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(This piece was written and published a number of years ago. When the late Peter Gzowski was hosting Morningside on CBC Radio, he asked listeners to send him something about Christmas for his Christmas Eve program. I sent this and he read it to end his program that day. Years later, I read it myself on Christmas Eve, on the CBC Radio Mainstreet program that covered the Maritimes. I was hoping to give you a link to hear me reading it but I couldn’t find it so I’m afraid you’ll have to read it yourself. I hope you enjoy it and I wish you all the best of the Christmas season.)

In the mid-‘60s, I was a student in Montreal. One year, my schedule made it impossible for me to leave for home before December 24 so there I was, deciding whether I should spend much of Christmas in a little room in residence or whether I should spend it on the train. I decided in favour of the train.

I was very familiar with Montreal’s Central Station and always looked forward to the atmosphere there in the few days leading up to Christmas. There would always be a big raucous crowd at the far end of the station. Mostly everyone would be carrying shopping bags filled with wrapped gifts; there would usually be a couple of people with guitars and there’d be lots of excited children. When that big white-on-black sign was rolled into place listing the destinations — Trois Rivières, Québec City, Montmagny, Rivière du Loup, Rimouski, Mont Joli, Campbellton, Bathurst, Newcastle, Moncton, Amherst, Truro, Halifax and Sydney — there was a cheer and a good-natured crush as we all prepared to go down the stairs and board the Ocean Limited. These were eastern Quebecers and Maritimers going home for Christmas.

It wasn’t like that on that Christmas Eve. The station was dim and quiet, the way airports are late at night. There was a straggling handful of us waiting to board; we were subdued and cheerless.

It was late evening when we got on the train but even still, most of us gravitated toward the club car and soon began to talk. We exchanged stories of who we were, where we were going, why we were travelling on Christmas Eve. Some people were in my situation — they had worked up until that afternoon. One young couple had planned to stay in Montreal for Christmas and had decided at the last minute that they couldn’t bear not being home.

We talked about who would be meeting us at our various station stops and about little family traditions we were missing by not being home tonight. By the time we went off to our berths and roomettes, we were feeling quite warm and cheerful, the way you do when you’ve made new friends.

When we congregated in the morning — a sunny Christmas morning — in CN’s dining car, we were already rolling through the impossibly white snowy Québec countryside along the St. Lawrence River.

It was then that we began to lose some of our crowd and we established an instant tradition: at each station, as someone was leaving the train, all the rest of us would gather around the door to wave to the family on the platform and to sing a rousing chorus or two of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” We just kept waving and singing until the train pulled out.

By the time we were crossing the Gaspé peninsula, heading towards northern New Brunswick, we were having a real Christmas dinner, drinking toasts to each other and to our crew and acknowledging that so far, believe it or not, we were having a pretty good Christmas.

By mid-afternoon, our numbers had dwindled and as we approached the broad sweep of the Miramichi River valley, I began gathering my stuff together to be the next one to go. At the Newcastle station, I was waved and sung off the train by fewer people than there’d been earlier but with no less enthusiasm. My mother and father and I stood on the platform watching the train out of sight as it continued on toward Moncton.

The five-mile drive to Chatham was a merry one as I reported all the details of the trip. Everyone — including me — was surprised at the exuberance of my mood, everything considered.

There was one more surprise. Although both towns had the quiet empty streets and the unmistakeable atmosphere of Christmas Day, in our own house, the calendar had been set back. They didn’t want me to miss the special feeling of Christmas eve so the presents remained wrapped under the tree, the mince pies were on the counter ready to be baked, and the turkey was still in the bottom of the fridge, ready to be roasted with all its trimmings on Boxing Day.

When I’d left Montreal the night before, I had resigned myself to having no Christmas at all. I ended up having two Christmases — which turned out to be much more satisfactory.

23 Responses

  1. #1

    Lovely piece, Sharon. Hadn’t seen or heard it before. Well done.

  2. #2

    I never tire of hearing that story. There definitely is a spirit of Christmas that infects people.

  3. #3
    Margaret Davis 

    Wonderful, Sharon. And beautifully told. Happy Boxing Day from Bavaria!

  4. #4
    Anne Mose 

    I loved the stories. I listened to Peter Gzowski all the time and missed your Xmas one. Thanks. I am looking foreward to your next one

  5. #5
    Pat Campkin 

    Hi Sharon,
    I have travelled the Ocean Limited twice and I loved your story. I can see Bill and Marion waiting at the station. What wonderful memories!!
    Have a great Christmas week.
    Love from

  6. #6

    Thanks so much for posting this, Sharon. Made my night when I was reading it last night, since I’m also having a “late Christmas” and was wrapping presents. :)

  7. #7

    P.S. My mom will be having a turkey dinner for us at her place in a couple of days as well. Moms are awesome. :)

  8. #8

    One of my favorite stories, love stories about Nanny and Bampi.

  9. #9

    very enjoyable Sharon – thanks and a merry xmas

  10. #10

    What a feel good story , Sharon. I too have been on the ocean ltd back in the sixties heading for P.E.I. Brings back great memories. All the best for 2013

  11. #11
    joe breen 

    enjoyed reading it the second time as well ..

  12. #12
    Bev Jarvis Campbell 

    Loved this story especially since I remember you from my younger days living on Queen St. in Chatham. It brought back memories of travelling by train for 3 days & 3 nights from Newcastle to Calgary back in the 60′s with friend Janice Currie Vlaar. We both live in Miramichi area now and are good friends once again. I too remember saying goodbye to people we met on the train and feeling a sadness about that. We had a good time playing Bingo and enjoying the meals which were included in the price of our ticket of $66.00. We shared a lower berth. Those were the days. Merry Christmas, Sharon.

  13. #13
    Lee morris 

    A great story Sharon. I used to travel the ocean limited too, to Halifax , Nova Scotia. Brings back memories.

  14. #14
    Bill Sweezey 

    Re-read your stories to-night, and realized I hadn’t acknowledged receiving them. Always enjoyed your English 1 creative work, Sharon—and certainly enjoyed these…Much thanks.

  15. #15
    Helen Jones 

    Both stories are lovely and beautifully told, Sharon. Mr. Sweezey forwarded them to me and I’ve just read them. I think you published the train story in the Miramichi Leader a number of years ago? Or was it a different one about the train?

  16. #16
    Bob Mccallum 

    Well, Sharon, I do remember hearing that story before, and, I must say, I enjoyed reading it . Hope you have a Merry Christmas with the people you enjoy most. Been a long time since our many conversations in the Cunard restaurant. Those were good days! Regards,,,,,,,,

  17. #17
    Vina & Gerald Moses 

    Sharon: What a wonderful story and memories… We remember those trains and the great train rides over the years… Those were wonderful times !
    Thanks for sharing…
    Vina (Johnson) Moses, Western Head, RR 1, Liverpool, NS (formerly of Halifax and before that Chatham, NB)

  18. #18
    Jim Forrest 


  19. Lovely read Sharon, calls out all the right emotions.

  20. #20
    Dawn Bell 

    Hi Sharon…just read this for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was only on a train once and that was from Newcastle to Moncton. I think I may have missed out on some fun times!!! May you and yours enjoy this wonderful Christmas and all the best in 2015. Keep up with your story-telling….they are always so interesting!!

  21. #21
    Norma Weatherby 

    I just sat down for a moment (waiting for our family of 17 to arrive for Christmas dinner) , picked up my iPad and saw your wonderful story – really enjoyed it as I was just beginning to feel a little “dinner prep stress”. Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2015.

  22. #22
    Patricia Campbell 

    I love the story! It triggered some wonderful Xmas and train memories. I hope all is wonderful with you and the “boys”. Much love Patricia and the Pollack

  23. #23
    Bonnie ( morrison) Arnold 

    Having taken the ocean limited from Moncton to to Montreal I could relate to enjoying the passengers much as yourself although not on Christmas day
    Keep them coming Sharon …. I so enjoy your stories

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