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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 51: Fur Trade Christmas: Part Two

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Christmas during the 19th century fur trade was a time for great merriment.

Along with feasting on wild meat and puddings made from imported plums, there was dancing.

At some fur trade posts, virtually every night between Christmas and New Year's, there was a grand ball.

The rooms would fill with officers, trappers, natives, women, children and babies.

And as Michael Payne notes, there was always plenty of toe-tapping music.

In most of these posts, you could find people who were skilled musicians. So a Christmas party was not complete without the requisite fiddler there, playing reels and jigs and other kinds of dances like that. And basically, people danced away until late at night, when they brought out a big dinner. And they would eat around midnight, and there would be more tea and food to eat to keep them going into the wee hours. Finally then, people would stagger off home.

The nightly festivities always began with an interesting custom - the kissing line.

The men would line-up and then all the women in the room would go along, and the idea was, they gave a kiss to every man in the room.

The intent here really was, once again, to underline the fact that they were all members of the same community and the same society. It was, I think, a nice, collegial kind of gesture.

It was important to good relations, as Michael Payne explains.

These were, after all, posts that during day-to-day life, you know, you had officers and men, and some people in the posts spent most of their working days ordering people around.

So I think it was a way of kind of breaking some of that down at least once a year.

And the familiar food, music and rituals of Christmas helped soothe any yearning for home.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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