Christmas. It may be Hallmark, and I may be the furthest thing from a follower of Christ you’ll find walking down the streets of Toronto, but I feel the need… nay, the urge to share with all of you why Christmas is, has always been and will forever remain my most favourite time of year.
The Warm and Fuzzy
While there are those of us, and yes, I include myself in this grouping, who try our best to sport a genuine smile the whole year round, let’s face it… people are just nicer this time of year. In Toronto, this means that those who conduct their everyday lives in a survival-mode of sorts tend to slow down and acknowledge that do, in fact, live in a city… with other people. Sad, isn’t it? But it’s true. All of a sudden the “I” becomes a “we” and that businessman on his way to a meeting he can’t miss, may just stop and hold the door open for you instead of allowing it to smack you in the face as he bolts through without so much as a glance over the shoulder (Note * I said may – don’t take this is as a guarantee lest I be held accountable for a broken schnoz or a missing tooth). For those of us who hold doors open for strangers on a regular basis, Christmas is a time that allows us to go one step further by bringing a smile to the face of family, friends and strangers alike! This is generally the time of year that people start fulfilling their annual “random acts of kindness” quota and the impact is palpable. From dropping your change in the hat of a shivering stranger outside your door to paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line at Tim Hortons (Canadian coffee shop for an internationals in the crowd), for a few weeks leading up to Christmas, the world is a better place.
The fact that I’m celebrating two weeks of giving throughout an entire year is pretty sad. That being said, I’m not willing to overlook it with a sign and a snobby shrug. I love being on the receiving end of that over the counter smile, and I will graciously accept any added bonus people wish to throw my way at Christmas time. And it doesn’t just feel good on the receiving end. When I was working at Starbucks during my studies, we used to hand out free drinks to customers during the holidays and every time I saw that look of ecstasy (or maybe it was withdrawal) on the face of the person on the other side of the counter as I slipped them a latte “on the house”, it felt awesome! Having a bad day at work? Here’s a free drink! Bummed out because it’s -35 outside and car won’t start? Here’s a free drink! Tall, dark and handsome? Have a free ah-hem um…. Merry Christmas!
Giving feels good. That is, after all, why everyone chooses to volunteer their services over the holiday season, is it not? Let’s be honest, if you were doing it for the cause, you’d opt to do it more than once a year. For whatever reason, be it a result of social pressure or tradition (and I really don’t care one way or the other), people are more likely to donate both their time and money throughout the holiday season. Food banks literally have to turn people away from volunteering during the weeks leading up to and following Christmas while they struggle to make ends meet the rest of the year. Is it some sort of common thread that unites the human race during Christmas time but then falls apart as soon as the holidays are over? Why is it that we are so willing to act differently just because it’s Christmas time? Read on. I have a theory.
With a sweeping statement that is totally unfounded and most likely completely wrong, I would venture so far as to say that the call for forgiveness and generosity coupled with the nostalgia evoked by your festive favourites are highly, if not solely responsible for the outpouring of emotion around Christmas. Christmas music is definitely one of those things I long for all year round, but never play until the Christmas season is upon us. It could be a result of my roommate in university threatening to smother me with a pillow if she heard Christmas music play before December 1st. But as soon as December 1st hit, all was lost until the chimes rang 12:01 in the new year. I can’t help it, I grew up in a house of singing and dancing. That didn’t mean that anyone could actually sing or dance, but we did anyway and once Christmas came, we sang all the time. Nowadays, these Christmas songs remind me of times gone by… and they’re all good!
How can you not be soothed by the calming hymn of “Silent Night” or resist the temptation to serenade that special person to a rendition of Mariah’s “All I want for Christmas”? I challenge you. And if you were so unfortunate as to have an bad childhood or if you per chance have a relatively lonely present, or if you’re holding on to a futile grudge from the very distant (or not so distant) past, perhaps the gentle melody of “White Christmas” or “Maybe this Christmas” will act as a gentle reminder of what’s really important or help to soothe your tired soul, at least for one day. Whether that’s appreciating the here and now, or being able to forgive for things that were: at Christmas, everyone should have a hand to hold though the hard part is often remembering that a hand needs to be reached before someone can grab it.
Along the same lines as my love for Christmas music and the emotion it evokes over the holidays, is my passion for: the Christmas movie. White Christmas. The Holiday. Elf. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Love Actually. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Miracle on 34th Street. The list goes on. These are movies that focus on the redeeming moral attributes that lay in all of us. For some they are deep down. For others, they are deep, deep, down, a la Grinch who stole Christmas. But the point of all of these movies is that they exist. Love is out there and people are naturally good – Hobbes be damned! Admittedly, the best part of watching Christmas movies is cozying up next to the ones you love while indulging in a film that renews your faith in mankind. Enter my next favourite thing about Christmas…
One of the best things about Christmas are those traditions that, after years of doing the same thing over and over again, become sources of excitement, elation and joy during the holiday season. Every family, or group of friends has a different way to celebrate, especially in a country like Canada, home to descendants from a variety of cultures and beliefs, many of whom don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Stemming from a family where one half is Welsh and the other French Canadian, our Christmas time has become a palette of traditions stemming from two sides of the ocean!
The first of the traditions start well before Christmas as mid-December hits and it’s time to put up a tree! A real tree (nothing less will do!). As we decorate the tree to last year’s favourite Christmas CD , we welcome the official start to the holiday season. As the countdown continues, week after week is filled with things to do from buying Christmas presents and baking Christmas cookies (shortbread and gingerbread are a must), to making a trip to the Santa Claus Parade and the Toronto Christmas Market,a relatively new addition to the holiday routine. And no, I didn’t forget about tuning into those famous Christmas specials. Growing up, we usually caught glimpse of the Rankin Family Christmas Special in an effort to get back in touch with our Eastern roots but nowadays the only Christmas special we’re sure not to miss is an annual performance by Canada’s own John McDermott. And no, it doesn’t bother me that the average age bracket is above 60. He’s awesome.
On Christmas eve we enjoy eggnog with rum, tourtière (a savoury traditional meat pie from Quebec ), and take part in an intense version of Secret Santa where it’s every man or woman for them self! Come Christmas morning, we open our stockings (pillow cases left outside our bedroom door) and rush downstairs to see what’s been left underneath the tree! While sipping on champagne and orange juice, we open presents and then make phone calls to loved ones both near and far, wishing them the merriest of Christmases.
On Christmas night, we enjoy a smaller reception of loved ones and exchange gifts while enjoying traditional English treats like trifle, or rice pudding but only after enjoying a perfectly cooked Turkey with stuffing, carrots, peas, turnips, parsnips, mashed potatoes, and yams. Drool….did I mention how much I love the treats that circulate during the holidays? Food, after all, is heavily linked to tradition, and changes depending on the host. We recently attended a Christmas Party that sported delicious Indian food, most of which I won’t find on my Christmas table, but that I was delighted to enjoy as a guest! From tandori chicken to spicy paneer, getting to sample the delicious ways in which all people choose to celebrate Christmas is one of my favourite things about the holidays!
What are your favourite things about Christmas? Whatever they are, hold them close. This time of year flies by and in no time we’ll be sulking around in early February cursing the winter’s bite. But for now, grab a cup of hot cocoa, cross your fingers for snow and indulge in the warmth that the holiday season brings.