He Says – Christmas

Hi Folks:

It was my suggestion that Marcia and I write about ‘Christmas’ as the topic of this week’s ‘He Says, She Says‘ post.  This time of year is special for many, many people, and probably for as many different reasons.  In our society Christmas is the most… I was going to say the most dominant, but that’s not quite correct.  Perhaps the most prevalent or the most overt would be better terms to use.  However, this time of year was celebrated long before the big guy in the red suit came along.  Today, or thereabouts, marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the calendar year – at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  It also means that for the next six months the days will be getting longer again, and because of this the solstice has represented a new awakening, a new beginning.  Solstice celebrations have been underway for millenia.

The Romans had their own variations on this, among them Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Saturnalia was a 12-day celebration, originally celebrated as a way of uplifting people’s attitudes following a Roman defeat.  For this time there was a general role-reversal between slaves and owners, with much laughter, merriment and gift-giving all around.  Sol Invictus was a general term relating to the sun, unconquered (Sol, Invictus).  It was celebrated on December 25.  Following the solstice the sun remained and began to regain its strength again.  It’s been suggested that early Christians did not celebrate ‘Christmas’ for several hundred years after the birth of Christ, and that the celebration of Christ’s birth was overlaid onto the Roman celebrations (12 days of Christmas, December 25 as Christ’s birthday, etc.)

Among the Jewish faith, this time of year brings the 8-day celebration of Hannukah, or ‘Festival of Light’.  Observed on a different calendar (Hebrew vs. Gregorian), Hannukah may begin from late November to late December.

Similarly, the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr at the end of the month of Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar and therefore may occur at different times throughout the year.

And finally, Kwanzaa is a 7-day celebration that occurs from December 26 to January 1 ever year.  Kawanzaa originally started in the US in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday.  In the past few decades it’s grown to include other people, and according to its founder, wasn’t intended to be a ‘replacement’ for Christmas.

There may be others, but these are the celebrations that most come to mind for me when I think of this special time of year.   My thanks to the folks at Wikipedia for the above information.  All of these Ways are different, all have different origins and all have different traditions, but I do believe there are underlying themes to all of them.  There is a sense of celebration, a feasting or surrender of fast, a time of forgiveness, a sense of peace, and a greater sense of harmony among all of us who share this little blue marble we call earth.

I wanted to mention all of these ways for a couple of reasons.  In the past few years there’s been a growing ‘political correctness’ where some people feel that saying things like ‘Merry Christmas’ is somehow the wrong thing to say.  Others have suggested that the  the Christmas tree (evolved from the German tradition of bringing greenery into the house) should be called a ‘holiday tree’.  My own opinion is that all of these different Ways, these different celebrations should be respected.  I don’t expect a dreidl to become part of the Kwanzaa tradition, and I don’t expect Christmas trees to be anything but what they are.  If someone says to me, ‘Lo Saturnalia’ or ‘Happy Hannukah’ or ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ (I don’t know a customary greeting for the celebration of Kwanzaa or Eid al-Fitr) then in every case I see it as a recognition of oneness, an honour of celebration, and I take it in good faith.  Can’t we all just get along?

Okay, rant over.

So… I’ll admit it.  I love Christmas.  I love everything about it, and I have for years.  Ever since I was a little kid Christmas has marked a wonderful time of year for me.  I love old Christmas movies like ‘Miracle on 34th Street‘ and ‘White Christmas‘.  Of the more contemporary movies, I also love ‘Crazy for Christmas‘ and ‘The Santa Clause‘ and ‘Snow‘ and, well, most of them.  Why?  It’s very simple really.  All of them, no matter the circumstances or the challenges, show us what potential we can reach as humans.  They show us how to love, how to forgive, and how to heal.  They show us that no matter how deep the darkness, there is always a light, a way out, a way forward.  And that’s really what Christmas means to me.  This time of year people seem to be more friendly, more open, more caring.  This time of year shows us what we can be the other 11 months of the year.

Christmas today for some people seems to be a lot about struggle, about overscheduling and superherculean efforts to do more, faster, and getting left behind in the process.  Fortunately, there’s a growing counter-movement to that, one that suggests we take a step back and create more reasonable expectations for ourselves.  Our families – alienated from each other for the rest of year, don’t have to be perfect for one day, but maybe we can learn to be a little more gentle with each other.  If there aren’t 47 kinds of Christmas cookies on the table, who’s going to notice?

From the time I was a child Christmas meant two things to me.  One was that every year my dad would get out his 8mm movie camera and the lights and make home movies of my sister and I discovering what Santa had left for us.  Truth be told we always got up in the middle of the night and snuck downstairs to see what was there anyway, and so what was on film was us acting surprised to the best of our ability.  I should really get those movies put on DVD someday…

Second, when I was a kid living in the woods in Quebec, our Christmas tree came from the back woods near our house.  By Christmas we usually had  3 or 4 feet or so of snow, but I was still young enough and light enough to be able to walk over the crust without breaking through (most of the time), so I was the scout, finding the perfect tree, with the perfect size and shape.  I still remember when we moved to Ontario, to the city and we got an artificial tree for the first time.  My mother bought a can of pine-scented spray because the house wasn’t the same without that scent.

Marcia and I have our own Christmas tree tradition.  Back to our first apartment together, we bought a Norfolk Island Pine tree in a pot, and we called him ‘FRED’.  FRED stood for ‘Fantastic Reusable Environmental Decoration’.  We had FRED for six Christmases, and every year FRED would tolerate our adding some small lights and some light ornaments.  FRED didn’t really appreciate this and every January would drop some branches in protest, but in the time we had FRED he grew from about 3 feet to nearly 10 feet tall.  Fortunately by that time we had a 15-foot cathedral ceiling where we were living.  Unfortunately, when we moved we had to leave FRED and our other big plants behind (including a hibiscus that was basically an 8-foot diameter ball).  However, the woman who moved in said she would be honoured to care for our plants, and I thought, “That’s the right answer”.  After FRED we got FREDDY (Fantastic Reusable Environmental Decoration, Dressed for Yule), but FREDDY went to live with some friends when we moved.  We got FREDERICA next (Fantastic Reusable Environmental Decoration, Ever Ready in Christmas Attire), but FREDERICA got left behind when we moved (in January) from Ontario to BC.  Once settled in Kelowna we picked up FREIDRICH (Fantastic Reusable Environmental Inspiration, Dressed Richly In Christmas Harmony).  We had FREIDRICH for a few years, and his growth paralleled FRED’s.  We didn’t have FREIDRICH for as long, though, so he never got quite as tall.  This year we have ‘GLITTER’, the newest member of our Christmas tree family.  We ran out of ‘FRED-like’ names, so we had to ‘branch out’ so to speak.  GLITTER stands for ‘Glorious Little Inspirational Tree, Twinkling and EVER Resplendent’.  She’s small yet, but she has FRED’s roots to fill, so in a few years we’ll be looking for another cathedral ceiling for her.  Actually, Marcia says all of my plants want to be trees.


Glitter - not big enough yet for Christmas lights

The other thing I like best about Christmas is being Santa Claus.  I’m not just talking about giving out presents (that’s always fun, whether it’s a hot coffee for a homeless person, a Hug Certificate for a stranger or something special for a loved one), but what I’m talking about are the kids who see me as Santa Claus.  I do have a long red cloak called a capote (a French term meaning ‘long cloak with hood’), but it’s not really necessary.  Kids can see past that.  If it’s July and Santa is wearing sunglasses, a headband, jeans and a denim jacket, well that works for them too.  I still remember the first time a man was walking by with his toddler and as they walked away the little one started going, “Ho, Ho, Ho.  Ho, Ho, Ho…”  His dad didn’t know what he was saying, but we did.  In every case their eyes get big and their faces light up, and for me that’s the best gift in the world.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that Marcia looks like Mrs. Claus too.  I’m still working on that ‘bowl full of jelly’, but getting closer than I would like.  I remember one time a few years ago I was walking through a mall (wearing my capote) and the Santa Claus there called out, “Hey there, Sonny!”  I turned around and exclaimed, “DAD!”  Fixed him…

Mike's capote

This year marks my first ‘Victorian Christmas’.  I’m sure that term has been often used before, but not by me.  It also looks like it’s going to be my first ‘green’ Christmas, as it’s December 20 and it’s 8 deg C and raining.  New traditions.  It’s been an amazing Christmas for us so far this year.  We took in the Victoria Santa Claus parade, and it’s the first one I’ve seen in person since I was a boy.  Next year we’ll remember to bring some food for The Mustard Seed food bank drive.  We also went to the Fairmont Empress Hotel for the Christmas tree celebration – 75 trees are decorated by different groups, and are on display throughout the hotel.  All of the proceeds raised go to the BC Children’s Hospital.  And we took in the Bear Wear 2009 display at the Hotel Grand Pacific; proceeds of that go to the Queen Alexandra Foundation School Age Program.  Speaking of teddy bears, we just heard that there are 300 teddy bears hidden in the Sidney Museum from now until New Year’s.  That’s even more than the 281 ‘kids’ we have (teddy bears and others).  We went to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Victoria City Hall, and were treated to the hot drinks and special treats that were provided by local businesses as well as the display of antique fire trucks provided by the Victoria Fire Department Historical Society.  Finally (so far), we took in the ‘water ballet’, put on by the Victoria Harbour Ferry crew.

Christmas this year has been extra special for us this year for another reason too.  I took a moment to share a photograph and a story of my favourite Christmas with the folks at Tourism Victoria and CHEK News, and in so doing won one of the daily prizes!  It was an unexpected joy to receive it!  The prizes include a tour with Victoria Carriage Tours, a year’s family membership to the Royal BC Museum, and an overnight stay at Villa Marco Polo Inn B&B.  We went to the museum for the first time today, but we’ll be back!  We’ve book our tour for Tuesday night, and the overnight acccomodation we think we’re going to save until spring.  Our heartfelt thanks to all those involved!

A Kelowna Christmas (FREIDRICH is on the right)

The last thing I want to add in here is that while it’s still a strange concept to both Marcia and me, Victoria feels like ‘home’ to us.  We’ve both moved a lot in our lives – 11 moves in 3 years is my record – but we’ve wanted to come to the island for several years now.  The city is beautiful this time of year, but more than that, it feels like a wonderful place to be.  I think maybe we’ll stay…


P.S.  St. Nicholas was the model for today’s Santa Claus, and while there are many stories about his generosity, this is one of my favourites.  Nicholas of Myra lived in what is now Turkey in the late 3rd century and into the 4th century.  His parents were rich merchants, but they died when he was fairly young.  Being a pious man, he used much of his wealth to help others and encouraged his friends to do the same.  One popular story about him concerns a man who had three daughters, and who couldn’t afford dowries for them.  Under the cover of night Nicholas threw a bag of gold over the wall of the man’s house, enabling his eldest daughter to be married.  That task completed, he threw a second bag of gold over the wall for the middle daughter, and later again another bag of gold for the youngest, when each had come of age.  On the third event, the young woman was washing her stockings by the hearth and when Nicholas threw the bag of gold over the wall it fell down the chimney and landed in her stocking…

by Clement Clarke Moore
or Henry Livingston

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Follow this link to read Marcia’s View