Happy Christmas, Black Christmas

There was an empty chair in the Dickie home as the family prepared for Christmas in 1941.

For Percy and Earl, the Dickies From Gunton: Canadian Brothers In Two World Wars, Christmas was always a bright and celebrated day, until a dark shadow fell over it in 1941.

For the Dickies and other families of Canadian soldiers sent to defend the British Colony of Hong Kong, Christmas Day 1941 became known as Black Christmas. After the first Canadian battle of the Second World War, the colony fell to the Japanese. The boys were forced to surrender, and families at home would not know the fate of their loved ones, including Earl, for some time.

The survivors of the Battle of Hong Kong became prisoners of war, and Earl’s mother would never see him again. From 1941 onward, Percy would continue to do his best to provide a wonderful Christmas for his family, even as he continued to worry about his brother.

The boys grew up celebrating Christmas as the birth of Christ, by attending church services with their mother. But they also loved the holiday from school and work, and all the other aspects of celebration.

It started with the anticipation, receiving colourful cards from friends and loved ones near and far with holiday wishes sent by mail, and counting the days until school was out.

With their father, they would chop down their own tree and bring it in to decorate on Christmas Eve, crafting many of their own decorations including rings of paper, strung popcorn, and a few cherished decorations including the star always finally placed on the top.

Under the tree, their parents always managed to provide gifts lovingly wrapped in white paper. From practical items made with love by their mother including knit socks, scarves and sweaters, to sewn pajamas and shirts, and a special toy or two often crafted by their father who was quite handy, they never went without. 

It was also a delicious time, with stockings filled with candy and a few treasured oranges, and holiday baked treats like shortbread, sugar cookies, and Christmas cake- a delicious holiday tradition made with candied fruit and rum. Christmas dinner was a shared feast with the traditional turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy, brussel sprouts, and finally, the traditional Christmas pudding with whipped cream. No glass or stomach was ever left empty.

During the darkest times in the prison camps when Earl was beaten and sick and cold and hungry, these memories nourished his spirit.

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