XMAS22 - McIntosh keeps it traditional... these days
BY DENNY SCOTT
For the Blyth Festival’s Kelly McIntosh, Christmas has been in three phases over her life: a more traditional experience when she celebrated with her family, some unique experiences as an actor and now a return to a more traditional experience with her daughter.
McIntosh, who lives in Stratford, says she had a “very traditional White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christmas” as a child.
“We always opened one present on Christmas Eve, watched A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim and, when I was old enough, there was champagne at midnight,” she told The Citizen in an interview.
Her family, including her two brothers and mom and dad, lived near Toronto and had some great traditions, she said, like waking up to their stockings in their bedrooms.
“We had a fireplace, and we would hang them there,” she said. “We would eventually fall asleep and, when we woke up, our stockings would be laying at the bottom of our beds.”
McIntosh now recognizes the genius of the move, as Santa leaving the gifts directly beside their bed made sure that, no matter how early McIntosh and her siblings woke up, they would be occupied in their room until their parents could get out of bed.
One year, she said, Santa even managed to bring a large dollhouse in her room without her noticing.
Christmas morning would include a big Scottish breakfast with blood pudding and mushrooms, McIntosh said, explaining that her mother’s parents were born in the United Kingdom, so there was a strong connection to the traditional Scottish entree.
Aside from that, McIntosh says Christmas in her youth was similar to what she imagined other people did: visiting or welcoming them for a visit, having a Christmas dinner with family and spending time together.
When McIntosh went to theatre school, however, at the age of 18, things changed when it came to the holiday season.
“I started working professionally right away,” she said. “Working as an actor often entails contracts that have you working through the holiday season.”
She said Blyth is somewhat unique in that it only runs a summer season. Other well-known theatres, like the Grand Theatre in London, the Neptune Theatre in Halifax or the Vancouver Playhouse, run through the year.
“September and January are the times for big openings,” she said. “There were many times, over the years, that I didn’t get home as I was in tech rehearsal in some other city. It became the norm that [I] might not be at Christmas.”
Things changed a bit when Mcintosh started working at Caravan Farm Theatre in British Columbia.
“Their biggest show is starting right about now,” she said.
McIntosh worked on the farm for six or seven winters. The theatre ferries people from scene to scene with horse-drawn sleds, making for a unique holiday experience.
“The show was outdoors, so you would spend the entire month outdoors,” she said, adding there was even a popular Christmas Eve show.
The cast and crew, however, would take Christmas Day and Boxing Day off.
“We were all exhausted, but we had the best time,” she said.
They would have a potluck meal as a family, since most of them were far away from their relatives. This was back before most people had a cell phone in their pocket, McIntosh said, so people would line up to use the one landline to call their family.
There was also a Christmas morning sleigh ride courtesy of the handlers in charge of the horse themes, as well as a “big, long walk” that everyone took together.
“There are some traditions that I’m hoping to bring into the third leg of my Christmas life,” McIntosh said.
She had some other experiences before she decided to pursue a family life, McIntosh said, that have made some great memories. One year she came home to her apartment on Christmas Eve, feeling down because she was alone, to find that her neighbour had come in and set up a Christmas tree for her.
“I must have been 37 years old at that point, but it became a very big moment for me,” she said. “I had never had a Christmas tree as an adult, and, since then, I’ve always got a tree. Seeing a tree reminds me of that night when I was very happy.”
Moving on to what she called her “third leg of Christmas”, McIntosh says she tries to recreate her family Christmas experience for her daughter, MadeNell.
“I get a tree and do the stuff my parents did,” she said. “We try and get out for a walk and, this year, I’m looking to take part in a sleigh ride in Huron County.”
She says she works on a Christmas meal and has family over, and MadeNell has fully embraced the Elf on the Shelf tradition. McIntosh also opens one present on Christmas Eve with her daughter just like her parents did.
Santa is also keeping up his traditions in the house, and has no problem getting into MadeNell’s room to leave her stocking by the bed. Unlike her mother, MadeNell falls right asleep on Christmas Eve, so Santa has an easier time sneaking the gifts in.
“I couldn’t,” McIntosh said. “I just wouldn’t be able to fall asleep when I wanted to. She falls right asleep.”
Boxing Day has become a special event for McIntosh as MadeNell and her father, Cedric Smith, spend the day together.
“He didn’t come from a family that celebrated Christmas,” McIntosh said. “He does go to his sister’s for Boxing Day and, ever since she was able to, MadeNell goes with him.”
McIntosh said the day offers her a chance to unwind.
“It’s the one day of the year that’s just for me to do nothing,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into Christmas, especially when you’re a single parent. It always works out, but there’s pressure there, and I take it as a chance to relax.”
That hasn’t always been the case, however. Before MadeNell was born, McIntosh said Boxing Day was the opposite of a relaxing break, as she would go through her receipts for the year that day. She said, as an actor, she had to save every receipt for clothing, salons, makeup and meals to try to write them off at the end of the year.
“I would never do that until Boxing Day,” she said.