone what would it be?
For the first time in the conversation, she is stopped. Her reply comes slowly.
"I'd like to save the whole world, but I can't. I would like them to know there is a Christ. But some people don't think that.
"But I know if you don't believe, you've got nothing." She sighs and then says again, "You've got nothing."
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