Column: Finding Christmas in the hinterlands

'These were pure white Christmases with hip-deep snowbanks and only the twinkling of stars to light the sky'

I must have looked insane the other day, pausing at the Christmas trees before walking into the grocery store.

I stood there, mere inches from the bound trees, soaking up that smell. But I didn’t care what I looked like. As many of us do when we get to a certain age, I was trying to recapture a bit of my youth. And I did, I guess.

But the truth is, nothing compares to being there.

There were a few special Christmastimes while I was growing up. Times that I hold near and dear to my heart, back when my family lived in far reaches of the Okanagan hinterland.

These were pure white Christmases with hip-deep snowbanks and only the twinkling of stars to light the sky.

They were Christmases when my brothers and I would strap on cross country skis or snowshoes and explore the surrounding woods, but only after we were done chopping wood for the stove.

Christmases when hot apple cider and hot chocolate weren’t just comforting, they were a neccessity after braving frostbite outside.

Storybook Christmases.

And so, we were far from city lights, shopping malls and all the hustle of the holidays.

Sure, we did our Christmas shopping at the nearest malls and grocery stores. But traveling into the nearest city, Kelowna, was a chore we took on only a few times a month. For the most part, we stocked up and made the best of it, because in a hamlet just pushing 200 people, there aren’t a lot of amenities to be had.

And in the winter, that was especially true. There were definitely no Christmas tree farms in this particular winter paradise.

Instead, our house was a mere kilometre from the old Kettle Valley Railroad trestles. Imagine a snow-covered path stretching  like a pillow, far into the night, lined with trees of every colour, shape and size. It was a Christmas-tree bonanza. And it was all ours.

All we needed was our pick-up truck, some winter clothes and an axe, and we could have our pick. Of course, this was the middle of deep winter. And deep winter means deep snow.

Finding a tree meant wading through the white stuff as it clung to our pajamas and filled our snow boots, pushed under our winter coats and flew in our faces.

We would brush each tree that seemed suitable, freeing it from the weight and releasing the branches with a whoosh. And that’s when the smell would hit you. A fresh tree in the deep snow, just days before Christmas, is one of those fragrances you just can’t capture in a grocery store, or scented candle.

It’s the reason I will always have a real tree in my living room. It’s why we will always trek through a Christmas tree farm in search of just the right one. We’ve never been lucky enough to do that trek in hip-deep snow, but the kids are still young and I’m holding out hope that it will happen one year.

And each year, when I bundle up my children and trek out to a farm, I think of those Christmases back in the Okanagan. While it’s never quite the same, my hope is that the tradition of chopping down an honest-to-goodness Christmas tree is carried along with them.

In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying the fir tree that’s filled my living room.

Here’s to hoping you spend your holidays cherishing your memories, and making new ones.

– Jessica Peters is the editor of the Agassiz Harrison Hope Observer