It is 64 days to Christmas as I write this late on a Sunday night in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, BC to be precise. I begin my anticipatory ruminations of the holiday season ahead, early, in one of the locations where Hallmark shoots the more than 40 Christmas movies it releases each and every year. It’s not Hallmark Media’s fault that I voluntarily dial up one of their movies and torment myself early by reminding myself (I know I am not alone in this) of what lies ahead in holiday land. Nor can I blame the older catalog of films produced under the former Crown Media for showing me the scenes of Christmases past that immerse me in the highs and lows of the holiday season. Taken all together they provide me with free, unlimited viewings on YouTube each weekend of mysteries, family films, and Hallmark Channel offerings. I simply type in ‘romantic comedies’ in the search bar and I see new and oft-repeated selections. Hallmark dominates the category, so, I got kind of habituated, shall we say. I pay for no streaming subscriptions or special showings. I just plug in and sometimes weep or smile at the familiar, some might call them formulaic, plots embroiling now favourite and recognizable actors in the Hallmark family talent pool. In fact, I occasionally recognize some shopping on their own or strolling with dates in my very own real-life Kitsilano neighbourhood. Of course, sans the makeup and good lighting to touch up their doing ordinary things on my own usual errand routes.
Together, we get through the season. You know, I think I am not alone in the anticipation of both the excitement of a holiday season prolonged by society and commercial enterprise and the angst. I guess, for me, viewing and sometimes rewatching those movies is like what some ancient cultures did to kind of rehearse or even avoid full-scale embattlements by working things out in advance through games or fireside storytelling.
I enter the angst. I feel the frenzy. The countdowns and mostly the stress that comes with the season snag me every year, which is odd. My older sister has said, “How does this even affect you, we don’t celebrate Christmas. Why should it matter to you? It’s not our holiday!”
She has a point. But, it does, right?
Christmas is everyone’s holiday.
We live in a Christmas culture. It may not have the full religious meaning to all of us, but it is ubiquitous. Even my love of Hannukah and deep education about its distinctive symbols, food, historic origins, and even ever-relevant experience in our contemporary times doesn’t replace it. Yes, even with the glittery gluing on of gifts and the far bigger deal that North Americans have made of this basic commemorative, and not religious holiday, Christmas still shines through loud and clear in parallel.
In my own Jewish home, I still remember learning ‘Oh Tanenbaum’ and Silent Night in Germany as we lived there just before coming to Canada. It was not celebrated in my home, but my mother had friends who were Jehovah’s Witnesses so I benefited from chocolate Advent Calendars. My father, tuned into the season before merchandising was even a word in our vocabulary in the new language of English, suspended a small, real tree over the giant red metal with folding steel top covers of the Coca-Cola cooler in our corner grocery store. The smooth top hid the real ice that chilled small glass bottles of Coke and Fanta, Tab, and the ever-festive, Canada Dry Gingerale.
The tree had candy canes that customers sometimes helped themselves to. It had fake and fluffy drifts and some plain but shiny, red, blue or gold globes hanging from the tinsel-strewn branches.
Like others, I knew the iconic songs. I could sing along with ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, and more liturgical tunes like Fall on Your Knees and many others sung by Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and other stars of my childhood. Dolly Parton, Boney M, and other novelty-type acts and their albums would follow! I was proud to know that some of the biggest musical numbers and lyrics were written by Jewish American composers such as Irving Berlin, who wanted to give back to America where they found shelter and safety from World War II. Even Rudolph with his nose so bright had a Jewish backstory and heartening lesson.
New citizen arrivals to this day, embrace Christmas for the fellowship, food, and warm connection their participation offers to their new communities, rural and urban.
The lights and colours that illuminate the dark and cold winter wonderland are welcomed by all. They even have counterparts in all cultures that Christmas seems to surround. Respite from long nights between serious months, especially in agrarian and manufacturing work is built into the human experience be it on sand, surf, or snowy turf.
It has come to mean a great deal for the living we all hope will provide for our families.
As the publicist of the Manitoba Christmas Craft Sale for about 25 years, I saw how artists, potters, weavers, painters and many other types of artisans counted on Christmas time sales. They attended local markets or embarked on the circuit of craft shows as good sales would sustain them all year round. They prepared mightily in their studios and around kilns and looms etc. creating well in advance, the goods they hoped would entice shoppers and holiday celebrants to purchase. Designs and decor was meant for their loved ones, business clients, and custom, one-of-a-kind pieces for personal enjoyment from the hand-crafted wares, displayed and explained by the artists themselves at sometimes as many as 200 booths.
One year I wrote, without credit and in helping a Jewish board member who asked me for a favour, the ‘olde time’ oversized souvenir brochure given to visitors of Dalnavert, or MacDonald House, a historic house museum located just a street over from my then, downtown office within the Craft Sale HQ in Winnipeg.
Well…since it is October at this writing, and we yet have Halloween, Remembrance Day, American Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. And, despite what a person in Homeland Security once reminded me of during a work-related phone call is still… a foreign country, we still all live those calendar entries intensely despite it being across the border, just as we all live our own ethnic holidays PLUS Christmas and both Thanksgivings, etc.!
I am willing to bet a good Halloween choco haul cost that Christmas decor and signage as well as tunes will be up and operational, just hours after the last Halloween child street chimer is home with their pillowcase full, and in bed!!
Once I’ve unwrapped and repented for all the Halloween candies, I’ll write more on the angst & cringe, and turmoil of the ‘happiest time of the year’.
Feel free to leave comments about your own experience of the Christmas season below.