Christmas 2014: Armstrongs kept traditions strong for decades
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Armstrongs of Brussels shared their Christmas story with The Citizen’s editor Shawn Loughlin in 2014.
Jim and Leona Armstrong of Brussels say they have plenty of traditions that have stood the test of time when it comes to the holidays. Some are older than others though, and some are also bigger than others.
Leona was the first female warden in Huron County history, having served her community for a number of years on Grey Township Council. She is also a long-time member of a number of Brussels community organizations. Jim has been a proud member of the Brussels Lions Club for decades and has been a pillar of the aviation community for years.
And while the Armstrongs have both been serving their communities for decades, there is an item that has been serving them for over three generations around Christmas that is always where holidays with the Armstrongs begin.
When Jim was a young boy, he remembers his parents one day bringing home an ornament for their Christmas tree; a small white house hung with string. While he can’t explain exactly why he found himself drawn to this ornament, he said it was something that he always kept track of in his mind, making sure it ended up on the family’s Christmas tree year after year.
That ornament with the small white house is now placed at the top of Jim and Leona’s Christmas tree every holiday season, as it has been for the past 80 years, with a few notable exceptions.
Jim says he and Leona did lose track of the small ornament for a number of years, but one day, as if the ornament and the family were drawn to one another, it reappeared much to his delight when Jim was digging through a box of Christmas ornaments.
“It’s 80 years old now and it still looks as good as it did back then,” he said.
There is another ornament, created and given to Jim and Leona by their children, that has some history to it as well. The homemade ornament is adorned with a picture of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it has been on the tree for around 50 years, making it a relative newcomer compared to Jim’s house ornament.
For decades Jim and Leona have always played host to Christmas dinner as well. Even today, they say, they welcome between 25 and 30 family members to their home, although most likely the huge dinner will be served in the couple’s cottage, towards the back of their property, for the dinner that is always held on Boxing Day.
With all the work that goes into the meal, Leona says, Christmas Day is often spent in the kitchen preparing for the meal, rather than celebrating Christmas and putting her feet up and relaxing.
The work is always worth it though, she says, as their meal is always well attended, and well received.
Jim and Leona say they always go to the Christmas Eve service at St. John’s Anglican Church every year and catch the Queen’s Christmas message if they’re able, although Boxing Day dinner preparations sometimes disrupt those plans.
Years ago, both Jim and Leona remember years of lean family Christmases full of traditions that came out of necessity.
Leona says she remembers having to travel by farm sleigh to see her relatives around the holidays, packing onto the cold vehicle with her sisters and keeping warm by bringing along a number of blankets and rugs.
One word comes to mind when Leona recalls those rides: cold.
She says it was worth it to see her family around the holidays, but that getting there certainly wasn’t fun.
Coming back, she said, her father would go ahead and get their home’s fire started before the rest of the family got home, meaning he would have to detour an additional two miles from the already 10-mile journey, but it meant coming home to a warm, cozy house.
Jim says he doesn’t remember too much about the holidays when he was a young boy, just that there always tended to be a lot of handmade clothing under the tree. He said he remembered one Christmas where he lamented the fact that he had been gifted yet another tie for Christmas.
Thinking back to Christmas gifts of her youth, Leona remembers getting dolls under the tree as some of the most memorable over the years.