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December 17, 2020

Four tall Christmas trees….

Thirty-three years have passed and yet I still remember as if it were yesterday the excited energy that was unleashed when I made the outrageous promise to put up four 6-foot-tall Christmas trees in our first tiny restaurant that we had decked out for the holiday season.

The idea came to me as I was cutting out small molasses cookies in the shape of trees that I was going to serve for dessert to mark the first day of December in 1987. The restaurant had been open a whole five months. As our clientele swelled, so did our audacity it seemed.

- “Boss, did you fall on your head again after putting up your signs?” exclaimed Platon, our new dishwasher from the Caribbean.

- “Just make us a Christmas log like you see in all the store windows,” he added, a suggestion which was explained by his great fondness for baked treats.

I struck a deal, promising to make him a carrot cake to take home if he helped me install my towering surprises one evening after closing.

I got down on all fours in the living room of our apartment and cut out four huge padded trees from a large piece of bright green material to put up in the diner’s four side windows. Each night during the week before Christmas, I sewed on different coloured felt circles by hand, various ribbon garlands, white cotton wool snowflakes, small blue satin stars, big silver buttons, small candy canes and eight small pink-feathered cotton birds that an elderly customer had brought me one day “in case I might find some use for them in the restaurant.”

The trees were installed some days before Christmas, reaching right to the top of each window and within reach of delighted small hands, who were given permission to take the small red and white striped candy canes if they waited until the day after Christmas.

Atop each tree, a large star in sparkling yellow brocade perched comfortably, as if content to rest after climbing to the top.

In actual fact, it was our brave Platon who got up on a chair, placed on a table, who made sure that each star was securely attached.

No one who enjoyed our tree-shaped molasses cookies thought the cook would actually keep her outlandish promise. The exclamations of surprise were profuse. So much so that the four tall trees elicited expressions of amazement each day in different ways all the way until spring. This colourful forest was also a magnificent gift to myself, since it has remained forever planted in my memory. And each time I recall it, I am delighted by the extraordinary creative power of imagination.

This year, in 2020, we all need to bring out our imaginary forests from where we stored them. So we can hear the laughter of our loved ones, feel their hugs and savour their holiday treats. Since celebrations must be subdued, let’s each use our imagination to create some magic this season.

Despite all the work and holiday frenzy, it has been nearly 50 years that I have been preparing Christmas Eve festivities for my children, their kids, close friends and a few lonely souls. I can easily imagine that this year, instead of setting two 14-seat tables in my large kitchen, I am instead going to spend the entire month of December first playing Ms. Claus, cooking everyone’s favourite holiday dishes, and then Santa, as I deliver the tasty gifts to their doors. 

It has all been decided as I write these words.

I will make at least a dozen large pork and veal tourtières with finely diced potatoes and seasonal spices. Then a huge meatball stew. Delicious braised pigs’ feet, oven-cooked turkey quarters, mashed potatoes, puréed carrots and parsnips, and a sublime sweet potato gratin that the kids go crazy for. For breakfast the next day, cretons and my delicious baked beans and ham. Each recipient will get a sampling of my homemade jams, and if time allows, a big pot of the world’s best caramel.

I will lovingly wrap all this food in red transparent holiday paper, as happy as if everyone had been there with me in the kitchen. Around December 22 or 23, dressed warmly with a Santa tuque on my head and a mask on hand if needed, I will hop in my Mini Cooper, put on some holiday music and deliver my packages.



Pssst: It is never too late to adopt new behaviours. Never too late to discover a powerful quality such as resilience. This ability to adapt to new situations and imagine different scenarios, freeing us from the limits of the same story.

Crises pass, as we, strong and resilient, remain standing.