When I was a kid we had few traditions in my family. We generally weren’t the type of family to be hung up on tradition or doing things because that’s how it was always done. However around Christmas we did have things that we did every year. Not because it was tradition, I doubt any of us really thought of it that way, but more because that’s just what we did. One of these is what we did on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
Going out on boxing day is pure insanity. The crush of the mob fighting their way through the stores trying to find the best deal, and sweating balls because you’re wearing a jacket and have nowhere to put it is grueling to endure. There is nothing appealing to it. At least not now. When I was a kid it was amazing. The idea of the sweaty masses didn’t occur to me. What I loved was getting on the train and heading to the Eaton Center downtown. I had the money I had gotten from my grandparents and aunts and uncles safely tucked away and I was going shopping! I was going to buy toys, oh glorious toys.
The day would start early, breakfast would be had, teeth would be brushed then we’d hop in the car and drive to the next town over to get the train. This was exciting to me. We get to take the train! At this time it was among the only times during the year I would get this chance. I would sit by the window and watch the suburbs and industrial areas pass us by. My mom would sit next to me reading or talking to me. I don’t really remember, I just remember the wonder of watching everything speed past the window. The ride to get to downtown Montreal from where we were was about 45 minutes. To me it seemed like an eternity. It may have been my excitement at the prospect of buying more Lego or Star Wars toys or MicroMachines (I loved those little vehicles and city playsets), or that any amount of time not doing what I wanted and having to sit in one place was an excruciating endeavor for me at that age.
When finally we’d arrive at the end of the line downtown we would take the metro to the Eaton Center. This was another adventure for me. It was like the train but underground! Will wonders never cease. Now it seems so mundane. I take the train every day to work and the magic is lost. But I get to experience it through my son when we take the train and metro to go to Comic Con.
Boxing day downtown is hectic to say the least. A thriving mass of humanity pushing against each other to ransack the selves in all the stores. Pushing and pulling in all directions. I don’t know what my parents were thinking. I feel like maybe in those days it wasn’t as bad as it is now. Maybe the boxing day sale marketing wasn’t as prevalent without the internet. Maybe more people just wanted to stay home. Whatever it was, there we were in the middle of it. I would instantly drag my mom to the toy section. Spending as much time as possible looking over the offerings. Asking my mom to help me calculate everything I wanted to buy and if I had enough. Did I want a MicroMachines playset, or did I want the Hawkman and Flash Super Powers action figures (the ones that came with the miniature comic book and did something when you squeezed their legs). What about the Lego? Did I have enough for an addition to the castle I had gotten from Santa the day before? These were important questions, and I needed answers.
Once I had made my very difficult but informed choice, I remember clearly one year it was purely MicroMachines, and everyone else had tired of the chaos we made our way to brunch. Brunch at the top of the Eaton Center was a fancy pants deal. I don’t remember now if was actually in the Eaton Center or not, though I feel like it was. It was a huge art deco dining room with silver cutlery and the the kind of tableware that you were afraid to chip or you’d be berated by a very snooty waiter and forced to pay for it. It was an extravagance our family was afforded once a year. There was a buffet where I would fill up on olives and pickles. We’d have a typical brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon and croissants. It’s unfortunate this restaurant is closed now, it was really a gorgeous place.
After all this excitement and grandeur we would walk the streets downtown looking at the holiday displays in the shop windows until it was time to take the train back home. Invariably I would fall asleep with my head on my mother’s lap as we made the 45 minute trip back to the West Island and our suburban landscape. Once back home I would unpack my treasures and begin to build my miniature city or add my action figures to my already substantial Justice League team and have them ready to fight Lex Luthor and the Joker.
Those days were almost as exciting as Christmas morning. It was an adventure in itself to see a part of the city I rarely experienced. The tradition changed through the years eventually becoming a boxing day movie, as long as it was something we could all agree on. Unless of course it was my dad deciding that Schindler’s List was a perfectly acceptable holiday movie to take the family too, and no I could not have a large popcorn for a movie of this seriousness. Needless to say when we walked out of that one nobody was in a very Christmasy spirit. The last time I remember that we enjoyed this tradition was when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was released. Now with family spread out and everyone busy with their own kids and wives or husbands it becomes harder to continue these traditions. We just have to hope to try and take them and continue them with our own kids, or a modified version of them. Or at the very least, I can tell my kids every year of what I used to do with their Nana and Popa as we build our own traditions and they make their own memories of what Christmas was like with their old man and mommy.
What were your holiday traditions as a child? Share them in the comments section below.