Christmas Filters

Christmas is almost here again, a time when joyous get-togethers and exchanging meaningful gifts abound. It is a season filled with expectations of love and peace and happiness. Some achieve these, many don’t. I will not dishonour myself by pretending that all the memories of the ghosts of Christmas Past are happy ones but I use what I call my Christmas filters when I look back to those times. These filters, called nostalgia I suppose by others, allow me to look at long ago Decembers and smile. But it is more than nostalgia. What the filters do are let me take the good memories of past Christmases with me on my journey forward and do my best to leave the other ones behind, where they belong.

In the present day I have my boy cat Jay and a place filled to the rim with seasonal lights and greenery. It is hard to fill your own stocking. Jay says “stuff it yourself, just leave me catnip!” My very kind youngest sister makes sure to include a number of small wrapped-in-issue presents in her parcel so that I can have a stocking. I have friends who come to visit and one who always shares my Christmas meal with me so Christmas Present is very good.

And there are many good memories from years ago. Sleigh rides, carolling, banana bread and Earl Grey tea for breakfast, stockings, Jackie Gleason and Peggy Lee Christmas albums (yes, I am old) were among the many things that filled the holidays then. Many of my relatives lived in the same neighbourhood. One year my mother and I delivered their presents to them on a toboggan. I could not have been more than six but I can still remember the sounds of the toboggan gliding across the snow and the crunch of my boots on it. Once the presents were gone I then got a ride home!

Dad was outside one evening, jingling some old sleigh bells while I stood at a window upstairs with my two young sisters who were looking at the sky and disagreeing about where they saw Santa and his sleigh. Both were convinced they were right. I imagine they both were!


I sit (in an absolutely hideous outfit by the way) in front of our tree with my sisters in 1962.


Before climate change there was almost never a Christmas in Ottawa that wasn’t white. I have always had a spiritual connection with snow. It fills me with something I have never really been able to put into words. It is the purity of it that grabs me the most I think, almost like a new start in life with each snowfall. It was close to a given for Ottawa to have a white Christmas.

Not only was it green one year but raining heavily on the 24th, forecasted to continue through Christmas Day. I took my two younger sisters to midnight service at the church. The rain was depressing. We went into church about 11:00 and it was 12:45 when we emerged to what I have always felt was a small miracle – a winter wonderland. It was breathtakingly beautiful as the large flakes continued to fall and unexpected tears sprang from my eyes. It was crisp and calm and as a writer I could not have scripted it better.

Gifts are always fun but the ones I remember the best truly came from the heart. Because they are heading out of town, I had an early Christmas celebration with my sister and her family this year. The subject of past Christmases came up. I told my niece about a present her mother made for me when she was her age (12). It was an evening bag, approx. 8 x 4 inches. It was made of light purple corduroy and covered in thick plastic. My sister is about as sewing-challenged as I am so when I say it was a sight to behold, it was not necessarily a good one! She adored me then and was so very proud of the present that I worked hard to make my excitement extra special.

Then there was the small china cat my little brother gave me when he was about 7. Dad had taken him to buy presents for everyone at one of those old corner stores that had everything, including a statue of Elvis in the window. At least I think it was a cat because the crouching piece of fake china I was holding in my hand barely resembled one. His face as I opened the present was filled with so much love and excitement I prepared myself and gave an appropriate response. When I saw the cat I said “oh this is so beautiful” and he replied “yes I know Sue, just like you!” Alright then!

I had not told my niece about my excited responses to the presents so after these two stories she asked me “What do you do when you get a fail present?” I was not lying when I told her these were far from being “fail” presents, that they were very successful. Both came with so much care and love that they touched me deeply. It is not just a cliché. It truly is the thought that counts. Oh, and doing something with love doesn’t hurt either.


One of my trees from Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas everyone and if you have any memories to share I would love to hear them.



  1. Seema
    Dec 17, 2015

    Really, really love this one, Susan. Heartwarming, yet real. I love the image of you and your mother delivering presents by toboggan! And what a wonderful gift you’ve given your niece this Christmas by sharing these stories with her. Knowing “it’s the thought that counts,” is not the same as truly feeling it. You’ve really given meaning to these words. I’m sure this is a gift your niece will keep and use forever. Wishing you and Jay a holiday season filled with peace, love, and lots of snow.

    • Susan McNicoll
      Dec 17, 2015

      Thank you Seema, for your kind comments and your wishes. And, as I read your comment I notice that the fine rain is turning to snow. Keep wishing for snow for me and we may have a big snowfall. Jay and I wish you a season filled with unexpected joy.

  2. yv goode
    Dec 17, 2015

    Aha… the filter of nostalgia…one wishes to reminisce the nice bits! If I ever settle down I shall name my pet Peggy Lee.

    • Susan McNicoll
      Dec 17, 2015

      Sounds like a good idea. I like remembering the nice bits. It makes it all worthwhile.

  3. Oh, the memories this brought back! The sound of the toboggan and the crunch of snow … there really was so much more of it when we were young – snowbanks over my head every year, and that was in Toronto where it’s downright balmy compared to Ottawa! Thanks for sharing this, Susan. Beautiful photo of you and your sibs (despite the outfit). 😉

    • Susan McNicoll
      Dec 18, 2015

      I have photos to prove the snowbanks were that high. In fact my older brother found a short video from 1957 of the two of use racing up and down a driveway with the house in the back and the snow was really high. I don’t miss the biting cold but I do miss the snow so much. Thanks for stopping by. Merry Christmas.

  4. Catherine
    Dec 19, 2015

    Beautiful! Your descriptions are evocative and heart warming. We could all use more Christmas filters!

    • Susan McNicoll
      Dec 19, 2015

      Thank you so much Catherine. You have dealt with others Christmas filters more than most so I am happy you appreciate mine.

  5. Denise
    Dec 20, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading this Susan! The idea of Christmas filters is beautiful. And I loved that you acknowledge the past, but make an active choice to leave it in the past, and focus on the present…pun intended 🙂 How magical that you’ve given your niece a glimpse of the real meaning of Christmas. Merry Christmas Susan and Jay.

    • Susan McNicoll
      Dec 20, 2015

      I am so pleased Denise, that you enjoyed my blog. You got all the messages I was trying to impart with it. Love the pun! Merry Christmas back from Jay and I.

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