Christmas Sleigh Ride

by Charlotte Fraser from Bedford, NS
Dec 8, 12

I met a man on a bus one snowy day. And he told me a wonderful story. As we sat looking out the window at the soft snow, glistening in the city lights, he told me how glittery snow always took him back to the Christmas he turned nine. 

His name was Andre. And he was born in 1946. The 10th of 14 children on a Quebec farm. He was less than a year younger than his brother and best friend, Guy. He and Guy did everything together. They shared chores, clothes and a bed. 

They also shared a dream.

The family lived on a farm at the end of a country road that was never plowed. When the snow set in each winter, the only mode of transportation, other than walking, was by horse and sleigh.

Every Christmas there was a candlelight service at the local church. 

If the family was going to go they could only go by sleigh.

But the sleigh didn’t have enough seats for all of the family. So, for the candlelight service, the youngest children would ride on the floor of the sleigh, snuggled close to the warm bricks that were placed under everyone's feet and covered with bearskin rugs. The oldest two boys took turns riding up front with their dad, helping with the team. Everyone else crowded onto the seats with their mother. Everyone except two boys. Every Christmas two boys were chosen to ride on the runners of the sleigh, holding on to a rope their father tied back there.  

Being chosen to ride on the runners was a rite of passage. There were rules. You had to be eight years old or older and you had to be able to reach the rope at the back - comfortably.

Andre was a small child. So he continued to ride in the sleigh for two Christmas’s while Guy rode the runners. Just after his ninth birthday, as Christmas approached, he and Guy had anxious conversations - about whether this would be the year that they would get to ride the runners together. They would go to the sleigh in the barn to see if Andre's could reach the rope comfortably. 

Christmas Eve dinner dragged that year, as they waited their father's customary post-dinner seating plan announcement. When he made it they couldn’t believe it Their wish had come true. They would be riding the runners together! 

It seemed to take forever for their father and brothers to get the team ready that year. And even longer for the bricks and bearskin-rugs to warm by the wood stove. Finally the grand moment arrived. 

Andre told me that the memory of that night still brings him joy. There was a full moon, he said. And the new snow on the trees and fields glistened like diamonds. The bells on the horses' harnesses jingled with every step. Sitting beside me on that bus, he chuckled at the memory of his mother's silhouette appearing over the back of the sleigh. "Ça va bien?" she asked them again and again. 

Guy and Andre rode the runners for the next two Christmases; until Guy was promoted to the driver's seat; and Andre became big brother to the next boy in line. 

Every year at this time, I think of my bus ride with Andre … and of the sleigh ride he took so many years ago … those two little boys, their eyes twinkling like diamonds under the full moon. Their giggles echoing in my heart all these years later.  

It is his story, but as the years pass his memory of that sleigh ride has slowly become one of my mine. One of my favourite Christmas memories, although it doesn’t belong to me at all.