CURATOR’S CORNER: Gift giving traditions of Sooke

Many artifacts from the Sooke region have a connection to Christmas

Montana Stanley | Contributed

The practice of giving gifts at Christmas is alive and well in Sooke, and has been over time. Ceremonial gift giving can be traced back to early pagan winter-solstice celebrations. The tradition was later adopted by Christianity, gifts given to represent those given to Jesus from the Wise Men.

Today, Christmas is just one of the many occasions where gifts are exchanged and are often saved until Christmas day to open.

Many artifacts from the Sooke region have a connection to this ancient tradition. Toys have always been common gifts for children at Christmas time.

In the Sooke Region Museum’s artifact collection is a Kewpie doll, once a Christmas gift, donated by Ed and Jean Robinson.

The Kewpie doll, a brand of doll inspired by comic strip characters by Rose O’Neill, were popular in the 1920s.

The doll is a pale pink-orange colour, is shaped like a baby, has two black eyes and the distinctive Kewpie pointed hair curl, and is made of celluloid.

An early synthetic plastic, celluloid was once an everyday material, and has since been replaced with other plastics. Special care must be given to this doll in the collection, as celluloid is extremely flammable, and can explode when exposed to heat.

Another toy in our collection is a toy train given to Ardy Wickheim at the Sooke School Christmas party in 1937.

The wooden toy train engine can be rolled around on its wheels and attached with small nails to the base of the train. The train is quite faded, however, there’s some black paint evident, as well as some original red paint or stain. Small hooks at either end of the engine can be attached to other engines or cars in the train.

For adults in Sooke, a common gift has always been wine or spirits, often given at Christmas parties or, in this case, a Christmas ball.

A wine bottle from the annual Sooke RCMP Christmas Ball is a festive item in our collection. Donated to the museum by Elida Peers, the bottle features a colourful label made just for the occasion that reads: “Sooke RCMP Christmas Ball; November 29, 1996; Third Annual Vintage.”

The bottle is made of light green tinted glass and has a black band near the spout with gold-coloured grapes on it.

The Moss Cottage is home to our annual Moss Cottage Christmas event.

Matilda Gordon, or “Aunt Tilly”, who once resided at Moss Cottage, often made mincemeat tarts as gifts. Matilda’s recipe was given to the museum by Helen Yost, only daughter of Sooke pioneers William and Emma Welsh.

In our collection is a gift given to Matilda’s daughter, Alice Gordon: a book titled Mother’s Stories. On the first page is hand written in pencil: “Alice Mary Gordon, a Christmas gift from Douglas Muir, December 25, 1903.”

Douglas Muir was the youngest son of John Muir Jr. and Annie Welsh. The book was published by Worthington Co. Ltd. Broadway, N.Y. The front cover has an image of a girl in a pink coat and blue bonnet, just above a boy, dog and a baby. The book is laid out on one of the children’s beds in the Moss Cottage exhibit at the museum.

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Montana Stanley is the collections and exhibits manager at Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Centre.

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