Christmas with the Troakes

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Josh Pennell
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Sealer and advocate Jack Troake talks about holidays past and present

With the holidays upon us, people in The Telegram newsroom started to wonder about the Christmas traditions of the people we speak with throughout the year.

Jack Troake, shown in a file photo, says of his Christmases as a youth,  “I can see Mother. Mother would put the tree up and that tree would stay up until every last sprinkle would fall off it.” — TC Media file photo

Veteran sealer Jack Troake’s life is steeped in history and tradition. His Christmas Eve and Day plans are no different.

Troake lives in the 197-year-old house he was born in that his great-grandfather built. On Christmas Day, 14 or so people are expected at his house where he and his wife will have the Christmas Day feed cooked.

“The house feels right full,” Troake says.

And what’s the menu for the veteran sealer and his family?

“It won’t be turres or duck or seal, which I like. It’s going to be turkey. A different kind of bird altogether,” he laughs.

If he had his way there would be some if that good game grub, but he says young people haven’t got a taste for it anymore.

When Troake was young, there wasn’t much extra for spending, but nobody was hungry.

“We weren’t a rich family, but one thing we did have was tons of food,” he says.

They kept animals and grew their own food. There would be no Christmas turkey, though.

“You might have a chicken or go chop the head off an old rooster or something,” he says.

There could also be a stuffed eider duck.

His father, who was a master mariner, wasn’t around during Christmas or really any other time for Troake’s childhood. He says he didn’t get to know his father until 1972.

“I can see Mother. Mother would put the tree up and that tree would stay up until every last sprinkle would fall off it.”

The traditional room for the tree was known as the parlour.

“The only time the parlour was used was if somebody died or the Christmas tree was put in there,” says Troake.

There was also mummering, which Troake would take part in as he got older. He says they would go to religious people’s homes and sing them hymns and gospel and try and find a drink through the threshold of other doors. When you found a place where somebody had plenty of homebrew, you stayed there for the night.

“They were much better (times) than there is now,” he says.

Troake says he was taught to never spend money that you don’t have and since people started doing the opposite around the holidays, the good times have been lost, somewhat.

“Christmas is not like it was years ago,” he says. “It takes the joy and the fun out of Christmas all this stuff you know, b’y.”

Troake’s Christmas Eve will be spent with him and his wife at their friends’ house.

”We go to our friends’ house for Christmas Eve supper. We’ve been doing that for 40 years or so,” he says.

Next year, they’ll host the Christmas Eve supper.

Then on Christmas Day, four generations will gather inside the his great grandfather built almost two centuries ago.

They’re good times, he says. One of his fondest Christmas day traditions is just a memory now. In 2000, Troake’s son, Gary, drowned in October month while fishing.

“The first thing he would do is take a banna or an apple and just lift the cover of his mother’s pot and put that on top,” Troake laughs. “He was a joker. And pretty easy to get along with. But don’t try to degrade rural Newfoundland if you were out where he was, I tell you that, because you would then hear something.”

Tradition in the Troake household, it seems, will never die.

Watch for more stories on the Christmas traditions of other in The Telegram throughout the holidays.

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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  • Brian Colbourne
    December 23, 2013 - 18:40

    The Troakes are a wonderful family that I had the blessing of knowing during my time "home" in Twillingate. If there is one person who can tell you about "tradition" it is Jack Troake. Salt-of-the-earth, a true Newfoundlander.

  • Joanne Kinden
    December 23, 2013 - 15:28

    So much enjoyed your stories! Thanks for sharing! Reminds of all of the true meaning of Christmas....family and time spent together.

  • Elizabeth Troake
    December 23, 2013 - 10:25

    This brings back memories to me, also. We had a wonderful childhood growing up in Twillingate. Christmas was always a very special time of year. Hoping to go to Twillingate on Boxing Day (weather permitting).

  • Kevin Power
    December 23, 2013 - 09:03

    A great story of Christmas traditions from the Troake family which is steeped in Newfoundland history. Merry Christmas to one and all.

  • Darlene
    December 23, 2013 - 07:38

    I loved this article! I don't have much family left in Newfoundland to keep our traditions going, so making new ones has become our favourite thing to do during the holidays. I salute the families that are lucky enough to have what Mr. Troake describes. Merry Christmas, Troake Family!