Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's Beginning to Not Feel A lot Like Christmas

I guess what they say is true; time really does fly when you are having fun because this past year flew. Here I am, writing my annual Christmas post when I feel like I just posted the one for Christmas 2012 yesterday. Overall, it has been a good year for me personally but a large portion of the year was anything but fun; This Christmas will be my first without my mom who passed away on April 22nd of this year. I was like a zombie for the months following and then the realization hit that my life would never be the same again. I guess you can say I am not really feeling the holiday spirit this year. Believe me, I am trying. I did the shopping thing, I put up the decorations, I laid out the candy and chocolates and I bought some holiday music to listen to in the car…but it still just doesn’t feel like Christmas. The last few Christmas seasons here have been green with the snow making its first real appearance after the holidays. It came early this year with close to 50 cm’s of snow on December 15th but even that didn’t make it feel any more Christmasy. On a positive note, I did find my favorite Christmas ornament – my very first one I received from my parents on my first Christmas. It had been on the missing list and it looked like it remain so until I happened to look in an unexpected place and there it was! I know it sounds like a small thing, but to me, it was a very joyful moment because that decoration adorned every Christmas tree I had since that first one 33 years ago.
I’m sure that my mom’s passing has a whole lot to do with my Bah Humbug attitude towards everything Christmas but, in reality, this attitude seems to be more pronounced as I get older and with every passing Christmas. I suspect it has a lot to do with things beyond my own personal issues. As a whole, I love the Christmas season. I love the cheery music, the decorations, the candy, the home-cooked family meals. What I don’t love is the way Christmas seems to be going. I think many of you know what direction I am talking about and Christmas seems to be going in that direction more and more every year.
I have heard the stories about Christmases years ago. My parents and grandparents often reminisced about the good ol’ days and how much better Christmas was when they were young. They didn’t have much and no one received much (at least not in comparison to what people give and receive today!) but the spirit was alive and well. Large families came together to just be with one another and share the moment with loved ones. Businesses shut down and everyone had the opportunity to be home at Christmas with their family. There was no TV or smart phones to distract anyone. There was no pressure to spend an entire month at the mall shopping for expensive gifts they couldn’t afford. But even after listening to these stories, my childhood view of Christmas is quite similar; to me, it was the best time of year. My family was together, we watched favorite holiday movies, ate tons of candy, drove around looking at the Christmas lights on houses, spent time with family and friends we didn’t get to see very often and opened our presents underneath the tree. We had our traditions too. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve with my grandfather, the opening of one Christmas present each on Christmas Eve after Church and a lavish Christmas dinner at Grandmas on Christmas Day and watching holiday movies (Home Alone, A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). My all time favorite tradition was when my parents would leave a plate of goodies out for Santa and sometime in the middle of the night, they hid the plate so we would not see it again until Santa returned it the next year. My sisters and I honestly thought that Santa Claus took that plate with him every year and this had us believing in his existence way longer than any of our peers! “Sure he exists! We have proof because he takes our Christmas plate every year and than brings it back the next”. Those were the days!
Today, at 33, it is me who is saying “Christmas is not like it used to be. Kids today don’t have it near as good.” While I received copious amounts of toys and gadgets at Christmas when I was a child, it doesn’t even compare to the lavish things that await kids under the tree today. Smart phones, laptops, ATV’s, snowmobiles, cars…Now these kids today are spoiled! I was happy to get a new Barbie doll accessory or a bike or a new sweater. I doubt kids today even know the true meaning of Christmas. I grew up in a Catholic household so I know Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Christ. I long ago walked away from religion and follow my own path of beliefs that have nothing to do with Christ, god, The Bible or heaven or hell but that is neither here nor there; I still understand that Christmas is a time for Christians to remember that moment in their religion’s history and to spend time with loved ones. I have yet to figure out what a bunch of cranky, worn out and stressed people running around the mall spending all their hard-earned cash on material things they don’t need has anything to do with the birth of Baby Jesus…and than only to come out of the holiday season exhausted and broke for the rest of the year. I also have no idea what drinking oneself into oblivion has to do with the birth of Christ and I can’t figure out what violence has to do with it. Statistics show year after year that spousal abuse and incidences of domestic violence are more likely to happen around Christmas. Go figure!

And it gets worse year after year. Every season, the Christmas jingles start playing on the radio earlier, the Christmas decorations go up on houses earlier, the stores put out their Christmas stock earlier (there were Christmas items out before Halloween even passed this year), and people start their mad rush and lavish spending earlier. Doesn’t anyone catch on besides me? Corporations and businesses do these things so that we will spend more money so they get richer! They have put the idea in our heads that we NEED to spend money at Christmas and if we don’t, we are bad people. Seriously, if I had a friend who thought less of me because I didn’t spend a large amount of money on them for Christmas, they wouldn’t be my friend anymore. Material things do not buy love or respect. They just take up space and eat up money.

I don’t have any children so Christmas is a quiet time now for me. Most of my family is living away, most of my friends are living away and now with my mom gone, that Christmas spirit died just a little bit more this year. When it comes to Christmas for me now, it’s the memories that keep any little bit of spirit I have left alive. Fortunately, I have some very good memories.

You already have a good idea what my Christmases were like as a young child but after I moved away to another province when I was 19, Christmas time in that new faraway place away from my family back home took on a new meaning; sometimes I didn’t have the opportunity to travel home for the holidays and that meant starting my own traditions and joining in with my new friends and their families in various parts of Newfoundland. Christmas in Newfoundland is special. Well, everything about Newfoundland is special but Christmas is a very magical time of year on The Rock. I was never alone during any of my Christmases in Newfoundland even though I didn’t have any family there. I always had invitations to eat dinner, attend holiday events and join friends to celebrate the holidays with their families. This allowed me to be introduced to some new Christmas traditions unique to Newfoundland. Purity Syrup, Mummers, Peas Pudding and gathering around listening to talk radio or Open Line as many people called it. Over the course of my time there, I developed my own Christmas traditions. Walking through freshly fallen snow in Bannerman or Bowring Park, sitting on a park bench by The Basilica and listening to the beautiful sounds of a choir singing Christmas favorites before Midnight Mass, blaring the Christmas music and decorating my own apartment with the decorations that were handed down to me by parents and grandparents before I moved away and going for drives out around the bay to see all the beautifully lit homes.

There were some years that saw me traveling back to Cape Breton to celebrate Christmas with my family. There were lots of things I liked about Christmas at home too. Mom’s homemade baking, random drives with dad to Framboise, trips into Sydney to just drive around looking at the decorated houses, the 12-foot tree in the living room and those good ol’ movie marathons that never changed since I was a kid; still the same old holiday classics! Going home was always worth it in the end but getting home was the tricky part. Every time I traveled home from Newfoundland, there was some sort of delay. Bus break downs, ferry cancellations, delayed flights. One of the last times I made that trip saw me arriving in Port Aux Basques and boarding the ferry, only to be told there was a storm brewing over The Gulf so we wouldn’t be going anywhere for some time. A major blizzard struck not long after that I ended up stuck on that boat, in port, for almost two full days. When we did finally set sail, the seas were still rough. So rough that an announcement was made for passengers to stay indoors and away from the outside decks. The waves were so high that they were coming up over the sides. After a scary (and stomach turning) sail, I made it home on Christmas Eve. Than there was a the time I made it to Port Aux Basques and exited the DRL bus only to discover that someone else had accidentally taken my luggage – with all the Christmas gifts for my family in it! Thankfully, the person realized their mistake and they drove back to the ferry terminal just in time to pass over my luggage to ferry personnel who delivered it to me before we sailed away.
These days, I am living back in Cape Breton and this Christmas I am remembering and missing the good ol’ days; the Christmases of my childhood and the ones I spent in Newfoundland. I am also remembering the people who made those Christmases so special for me who are no longer here – my grandparents, my mom and the many friends who have moved to far away places around the world. I am also missing one friend, in particular who really wanted me to travel to Newfoundland this year for the holidays. I didn’t get to see him when I was there this past summer and its been a long time since I’ve seen him. Unfortunately, my schedule is too hectic this year and traveling to Newfoundland in the winter is dicey at best. Atlantic Canada is experiencing a blizzard as I write this and the ferries are docked indefinitely. Maybe this is also putting a little damper on my holiday spirit. I put up a few decorations bought some candy and wine, did some shopping and added Christmas music to my Ipod but no matter what I do, Christmas just doesn’t have that same effect on me as it once did. But at least I have those good memories and I am fortunate enough to have experienced Christmas before it became the overly commercialized circus that it is today.

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