The Joy of Armenian Christmas Eve

I just heard that Mrs. Elmassian passed away and it was too late for me to attend the funeral services and pay the last respect. I recall a happy event that happened a long time ago at the Elmassians residence. It must have been around the mid-sixties during the early and very active years of the Armenian Community Center (ACC) at 18 Dupont Street at the northwest corner of Dupont and Avenue Road.

Mr. Krikor Elmassian had invited me and a dear friend, Viken Ajemian, for a supper at their residence on the east side of Bathurst Street between Wilson and Sheppard Avenue. The invitation was a surprise for both of us since none of us knew the Elmassian family closely, and the only social contact we had with them had been during Armenian Community social gatherings.

At the time both of us were active members of the ACC and Gomidai members. Krikor and his wife were more active in the Holy Trinity Armenian Church at Woodlawn Avenue and Yonge, south of St Clair. I think the supper was on the occasion of an Armenian tradition associated with the Armenian church. Even it could have been on the Armenian Christmas Eve on January 5 which this happy story is all about.

Apart from Krikor, his wife Mrs. Elmassian, and Krikor’s elderly mother, “Mama” present were also, Mr. and Mrs. Vartan Vartanian, then a church deacon and active member of the church. (Elmassian couple did not have any children). Krikor, a tall and handsome man, maybe in his late fifties or early sixties with thick graying hair and a matching mustache, turned out to be a great host and a good wine connoisseur as well. Mrs. Elmassian who looked  younger than Krikor, with an always smiling face and polite manners, turned out to be a very attentive and gracious host lady, “Հիւրասէր տան տիկին”

Judging from their intimate behavior, it seemed that Elmassian and Vartanian families were socially well interactive which created the perfect family atmosphere “Ընտանեկան մթնոլորտ” that we were missing as two immigrant bachelors. Krikor’s pleasantly contagious laughter, complemented by Vartan’s pleasant humor, turned the evening quite an enjoyable one.

Both Krikor and Vartan were good storytellers as well. Krikor talked mostly about his family’s activities in the Armenian Community in his hometown Romania, and especially his father’s active role in the ARF organization. Vartan told stories from his hometown Jerusalem and his emotional and proud encounters with prominent Armenian leaders and intellectuals who visited Jerusalem, especially the “Armenian Quarter”, the Armenian Patriarchate, and the school.

Հայկական ճոխ սեղան is how best to describe the dinner table filled with tasty Armenian dishes and complemented with fine wine that everyone was enjoying. Krikor talked about the variety and the quality of the wine like an expert who knew his product. Krikor was seated at one end of the table and his mother “Mama”, was seated at the other end. (Mama was a member of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS)

Mama was a tall frail-looking old lady with snow-white hair, but her uptight seating posture and observing eyes make her look younger and very dignified lady. She was very observant and kept reminding everyone to eat especially me and Viken “Տղաս բան մը չես ուտէր, ասոր համին նաէ, շատ համով է” etc. Everybody was in a festive mood and was enjoying the evening.

At one point Mr. Elmassian suggested that the ARF members should become registered members of the church and even get elected members of the Parish Council to represent the ARF. (Some of the ARF members had similar views but the Gomidai’s position was that anybody was free to become a registered member of the church and even get elected to the Parish Council but NOT as a representative of ARF). Needless to say, that was how we responded to Mr. Elmassian as well.

During the conversation, Mama Elmassian complained that in the past, members of the church choir Դպրաց դաս used to visit their home on the Armenian Christmas Eve on January 5 and sing the traditional Armenian Christmas Carols but regrettably had ended the practice.

Sometime after that wonderful evening, I do not know on whose initiative it was that a decision was made by the ACC executive to revive that tradition not only for the sake of preserving the tradition but also as a fundraising venue. At the time (maybe always and today as well) every Armenian function, “Ձերնարկ” apart from its intended purpose usually has also a fundraising purpose as well. (Later during the construction of the new ACC and School at 45 Hall Crown Place, the “Joke of the town” was that the executive members of the ACC were vacationing on a cruise, and the ship starts to sink, and they immediately start to get donation pledges signed by panic-stricken passengers before everyone got drowned!).

Before the next Armenian Christmas Eve, about twenty young and enthusiastic men and women (mostly newcomers from the Middle East) were “trained” by Nizag and Moushegh Hovagimian brothers who were deacons of the church and also coir members, and knew the Armenian Christmas Carols rather well. About 6 groups were formed each having a list of different houses to visit and sing the Armenian Christmas Carols. The two “singing challenged” Բաղաձայն Viken and I joined the group that visited the Elmassian family.

Needless to say, the Elmassian family members were delighted to see the revival of the Armenian tradition that they loved, especially so for Mama Elmassian, whose face was beaming with joy, and tears of joy pouring from her eyes. (The tradition continued by ACC till the Saint Mery Սուրբ Աստուածածին Church coir Դպրաց դաս took over and carried on the tradition for many more years before discontinuing it).

May God bless the soul “Աստուած հոգին լուսաւորէ” Mrs. Elmassian, her husband Krikor, Mama Elmassian, Viken Ajemian, Moushegh Hovagimian, and all those who no longer are with us, who helped to revive an Armenian tradition and thus helped in part to preserve the Armenian identity in Toronto that lasted maybe over twenty years.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian

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