Putting The I In Christmas

December 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

Christmas tree icon

Image via Wikipedia

It’s that time of year again – the season that begins with festive décor emerging in the stores early in the fall and ends with many people making pledges they won’t keep.

Christmas time means something different to everyone. I’m not going to rant about the over-commercialization and out-of-control spending of the season. That becomes obvious in January when the credit card bills arrive.

Although I was raised in the Church where they celebrate “true meaning of Christmas” tradition, I’m also not the person to write on that topic. Still others in society don’t celebrate the season at all for religious reasons.

Kathleen Smith, a friend in Edmonton, provided food for thought in a recent Facebook status update. It helped underline that Christmas is really an individual thing.

Kathleen wrote: “Let hope fill our hearts. Shine a light through the dark. All around the world and everywhere, this is my Christmas prayer.

“Yes, I know I’m a self-proclaimed Atheist, but it’s CHRISTMAS for heaven’s sake! ;-).”

Although I consider myself a small ‘c’ Christian, Kathleen’s remarks resonated with me, so here was my response:

“Then that is what your season is about: giving thanks, spreading joy and hope, using the holidays to spend much-deserved time with family and friends.”

“Thank you, David 😉 That’s exactly what it is for me,” Kathleen responded.

“Although I was raised in the Church, the season is all about family and friends and taking me time. I can’t stand all the commercialism,” I replied.

Kathleen responded with: “This is the one time a year I allow my crusty, hard old broad exterior to crumble. I believe in Christmas; its message of peace and love and family. Christmas reconnects me with humanity, disconnects me from being jaded and bitter.”

I remember very few individual gifts but have many special memories of the holiday season. You will notice a trend amongst my highlights.

There was 1984 when my car was out of commission, having been hit just a few days before Christmas. My friends Darrell and Kathy Skidnuk, who were travelling to Edmonton to visit family, gave me a ride so I could spend the holidays with Joyce.

We whiled away the time rockin’ out to tunes with me in the backseat using the snow brush as an air guitar.

For Christmas 1985 (a green Christmas … yayyyy), Howard Elliott, publisher of the Daily Herald-Tribune, and his wife Pearl, hosted all the orphans from the paper (those who had no family in town and were not travelling for the holidays). The following year, Joyce and I did the honours at our apartment.

Joyce and I were reminiscing about that holiday celebration just the other day, particularly the food involved. One of the guests prepared a most memorable crab bisque.

For Christmas 1987, our first in Sault Ste. Marie, the best thing was that Joyce arrived just in time to join me for the Big Day. We’d had to live apart about a month as we made the transition from Alberta to Ontario.

Christmas 1989 was our first with Peter. We didn’t put up a tree that year with a toddler just beginning to roam. Between him and Sammi, our first dog, we thought the ornaments would be in jeopardy.

We used a poinsettia on the coffee table as a tree.

Christmases between 1991 and 2006 were shared with our friends Jeni and Jim Rice and their daughters, Erin and Mackenzie. Neither couple had family in the community so we became the next best thing, taking turns hosting each year. A couple of times, Jeni’s parents joined in from Pennsylvania. Jim’s mom came up a few times from Toronto. Once, my brother Dennis visited from Edmonton.

Our first Christmas with the Rices illustrated why we were as good as family. Jeni underestimated the time to cook the huge bird she’d purchased and dinner was delayed until about 8 p.m. No worries, we had plenty of snacks and wine.

Speaking of making spirits bright, Jeni’s dad, Bill, poured the best glass of scotch! It was always a highlight guessing what fruit combination Jim would come up with for his sumptuous pie.

This year, we will be visiting Peter in Edmonton, getting down to the provincial capital a couple of days ahead of the World Junior Hockey Championship. We have tickets to five games.

Notice how none of these memories involve gifts wrapped with care under the tree? I also didn’t insist we put the ‘Christ’ in Christmas. All my favourite festive thoughts revolve around family, friend and food.

While Kathleen is an atheist and I am a believer, we both agree that this time of year is about celebrating the good things in life, remembering family and friends near and far, looking after the less fortunate, and looking forward with hopes the world will be a better place.

I think that is what Christ would want.

Regardless of how you feel about the season, I wish you all the best for a safe and joyous season.  All the best for a healthy and prosperous 2012.

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Don’t Shop Til You Drop

August 22, 2011 § 7 Comments

“Slow down, you move too fast

You gotta make the morning last

Just kickin’ down the cobblestones

Lookin’ for fun and

Feelin’ groovy …”

That verse certainly won’t be found in any jingles from major retailers stocking and promoting Christmas gifts in August.

They are words, admittedly, from the much simpler times of 1966 when Simon and Garfunkel recorded the 59TH Bridge Street (Feelin’ Groovy) song on their Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme album.

Thinking of the rush toward Christmas that’s already begun and taking it easy on this Sunday four months ahead of The Big Day had me musing over the word thyme and its homophone (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings) partner time.

It seems no matter how much people vow each year to slow down and spend less on gift giving, many still get caught up in the Christmas shopping vortex earlier and earlier and spend more and more money.

No wonder kids are hardly done opening the newest version of electronic gaming gadgetry they received at Christmas (which was of no surprise since they’d lobbied for months) than they are clamouring for the latest and greatest of something else.

Are we really surprised when much of the mound of nicely wrapped presents on Dec. 25 becomes clutter within days?

A rant about excesses at Christmas is an old one that needs no further comment other than the increasing craze over one day of the year is symptomatic of the rest of life for those who let it.

Many of us seem to try to pack one more thing in our lives yet always think fondly of the simpler times, like the quick vacation or the spontaneous dinner out.

Who relishes the maxed-out credit card bill in January?

It blows my mind when I’m channel surfing and I see shows like Say Yes to the Dress and the wearing apparel being considered costs more than my entire wedding. Of course, I’ve been married 25 years now and I wonder how many of the couples on the show will still be wed a quarter century later.

It all seems to start out with graduation in kindergarten and by the end of elementary school, the expectation of an elaborate celebration has gone crazy. Getting only about half way through basic education warrants a gala bash with participants driven in a limo?

It’s no wonder kids want to be teenagers all too quickly, rush off to post-secondary education, often before they are ready, and can’t wait to become of age.

By 30, many people have sped through the first third of their lives without taking the chance to smell the roses … and by then, they are stuck in a routine.

Am I being a grumpy old man about this? I don’t think so. I like a party just as much as anyone and as age 51 is calling my name, I am still at a point where I think of all the things there are left to accomplish.

It just seems we build up expectations for big moments earlier and earlier in our lives and those of younger generations so nothing is really THAT special anymore.

As I was writing this blog, I saw this quote on a friend’s twitter post: “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” ~ Ancient Chinese Proverb.

Do these wise words and my commentary provide conflicting viewpoints? Absolutely not! There is a difference between enjoying and thriving on a fast pace and having your life spinning out of control so we lose sight of what’s important.

We really can pack one less meeting or email into a day. We can call an old friend out of the blue or take an impromptu Sunday drive. We don’t NEED to shop until we drop.

A quick thanks for traditions

October 12, 2010 § 3 Comments

 

Thanksgiving Turkey

Image via Wikipedia

 

They say that if you repeat something for three consecutive years, it qualifies as a tradition.

My Aunt Verna reminded me this year that it was my seventh consecutive Thanksgiving with them since 2004.  I think that more than qualifies my visits out near Swift Current, Saskatchewan as tradition.

For a while now I’ve been trying to find my place in an ever shifting family scene.  Wherever I can find a constant, I cling to it.  As it turns out, Thanksgiving with my dad’s family is a big one.

No major holiday is ever complete without a full spread of food.  From salads, to the main course, and then onto desserts, a Peters’ table is always full and a Peters’ stomach often left bursting at the seams.  Thanksgiving is no exception.  A turkey big enough to feed a dozen or more people and still leave leftovers, followed up with ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, carrots, at least five different kinds of salads and finished with six different kinds of pies (chocolate, banana cream, pumpkin, coconut, apple and lemon meringue), yes sir, nobody at that table leaves hungry.

We always spend a large part of Saturday preparing all of the food for Sunday’s big dinner.  Vegetables are chopped, salads are made, fresh buns make their way out of the oven.

Saturday evening, my cousins and I spend making turkey hats.  We started out with just newspaper hats that we painted one year and called Thanksgiving Hats.  We’re now on our fifth generation hat and each year we expand on the concept.  One year we even had real feathers.

A large part of the weekend is also dedicated to kittens.  Being that we’re out in the country, there are a few farm cats around and there are always at least a few kittens for us to track down and play with.  It’s a wonder I haven’t come home with any yet.

When Monday morning rolls around and it’s time to think about heading home, I get in line with my cousins for a share in the leftovers first.  We take turns dishing out what’s left of the food into containers to feed us in the coming days.  I even bring my own tupperware.

Tradition gives us something to anchor ourselves to, and another piece of life that we can begin to identify with.  For that, and for the people who are a part of my traditions, I am thankful.  Because each piece becomes a building block in my life, both to build from and to build toward.

What traditions do you look forward to?  And how do they help shape your life?

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