If you’re a Ward 2 resident in St. John’s, you know councillor Frank Galgay is your go-to guy for all things city hall-related.
Galgay’s also your man when it comes to two other themes: Newfoundland and Labrador history, and Christmas.
Throughout his long career as a city councillor, Galgay, a retired teacher, principal and superintendent of education and a grandfather of four, has written and co-written 16 books about local history and folklore, with a special attention to the holiday season.
“Nostalgia,” he replies, when asked where his love of those themes comes from. “A love for the season and fond memories of Christmas from childhood, growing up in St. John’s.”
Galgay has recently released his latest book, “Classic Christmas Stories,” published by Flanker Press.
Although he didn’t write the collection of short stories and essays, he compiled and edited them after about a year-and-a-half of research.
Some pieces were found through perusing documents and old newspapers and magazines at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies and The Rooms; others were provided by local writers, including Otto Tucker, Jim Furlong and Hans Rollman.
The 46 stories and anecdotes all relate to Christmases past in and around the province. There are pieces on Christmas in Labrador and Cape St. Anthony by Wilfred Grenfell; “An Exile’s Memories of Home” by John M. Byrnes of Boston; “A Look Back at Christmas ’48” by Pat Doyle; “The Origins of Tibb’s Eve” by Paul Herridge; and other reminiscences by P.K. Devine, Helen Fogwill Porter, Mike McCarthy and others.
The book is a trip down memory lane for those who remember Lash’s annual cake raffle in St. John’s, church sanctuaries decorated with evergreen boughs and holly, the yule log, Christmas shopping at Ayre’s and Bowring, mummering, and Santa Claus being the one to decorate the Christmas tree, seen in all its glory for the first time on Christmas morning.
Christmas has changed a lot since then, Galgay admits.
“In Christmas times of yesteryear, it was, to a degree, much more simple,” he explains. “Children hung their stockings and you may have gotten some fruit, you may have gotten one or two gifts, and the reason for that was for the majority of families, the economic times weren’t the best. Today it’s amazing to see the gifts the children get at Christmastime.
“I think we’ve lost something in the fact that a significant number of families are really bombarded with a lot of gifts. You wonder if the children really appreciate it.”
Some of the excitement of Christmas is taken away by commercialism nowadays, Galgay believes.
“Right after Halloween, the stores and establishments immediately begin stocking their shelves, putting all the Christmas paraphernalia out there,” he says. “You walk through the malls and hear the Christmas carols, and that begins in November. People are tired of being exposed to it, and we’ve lost a bit of the aura that surrounds the Christmas spirit.
Many local Christmas traditions, however, remain unchanged. The Christmas tree is still a focal point of holiday celebrations, baking and making preserves is still common, and Christmas dinners, pageants, church services and family get-togethers are still main holiday events.
So is the Christmas drink — which is why Galgay included two alcohol-related stories at the end of the book: “Alcohol-free for 29 Years: Man Recounts How AA Saved his Life,” an article by Gary Kean which appeared last year in The Western Star, and “He’s Looking Forward to a ‘Dry,’ Happy Christmas,” a piece from The Telegram — then The Evening Telegram — from December 1975.
“I wasn’t preaching or moralizing,” Galgay says of his inclusion of the articles in the book. “I put them in there because, unfortunately, the abuse of alcohol at Christmastime has devastating effects on families and on children. Who knows? Somebody may pick this up and it may touch them.”
Galgay hopes his book will appeal to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in their 60s and older who may have memories of the holiday season growing up and who will appreciate the nostalgia of the stories, as he does.
He also hopes a younger generation will read the book.
“It will give them some idea, hopefully, and some appreciation of how their parents and grandparents celebrated Christmas in Newfoundland and Labrador long, long ago.
“While the theme of Christmas is unchangeable, bringing out from the archives what Christmas was like 150 years ago is very important for people when it comes to knowing their heritage.”
“Classic Christmas Stories” is available in bookstores now for $19.95, and is also available as an e-book. Galgay will do a number of book signings over the next month or so at Costco, Coles, Chapters and other locations.