Christmas in Muskoka

I sometimes wonder how certain traditions come to be. I am, in fact, wondering now, as I hang precariously off the roof of my Muskoka home.

My upper torso is suspended in space beyond the eaves, as I work at untangling a web of wire and lights. The toes of my winter boots are dug into the icy, shingled slope. My fingers, numb from the cold, fumble with the bulbs. Far below me, I see the white ground and am fully aware that the mild weather has left very little snow to break my inevitable fall.

Below, I also see my wife staring upward, and I am touched that she is there to catch me. Then, I realize she is pointing and shouting instructions as if my exercise is a simple matter, akin to the rearranging of the living room furniture. “You have two yellows together,” she seems to be shouting, but her words blow off in the biting wind. My three daughters stand at my wife’s side, echoing her commands and offering their own helpful suggestions.

The ladies are not the only helpers I have had on this day. As I stretched out the strings of lights on the front porch, my young husky pup decided it was he who was to be decorated. Wrapping himself in a cloak of many colours, he scurried about the yard, slightly out of reach, proud of his newly invented game.

Now, I have made it sound like I don’t enjoy this pre‑holiday ritual. The truth is, none of the trials and tribulations of the exercise can take away from the end result — when the lights are up and you stand at the ready with audience gathered. You stick the plug into the socket. Your place lights up and the kids ooh and ah, then bring to your attention the many lights that blink, flash, pop and fade to black. It’s back up to the roof.

Though one could argue that the intrinsic beauty of cottage country can be masked when the sun goes down, as it does quite early through December, the lights of Christmas tend to rectify this. Driving home in the evening, along the back roads and lakeside drives, one marvels at the colourful strings of lights that trace out the rooflines of homes and cottages, frame windows and decks, wrap hedgerows and trees, and illuminate outdoor skating rinks. As a starry night in this region seems all the more brilliant because of the lack of big city lights, so too do the Christmas lights seem all the more acute. The lighting adds beauty and brilliance to cottage country. Twinkling stars and carefully laid out nativity scenes remind of us of Christmas’s greatest story.

Traditions — they are a big part of the magic of the season, and bring back a powerful nostalgia for the family Christmas celebrations of our youth. I know we sometimes get cynical about the commercialism. At times, we get overwhelmed by the shopping. We panic because the whole family is coming and we want things to be perfect.

An escape to cottage country for Christmas is a great way to reconnect with holiday traditions and memories. Life at the cottage encourages fun in the snowy outdoors: sleigh rides and snowmobiles, skiing and tobogganing, and then sitting around a bonfire with a mug of hot chocolate. We clear skating rinks on the ponds and bays, and enjoy an energetic shinny match. A snowman is built and stands guard. The distant sound of church bells and carolling is heard.

Inside, the cottage is warm and cosy, a fire burns in the hearth and stockings are hung from the mantel. There is the scent of pine from a Christmas tree and fresh garland. A drink and some goodies are set out for Santa, and I assure the younger children that he will make it down the chimney just fine, in spite of the flame. There is the anticipation of Christmas morning, followed by the smell of the turkey, and a feast. There are mince pies, homemade fruitcake and Christmas pudding. Best of all, there are family and friends.

Christmas in Muskoka — it’s Christmas card perfect.