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Each ornament evokes a special memory of Christmas for city councillor

Decorations, Christmas Village, special goblets and plates and nativity scenes fill Pat Hehn's family home with memories and tradition
Throughout her life, Christmas has been a special season for Pat Hehn. The second-term Ward 4 city councillor shares, in this story, where that passion comes from.

As I sit down to write this article, I am sipping a cup of mulled cider, the Messiah is playing softly in the background and the Christmas stockings I made for my three children so many years ago are hanging on the fireplace next to me.

I have to thank (OrilliaMatters editor Dave Dawson) for the wonderful gift he has given me this Christmas.

“Write about your favourite Christmas memory,” he said.

And so, he opened a box of memories for me.

Back to my childhood in Edmonton when we would phone back to my Mom’s family in Ontario on Christmas Day and sit and listen to the Queen’s speech every year, the year we spent in Pincher Creek, Alberta when my Mom invited the head chef of the industrial camp my Dad was supervising and the turkey wouldn’t cook, after we moved back east and spent marvellous Christmases with all my cousins in Campbellville, are all part of my childhood. 

I remember being on my own in London, England and phoning home, homesick at Christmas and the year I spent in Scotland, both years when my Mom sent me care packages of wonderful goodies like peanut butter, popcorn, maple syrup and Jello for Christmas because over 50 years ago I couldn’t buy those in Britain.  

My first years as a newlywed were special and watching my kids grow up each brought wonderful memories. New pyjamas every Christmas Eve and a picture holding their stockings next to the same fireplace where I am now working.

Picking just one Christmas memory is almost impossible. Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I love the decorations, the music, the food, and getting together with friends and family.

The decorations—ah, the decorations. It all started out innocently enough when I was on my own in London, England and had a bed sitting room.  

How I figured I could fit a six-foot live tree into a cramped space I am not sure, but a friend and I dragged it home from the Portobello Market. Friends and I had been out to Windsor Castle earlier in the fall and gathered acorns and brought them back to London.  

A magazine article talked about spraying them gold and tying them in clusters to make Christmas ornaments. Over 50 years later, some have still survived.  I could only afford one string of lights, but what is a tree without lights?  

I made a Christmas tree skirt out of felt that still graces one of my trees to this day. And so began the tradition of adding a new ornament or ornaments to my collection each year. 

In 1970, the year my husband and I were engaged, we held a Christmas tree decorating party “BYOB and an ornament for our bare tree”, a way for our friends to all meet each other before our wedding and to decorate our bare tree. Most of those ornaments have survived.  

As my daughter and I were decorating the tree last week, I was pointing out the ornaments and remembering who had given them to us. Such wonderful memories! 

And then, after our parents died, we inherited some wonderful old decorations, some dating back to the Second World War. We have two trees. On top of one tree is the star Terry had on his childhood tree and on the other, the Angel, I had on my tree growing up. Each year when the children were young, we bought them a Christmas decoration as well, so they all have meaning.  It takes about two days to decorate the back “Family tree”, partly because of the memories attached to it. 

The one in the front room is different. It is all angels and prisms. The prisms have been collected from many parts of my travels, so they too hold memories. The angels have been given to me by many friends and members of my family. Some of my favourites have been handmade by a very dear friend.

I started collecting nativity scenes by accident. When the children were small, I really felt it was important that we have a nativity scene, so that they be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. That was all I asked for, for Christmas.  

Well, apparently, it was a tall order that Christmas and neither Terry nor my Mom could find one anywhere. I guess they were all in a panic at my very simple request. My Mother mentioned this to her very good (Jewish) friend, Joan Dolcort one day. Joan did beautiful needlepoint and phoned Mom that she had found a pattern and offered to make one for Mom to give me. Mother was delighted.  

Then my sister called that she had found one in a little store in the Beaches in Toronto and bought it (No. 2). Unknowingly, Terry, was working on the Kiwanis Auction and found a lovely handmade one and bid on it and won it (No. 3). I am now up to 22 and that is after downsizing. 

Friends and family have brought them to me from various parts of the world, including Alaska, Paris, Australia and Mexico. They range in size from really quite large to very tiny. Many of them take up a full book shelf that I empty out every Christmas.

And the Christmas Village. I was up to 42 buildings with people, carriages, trees, horses, dogs and cats.  But I have downsized to just a little over half that size, so it, too, now fits in another bookcase.

It tells many stories, from the farm and the North Pole, to the Christmas Carol, to the famous landmarks I knew so well when I lived in England. Many of the buildings remind me of where I lived. It gives me joy just to look at it and to explain all the stories to friends when they drop in.

There are smaller collections, too: the Twelve Days of Christmas goblets, and Christmas Plates hanging in the downstairs bathroom. Art work gets changed around as I have collected some fun Christmas prints as well.

After 48 years of marriage, and three children, each decoration, each collection holds a special memory. It takes time to decorate, because as I remove the decorations from the tissue and hold them in my hands, I am thinking back to when I was newlywed, to when we had our first home, to when I held my first baby, to the children as they grew, to the decorations they gave me, and the ones given to me by my Mother. It is a time filled with nostalgia.  

I always play the Messiah as I decorate the tree in the living room as it sets the tone for that special tree.

I hope as you and your family put out your special decorations, you form the same kinds of memories that I have and each year as you carefully pack them away, you look forward to that time next year when you get to remember all the good times you have shared.

Wishing you all the best this Christmas season and in the coming year.



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