People who gather, grow, or harvest food along with the age-old practises of hunting and fishing have lifestyles that embrace the sharing of the proceeds of the activity. The Venus-like statue of Mother Earth and the joyful exuberance of the figure of Father Christmas are two recognized symbols of the tradition of sharing.
This column is about the seasonal tradition of sharing the proceeds of our outdoor activities with others. As a child we had a real life “Father Christmas,” who was our uncle Wilfred. He was a trapper who trapped on the north side of Cold Lake, Alta., near the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Every Christmas he would walk across Cold Lake on the ice, a distance of about 20 miles, to have Christmas with his family – which was us. He did not use dogs, so he pulled his extra fur on a small toboggan made for the purpose. It was an almost magical process to watch the tiny black speck that appeared on the ice of the lake about noon grow into our Father Christmas complete with soft furry beard who finally reached our home before dusk.
His special gifts to me and my two bothers and sister was a single pelt of a squirrel or weasel. We would then take the pelt down to the Hudson Bay trading store and convert the pelt into Christmas treats or simple toys. I believe this age-old tradition is still alive and well in various forms, throughout millions of homes across this great country.
There is very little commerce in these traditions, they are basically the exchange of simple gifts in the form of special foods, home-crafted toys, and family time spent in the company of loved ones. If you have ever received a gift of home-knitted stockings you are the recipient of the special efforts and skills that went into this unique Christmas gift. They are symbols of caring and gifting.
Christmas food takes on special meaning as we prepare for Christmas Day celebrations. Christmas cakes are made weeks in advance, as is shortbread, pickled herring, smoked fish, and other speciality foods that have cultural meaning to the Christmas celebration.
These homemade seasonal desserts and foods are significant parts of the sharing tradition where treats are distributed far beyond the family circle. I suspect that Father Christmas was frequently the recipient of these homemade treats and gifts as he made his rounds among the families he visited.
Sharing and caring is not limited to what we do for our children. Christmas is an appropriate time to share the bounty of our fishing and hunting with friends and family. Smoked fish is one of those seasonal treats we associate with Christmas. Smoking fish is an art form that varies with each person who spends much time in the process of preparing the product.
No two processes are the same. Elaine and I have been smoking fish for at least 60 years and throughout this time Elaine has developed a formula that we use in brining our fish prior to smoking and over time I have settled on hickory chips as my choice of wood for smoking the fish. As with all smoked fish ours is well received as part of the Christmas traditions in our family.
Specialty products made from fish or meat can be important additions to our sharing of the season’s hunting and fishing. As an example, pepperoni sausage made from deer or other wild meat is a welcome seasonal treat. Another welcome treat we can share from the wild harvest is fresh frozen meat or fish that was taken during the season.
For older hunters and their families these thoughtful gifts are one of the most positive ways of sharing. Sharing freshly caught seafood is always a delightful surprise gift you can share with a friend who may not have known that you had been fishing on the day or two prior to Christmas. Elaine and I were recently the surprised recipients of such a gift when we received some fresh-caught winter chinook.
Weather is hard to predict these days, but if your Christmas gifts involved fishing outfits for children a great way to make Boxing Day a special treat might be to take them shore fishing at Maple Lake or other suitable lake.
From Elaine and I – “Merry Christmas and Bountiful New Year.”
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.