F. Jones arrives in Victoria’s Inner Harbour as Santa Claus/Father Christmas, circa 1917. Similar scenes played out in other coastal B.C. communities, including North Delta. (Photo courtesy of the B.C. Archives)

North Delta History: Christmas 100 years ago

Santa Claus, as we know him today, was just beginning to gain popularity in 1917

By Nancy Demwell, Delta Museum and Archives Society

Santa Claus was just coming into vogue in North Delta in 1917. An already-popular Christmas hero in the United States, magazines and radio popularized the Santa that we know and love today. Prior to the jolly elf that slides down the chimney while children sleep, there was the English Father Christmas who rode a white horse and the Norwegian Julenisse, a short mythical creature similar to a gnome.

In North Delta, church- and lodge-sponsored children’s Christmas parties would have the good old Christmas elf arrive with great fanfare via fishing trawler or in a sleigh or wagon drawn by a horse with deer antlers tied on its head. For school Christmas pageants, the one room schoolroom was divided by a rope and hanging blankets to make a theatrical stage. Children would recite poetry, sing carols and — as was popular in 1917 — perform in a still life depicting a famous painting or the nativity scene.

North Delta’s predominantly Norwegian settlements of Annieville and Sunbury celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. While families were enjoying Christmas dinner, Santa would sneak in to lay gifts under the Christmas tree. After the meal, presents were opened and the children’s stockings were explored.

Conveniently, after all the children were in bed, Father Christmas was available at midnight for the North Deltan’s of British heritage, and those children would find their stockings full on Christmas morning.

Christmas stockings would contain a few pieces of candy and a Japanese orange, plus a lump of coal stuffed in the toe. The orange has been a holiday tradition since 1891 when the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Empress of Japan began sailing its Silk ships from Asia. The lump of coal was a remembrance of when only coal and straw were put in naughty children’s stockings instead of candy. By 1917, the coal was just an addition for the fire.

In some 1917 homes, a place was set for an absent soldier fighting in the trenches of the First World War, and there would be many British flags placed on mantles and Christmas trees. Parcels were sent to the front with hand-knitted socks and sweaters, and tins of Christmas cookies and cakes. Sometimes these parcels wouldn’t arrive until months after Christmas, but they were precious gifts from home whenever they were received.

At home, gift giving was more moderate in 1917. There were knitted mittens and crocheted pot holders, hand-me-down boots or shoes, whittled boats and homemade cloth dolls with button eyes. Children would receive useful gifts like an axe or a notebook and — if the family could afford it — toys or new clothes ordered from the Eaton’s catalog.

Charity and goodwill were an important part of the Christmas season in North Delta. The bachelors of the community were hosted by the many of the families celebrating Christmas. The Japanese and First Nations fishermen were served Christmas pudding by their Christian counterparts on Christmas Eve, and their children were given candy. With respect to the sacredness of the holiday, no fishing was done by anyone on Christmas Day.

Nancy Demwell is a board member with the Delta Museum and Archives Society.

 

F. Jones sails into Victoria’s Inner Harbour as Santa Claus/Father Christmas, circa 1917. Similar scenes played out in other coastal B.C. communities, including North Delta. (Photo courtesy of the B.C. Archives)

Just Posted

Spawning salmon returning to North Delta’s Cougar Creek

It’s early in the season, but the streamkeepers are hopeful it could be a good year for returns

City will ask Fraser Health to remove pay parking at SMH, Surrey councillor says

Surrey’s new council has already made parking free on neighbouring city streets

South Surrey church members ‘praying for accused mother… for the whole process’

Lisa Batstone’s second-degree murder trial continues this week in B.C. Supreme Court

Former Surrey gymnast shining on rugby pitch for Bayside

An injury forced Brady Reeleder to switch sports, and now he’s thriving at his new endeavour

B.C. government funding 360 affordable homes in Delta

The $36-million investment will build homes for families and seniors in Ladner and Tsawwassen

Winter weather hits parts of Canada

As some parts of the country brace for cold, parts of B.C. remain warmer than 10 C

B.C. teacher’s Amazing Race takes students on Canada-wide adventure

Agassiz high school students say they had the experience of a life time

Don’t sign USMCA until LGBTQ language excised, U.S. lawmakers urge Trump

The trade agreement, forged after 13 months of tense negotiations between Canada and the U.S. is scheduled for Nov. 30

US official: US intel says prince ordered Khashoggi killing

Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters that ‘the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity.’

Giants serve up major defeat to Pats at Langley Events Centre

On the ice, Vancouver G-Men wrap up home stand with a 10-4 win over Regina Friday night.

Canada’s health system commendable overall but barriers to care remain: UN

The United Nations says Canada’s health care system is “commendable” overall but vulnerable groups still face barriers to quality care.

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Kelly Ellard’s boyfriend has statutory release revoked

Darwin Duane Dorozan had several parole infractions that found him ‘unmanageable’

Most Read