Twas the Night Before Christmas

This is my 55th Christmas Eve. While I don’t remember all them, several stand out, including the Christmas Eve I flew home from Montreal.

A week before Christmas in the late 1980s, my brother and I went to Montreal, Quebec, to watch an NHL hockey game. My favourite team, the Philadelphia Flyers, was playing his favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens.

The days leading up to the game were spent touring the city, going on my first subway ride and shopping for gifts. I don’t remember who won the game, but meeting the players afterwards was extremely fun. These were the days of Ilkka Sinisalo, Peter Zezel, Ron Hextal and Dave Poulin. Oh yeah, and Patrick Roy and few other Canadiens, but that was the other team. Haha.

The days after the game were also spent visiting stores we’d never been in before, including one that was several stories tall. I think one shop was on the seventh floor. Here in Nova Scotia, the best we have is Mic Mac Mall, which is only three storeys.

Running out of money and not having bought anything for Mom, I came across a pink and white pull-on shirt in that 7th-floor store. It was the right price and size, so I bought it. [Just to note, Mom wore the shirt for decades. It became quite faded from all the washing, but I swear she got 20 years out of that shirt that cost me about ten dollars.]

We caught our flight home late in the afternoon on December 24th. We flew from Montreal to Moncton, New Brunswick, where everyone except us got off the plane. Just before take-off, the steward told us that under these circumstances, they offered the passengers the opportunity to sit with the pilots. He said one of us could go to the cock-pit and the other could hit the liquor cabinet.

Since my brother had a weak stomach and got motion sickness easily, I jumped at the chance of going to the cockpit. I sat just behind and between the pilot and co-pilot. Feeling nervous about how it would feel sitting this close to the action, my stomach was doing summersaults.

The pilot and co-pilot introduced themselves and said they were having a competition. One of them landed in Moncton, and the other was going to land in Halifax. They were trying to prove who had the smoothest landing.

I said the landing in Moncton was pretty smooth.

“Smooth in the back; rough in the front,” said one of them. Then they explained that if the landing feels rough to the passengers, it feels smooth to the pilots, and vice versa.

We got permission to take off and taxied down the runway. The speed was incredible and lift off was amazing. Once we got to cruising altitude, reports came in over the radio that an unidentified flying object was seen passing over Nova Scotia. The description of the object had me giggling: There’s a red light on it. Nine reindeer. A sleigh and a large man wearing a bright red suit.

Sailing through the sky on Christmas Eve was truly magical. Once we neared Halifax International Airport, Christmas lights on houses were visible. This was back before LED, so lights were extremely bright.

Settling in for landing, the pavement didn’t come at me quick like it does in movies. It felt as if we set down on the runway easily. It was very smooth.

“Smooth for us,” said the co-pilot, “rough for your brother and the steward.”

After thanking both of them for the adventure, my brother and I left the plane, laughing, happy to be home and thinking about where we’d go next.

It was a Christmas Eve I’ll never forget. My father was still alive, driving us home and listening to the stories we had to tell. It was a late night by the time I rolled into bed, tired and looking forward to Christmas Day to spend with family.


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