Christmas Over the Years

Christmas brings out mixed feelings in me. Will it be good or bad, white or green this year?

There were the Christmases of childhood when I cradled a lonely Roy Rogers annual while my more fortunate cousins flashed multiple gifts received from doting parents. The Christmases of Pyrotechnics followed, when my bachelor uncle would buy a car load of fireworks each year and appoint me master organizer of the Christmas•eve “firing schedule,” when I became the envy of the neighbourhood kids. The fireworks•less Christmas followed in the year my sister was born—our Christmas baby, who now as an adult walks the land preaching salvation to the uninitiated, just like the original Christmas baby did—when everyone was pre•occupied with Mum’s long labour, and when the kerosene canon, a poor replacement for the fireworks, was created by me and a buddy to prove that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Midnight on Christmas•eve in the old country was a cacophony of exploding fireworks until that sound morphed into a more deadly kind—civil war—causing us to leave seeking safer pastures.

Our first Christmas in the Middle East was terrible: no fireworks, no friends, no family and no carols on the radio. Christmases in the desert got better afterwards when the “tribe,” (comprising family and friends chasing safety, petro•dollars and immigration nest eggs), began to grow, and when we built our own collections of Christmas music. The first Christmas in Canada was a wonderland of falling in the snow and making angels and snowmen – activities we had only imagined and read about in fairy tales. Now, we could not get the sound of Christmas music out of our ears – it was everywhere, 24/7, from the time Halloween ended. The tribe followed us to Canada when their nest eggs were sufficiently grown, and they increased and multiplied and Christmas parties got grander and it was no longer sufficient to give (or receive) a solitary gift per person, and January was a blah month when the credit card bills came in.

There were the sad Christmases too, when illness visited the family and mortality checks registered for the first time and relatives brought gifts and food for us, the homebound, because Christmas was never to be missed, come whatever. There was the Christmas when a marriage ended and my family never sat down to its turkey dinner as a unit ever again. And there was also the Christmas when I looked upon my first unemployment insurance cheque and wondered how one could live on such a measly sum, and questioned where all my taxes and contributions in previous years had gone. Those were the times when I did not look forward to Christmas.

But good times return, just like the bad ones do, and this year we are seeing family members celebrate their own Christmases as their circles expand, and given the numbers now in the tribe, we are assured of at least reasonably sized gatherings at any one place for the next few years. And the ones coming to visit this Christmas are driving long distances on planes, trains and automobiles to get here (well, maybe not on planes this year).

Above all, Christmas reminds me of the passing of time and of the human condition, replete with good times, bad times, wins, losses; of giving and receiving. Maybe Christmas is an annual check point to see if we are truly living life in all its diversity. Poor is the man (or woman) to whom Christmas has always been a procession of joy or an unending saga of misery. They have been short changed. Christmases should be like eggnog cocktails, with equal or alternating infusions of sorrow and joy, which we must partake of annually in order to be truly alive.

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