The glass felt cold as I pressed my face against the kitchen window, and watched the snowflakes falling softly on the spruce tree beside the old house. The Christmas lights were wrapped ‘round and ‘round the tree, and the soft colours shone on the snow-covered branches below.
It was Christmas Eve, the most magical night of the year, and I was bursting with anticipation. Santa was coming tonight, and would surely be leaving some wonderful gifts under the tree in the living room. I had been very good all year, and had written a letter asking for a lovely new doll with long red hair and big blue eyes. I stared up at the night sky, white with snow and wondered where Santa was? Was he in Lanark County yet, or was he delivering his toys to children in other parts of the world, along his route? Hal Botham, on CJET radio, said that Santa’s sleigh was spotted up north, so I was sure that he must be on his way to the Third Line!
Supper was finished, and Mother was tidying up the kitchen. Soon, we’d be heading over to Calvin Church for their candlelight service. Every year we were allowed to open one present after returning from church, and then we had to head straight to bed, and go right to sleep, so that Santa could deliver our gifts.
When Mother was finished sweeping the floor, we put on our coats and boots, and headed outside. The old car was chilly, and the heater was blowing cold air. I shivered as we headed down the lane, and up the Third Line, toward DeWitt’s Corners.
Everyone’s Christmas lights glowed,on that night, so long ago. The pine tree in front of Chris and Leanore Perkins’ house was decked out in blue lights, and Korrys had red and green lights framing their front door. Mitchells, Conboys and Scotts all had lovely bright lights, and we passed by house after house, all aglow in their Christmas finest. Then we slowed down, and turned up Cameron side road.
When we finally arrived at the church, there were only a few cars parked, and some people had already gone inside. The light coming from the little country church glowed softly against the cool white snow, and the delicate flakes continued to swirl around as we parked, and Mother shut off the engine. When I opened the car door the church yard was silent. The snow continued to drift down softly, and as I stood there I listened, but couldn’t hear a thing. We didn’t speak as we walked up to the church, and I’ll never forget how calm and peaceful it was that night as we walked up those well worn steps.
We sat in our usual pew, behind Munros, in front of Johnstons, and in the next little while familiar faces appeared again and again at the doorway of the church, filed in, and took their seats. Many stopped to chat on the way to their pews. They were our neighbours, our classmates from Glen Tay School, and our good friends. As I looked around at all of their faces I realized how special it was to be there that night, and to be a part of this close community.
When everyone was finally seated, and it seemed like the little church couldn’t hold even one more person, the sounds of the organ filled the air, and the old wooden pews creaked as everyone stood up at once. The song was a familiar one; we all knew the words, and our voices swelled in unison as we sang the ancient carol, “Si..lent night……., Ho..ly night………, All is calm……., All is bright.”
Old, familiar carols were sung, and the story of the first Christmas was told once again.
And so that was how Christmas unfolded out in the country. The days and months leading up to that moment were filled with anticipation. Trees were trimmed, and cards were mailed. Letters to Santa were written, and toys were circled in pen, in the Sears Christmas Wishbook. We rehearsed for Christmas concerts, and ran down the lane each day, bringing back handfuls of Christmas cards, adorned with stickers and seals. Cookies were baked, and invitations went out to family members and friends,to come and spend the day.
All of these things played their part leading up to the most special day of the year; but it was not until we sat in the pews of the small country church, and raised our voices, singing our favourite carols, that I knew for sure that the spirit of Christmas was among us.
I knew from an early age that the spirit of Christmas didn’t live in the beautifully decorated store windows in Perth, or under the brightly lit tree in our living room. I’m not sure if the Christmas spirit travelled up the Third Line, and down the Cameron side road like us, or if it came up Highway 7, and crossed at Gamble’s side road. I still don’t know how the Christmas spirit found us, in the little church……….all the way out in the country.
All I know is every year it appeared on Christmas Eve without fail. I could see it in the faces around me, I heard it as we sang the carols, and our voices rose high into the old wooden ceiling. It warmed our hearts, filled us with pure joy, and a profound sense of peace.
If you ever find yourself searching for the Christmas spirit, I’ll tell you where it is. Just drive out the Third Line on Christmas Eve, to the little country church on Cameron side road. It’s the small red brick church at the top of the hill. Go ahead inside, and then wait. You’ll feel it. It will be there. It’s always there; and even if you live far, far, away, you can take it home with you, keep it in your heart, and it will stay with you forever.
Some of the faces I remember on Christmas Eve at Calvin Church:
Some are gone, none are forgotten.
Calvin United Church was opened for worship in September of 1896, built on the property of Mr. John Cameron. The first elected officers in the church were Andrew Gamble, William Scott, Andrew Palmer, George Miller, Andrew B. Miller, Andrew W. Miller, W.J. Palmer, John Jordan, Nichol Stewart, Alex Palmer and Sydney Miller.
To learn more of the history of Calvin United Church, Cameron Side road,DeWitt’s Corners, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County:
History of Calvin United Church
“Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County”,
An excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”
Available at The Book Nook, Perth, The Bookworm, Perth, Mill Street Books, Almonte