The Joy of Armenian Christmas Eve

I just heard that Mrs Elmassian past away and it was to late for me to attend the funeral services and pay the last respect. I recall a happy event that happened long time ago at the Elmassians residence. It must have been around mid sixties during the early and very active years of the Armenian Community Center (ACC) at 18 Dupont Street at north west 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 east side of the 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 contacts we had with them have been during Armenian Community social gatherings.

At the time both of us were active members of the ACC and 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 at the occasion of an Armenian tradition associated with the church, even it could have been at the Armenian Christmas Eve on January 5 of which this happy story is all about.

Apart from Krikor, his wife Mrs Elmassian, and Krikor’s elderly mother, 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 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 with Vartan’s pleasant humor, turned the evening quite enjoyable one.

Both Krikor and Vartan were good story tellers 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 specially 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 seating at the one end of the table and his mother (Mama), was seating at the other end.

Mama was a tall although 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 every one to eat specially me and Viken “Տղաս բան մը չես ուտէր, ասոր համին նաէ, շատ համով է” etc. Every body was in festive mood and was enjoying the evening.

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

Some time after that wonderful evening, I do not know on whose initiative it was that, a decision was made by ACC executive to revive that tradition not only for the sake of the preserving the tradition, but also as a fund raising venue. At the time (maybe always and today as well) every Armenian function, “Ձերնարկ” apart from its intended purpose usually has also a fund raising 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 very one got drowned!).

Before the next Armenian Christmas Eve, about twenty young and enthusiastic men and women (mostly newcomers from 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 me joined the group that visited the Elmassian family.

Needles to say the Elmassian family members were delighted to see the revival of the Armenian tradition that they loved, specially 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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