Christmas and year-end are much about memories, with fond and less fond thoughts about the past year and years past. In my past, Christmas season didn’t begin until December, with the Christian Advent period underway and shopkeepers beginning aggressively to promote their wares for Christmas sales. Today the run to Christmas starts around Halloween, influenced mostly by the looming Black Friday sales around late November American Thanksgiving, which now are or seem like Canadian traditions. Maybe it’s my age but the long drive to Christmas seems to make the actual holiday somewhat anticlimactic. Christmas was a major event in our home when I was a boy. Christmas Eve was organized around midnight church service. Christmas Day highlights were opening presents and family dinner, which for most years included extended family members, sometimes a couple of dozen or more descending on a host house for the evening celebrations. How we got so many people into houses smaller than ones some of us live in now remains a mystery to me but it always seemed to work out. Separating children and adults, at least over dinner, seemed to help keep order. There could be disorder. We had a history of Christmas mishaps due to fire, a tradition that goes back decades; fires from table or centerpiece candles, turkeys afire in the oven. There was never harm, except for some minor furniture damage, but all provided Christmases thereafter with humourous retelling of the Keystone Kops chaos.
There were certainly commercial influences on our past Christmases, with lights, tree, gifts, food and, of course, Santa Claus that competed effectively with the sacred side of our celebrations, especially for us kids. Even though we kids knew about the meaning of Christmas, it didn’t really resonate with us until Christmas Eve service, or occasionally Christmas Day service which really put a crimp into a kid’s Christmas Day. I knew Jewish kids growing up who celebrated Hanukkah prior to Christmas but I didn’t appreciate their stricter daily religious, family rituals until I was older. I know more Muslims now who observe even stricter religious practices and schedule, especially during Ramadan. We Christians, at least the ones I was part of, seem soft by comparison.
I know many still celebrate large family gatherings over the Christmas holiday. Our family not so much as most of the stalwarts have passed on and most of the rest of us have grown up, moved apart. But even in our smaller gatherings there remains the wholesome spirit of Christmas, appreciated as adults more for sacred and human values rather than the commercial aspects. I know it’s not fun for everyone. Many work over Christmas, too many are alone, too many have stress that becomes heightened at Christmastime, perhaps particularly this year. Reflecting on what’s good in our and other lives, and what’s not, is always meaningful but at Christmas it’s essential. For us that are truly blessed, even in tough times like now, it is good and holy to think of others in need and, for the best amongst us, reaching out to provide needed help and comfort. Striving to keep that spirit and practice year-round is something else again. But “that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”.