Christmas 2015: Watsons circle Boxing Day on holiday calendar
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Long-time Citizen correspondent Betty Graber-Watson and her husband Ralph shared their Christmas story with Editor Shawn Loughlin in 2015.
For Ralph Watson and Betty Graber-Watson, 15 years of Christmas traditions have travelled across Turnberry Street with them from their old home on the west side of the street to their new location on the east.
While the setting will be different, the activities should remain the same, Betty says, with most of their family returning home to Brussels for a special Christmas dinner, always hosted by the Watsons on Boxing Day.
The Watsons’ new home, which is just south of Brussels on Graham Road, will house 20 people this year on Dec. 26 for plenty of food, fellowship and a tradition of gift-giving unlike any other.
Ralph and Betty have four children among them – one from Ralph’s previous marriage and three from Betty’s – and in most years they all find their way back to Huron County to celebrate the holidays with their family, bringing along Ralph and Betty’s nine grandchildren along for the ride.
In this, their first Christmas in the new house, Betty says it will be interesting to see how the home handles a group of 20 people, nearly half of them children, but she’s confident that the Royal Homes structure is up to the challenge.
This year, the Watsons will serve Christmas dinner to their family, as they have for the last number of years, but it wasn’t always that way. About five years ago, Betty says, the pair made the shift to dinner after what had traditionally been a Christmas brunch. The reasoning behind the early-day hybrid meal was that by the time the families made their way to Brussels on Boxing Day, they were all sick of Christmas dinner and the traditional meals that come along with it.
Tastes around the table have evolved over the years, however, and Betty has found that on Boxing Day, family members are in the mood not for Christmas dinner, but for leftovers of Christmas dinner. So in a true example of listening to her “customer” Betty cooks a full Christmas dinner on Christmas Day so her house is stocked and ready to accommodate a large group of hungry diners eager to dig into an authentic plate of leftovers.
In addition to the traditional Christmas fare of turkey, stuffing and potatoes, she also makes lasagna, shrimp and other dishes to accommodate those who are done with “Christmas dinner” for the year – usually the younger faces in the crowd, she says.
When it comes time for Betty and Ralph to give their children and grandchildren their Christmas gifts, things around the house (literally) are a little different, as Betty has hand-crafted fabric gift bags, tied together (again, literally) with thrift store ties in Christmas colours she has collected over the years that are now adorned with each family member’s name. While completely wearable, the ties aren’t often actually tied and worn (except in this year’s picture, as Ralph was good enough to tie his for The Citizen).
Another constant, yet changing tradition in the Watson home is Betty’s Nativity scene, which has been part of her family’s holidays since she had her first child in 1971. Purchased by way of the Eaton’s catalogue, the modest set has remained in excellent condition over the years, with just one of the donkeys losing an ear somewhere along the way.
While the original Nativity scene has remained in good shape, it is no longer alone, as numerous additions have been made to it over the years.
The couple’s children and grandchildren have been adding to the scene over the years, namely bringing animals to the table, making for a large, sweeping Nativity scene that spans various time periods, styles and climates. What it may lack in accuracy, however, it makes up for in creativity.
Over the years all types of animals have been added. Joining the Watsons’ Nativity scene now are a camel, a giraffe, penguins, a dog and plenty of others that may or may not be physically able to meet in real life – short of maybe a zoo.
Ralph has one Christmas memory that sticks out more than the others and, like Betty’s Nativity scene, it stood up quite well over the years.
In his home, as a child, Ralph remembers having a rather modest Christmas tree over the years, with a constant atop it: a single flashing blue light. After 50 years, he said, the light still worked, although its blue shine wasn’t exactly as vivid as it was in its early days.
Year after year, Ralph said he couldn’t believe that the bulb would make it through yet another Christmas.
He also remembers gifts of Massey-Harris tractors over the years – something he couldn’t get enough of. He says that while his brother John still has one of his, Ralph’s is long gone, likely subject to overuse in his childhood years.
While Betty’s favourite gift from her younger days certainly faced no shortage of use either, she still has it: a doll, also from the Eaton’s catalogue. The reason it stands out, she said, was that for Christmas she received a beautifully-adorned holiday note explaining that Santa Claus was out of dolls; not a doll.
The note promised that a doll would arrive before long and sure enough it did, Betty says, making for a memorable Christmas gift that’s likely about 60 years old by now.