Over the past few years a very special sock monkey has been tasked with an extraordinary journey from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Boston. The mission seems so simple, to escort and deliver to the residents of Boston a Christmas tree. But this is more than just a sock monkey and more than just a Christmas tree; it is a tradition of gratitude, a yearly thank you from the residents of Nova Scotia to their friends in Boston. This journey was born out of tragedy, but it continues today out of love and respect. There is so much we can learn from this humble gesture.
The morning of Dec. 6, 1917, probably started the way most mornings began in Halifax, a busy port town whose residents are bound to the sea, both for commerce and leisure. Shortly before 9 a.m., an event occurred that would not only change the landscape of Halifax, but define the character of two cities separated by hundreds of miles, a slightly different accent, and two distinct countries.
The Narrows is a section of a strait connecting Halifax Harbor (Harbour) to the ocean. On the morning of Dec. 6, two ships were on a collision course, the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship carrying explosives and the Norwegian vessel SS Imo. Through a series of miscommunications and human error, the two ships collided. The collision started a fire, resulting in an explosion that killed at least 2,000 people and injured more than 9,000 residents. The explosion was so massive its magnitude still stands today as one of the greatest non-nuclear explosions ever to be witnessed. Aside from the tragic loss of life, Halifax was virtually destroyed.
In 1917, the world was at war, causing fears that the explosion was the result of an enemy attack, as well as pulling resources away from any potential humanitarian mission. Making matters worse, a massive winter storm was bearing down on the East Coast of North America. Rescue efforts were set in motion, some of which were successful, but some of which failed. Numerous communities played a part in trying to help Halifax, but it was the actions of community leaders in Boston that set in motion efforts that would prove instrumental to Halifax’s recovery.
On Dec. 8, 1917, a train from Boston carrying supplies and volunteers arrived in Halifax. The supplies continued for months, and some of the volunteers remained in Halifax even longer. Looking at Halifax today, you will find monuments and memorials not only commemorating the disaster, but acknowledging the blessings that helped Halifax recover. However, there is one tribute that leaves Halifax every year, which is where a special friend, the Nova Scotia sock monkey, comes into service.
Since Christmas of 1918, the citizens of Nova Scotia send a Christmas tree to the residents of Boston as an enduring thank you for the rescue efforts. The citizens don’t just cut down any old tree, throw it on a truck and send it on its way. The selection of the tree is painstakingly undertaken. It is considered an honor if the tree is selected from your property. The whole town celebrates this yearly tradition, going so far that in recent years the event has its own Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TreeForBoston/). Children write stories and the province is united in joyous celebration. People dress in the blue and white of the Nova Scotian flag as they gather to send the tree on its special journey. In recent years the tree has had a special mascot as guardian, a sock monkey.
Many of us remember receiving a sock monkey when we were children. These cute little stuffed monkeys are actually made from socks, a tradition dating back decades, and are still a part of many children’s lives. One shop in the town of Digby, just outside of Halifax, continues the sock monkey tradition today. Hand-crafting each sock monkey, the mom and pop operation of Monkey’s and More (www.monkeysandmore.com/) has in recent years provided one of many escorts for the Halifax Christmas tree on its journey to Boston. A new twist added to a 100-year old tradition provides a special touch to a unique gift from the people of Halifax to their friends and family in Boston.
This touching gesture should remind all of us of the true nature of the Christmas season, and should serve as an example to push us to do more for our fellow man. A simple Christmas tree, with an adorable sock monkey escort, born out of tragedy, is at its essence a beautiful story reflective of our true affinity for each other. The grace and blessings we afford those in need may not bring us a tree and a monkey, but even the simplest of deeds will make the world a better place.