Monday, November 23, 2009

All I Want Is Christmas

Julie can’t stand the candy canes the secretary has hooked along the top edge of the lampshade. I hear her disgusted tone clear across the table at the staff Christmas dinner. Everyone hears her actually, with the exception of the secretary, who is, mercifully, absent. Julie thinks the candy canes are tacky. Not the canes themselves of course, but the way in which they adorn the otherwise upstanding lamp. This surprises me because, well, I think Julie is a little tacky herself. In fact, candy cane decorations are exactly what I think Julie is not only capable of, but covets. Now, Julie doesn’t wear spandex Mickey Mouse tights or flashing poinsettia earrings, but there is something about her that, while I can’t quite put my pinky finger on it, has essence of déclassé. Meow meow

I am thinking of Julie and the candy canes one morning as I cycle along our fair city’s scenic route, right through the heart of some old money homes and beachside retreats. I see some elaborately decorated residences, but for the most part, I see single-coloured, single-stringed lights hooked and hung evenly along sloping roof lines. A clean, symmetrical show of Christmas spirit. No dripping “icicles” or air-filled bobbing Frosties; no indoor lights crisscrossing the living room window or twinkling candy canes dotted around the front lawn. And goshdarnit, these houses look great. I feel a real affinity for these smartly-decorated homes and their loving owners. This is my kind of Christmas.

It has since dawned on me that Julie may be as tacky as all get out, but she too has her kind of Christmas, and, clearly, it is one without random bulk candy cane placement. Christmas traditions, for those who have ever celebrated this holiday, are, if not hard-wired, pretty close to super-glued. I’m willing to bet that Julie’s mother never hung candy canes from their living room lampshades. Her mom probably stuffed tinsel in the cracks of the dining room table and wrapped green sparkly garland around the banisters, but candy canes were just not on in Julie’s childhood Christmas, a permanently-etched and perpetuated memory.

My husband, to most, is a fountain of flexibility, a true man of the moment. To me, five Christmases and Thanksgivings in a row, a stubborn, ungrateful stuffing critic. My turkey stuffing. Year Two I managed to eek a semi-confession from him: Mum did something different. And all that implies. Mum’s was better. I only like Mum’s. I’ll try yours. I’ll even smile as I eat yours. But I prefer Mum’s stuffing. Despite all attempts, I have been unable to duplicate Mum’s stuffing and I have finally accepted I never will. My husband’s memory could sniff out an erroneous spice or an errant raisin. His childhood stuffing has been super-glued.

When I left a local, major department store last week, after a fitful burst of Christmas shopping, I noticed a holiday message pasted to the door that read something along the lines of “Merry post-Ramadan, middle-of-Hannukah, soon-to-be Kwanzaa, just about-Christmas”. It fell just short of Happy Festivus. I felt the tug of a lampshade candy cane and raisin stuffing; I felt my super glue flex and stretch. Surely no one is here tonight buying Ramadan presents? This is my Christmas, the same one I have celebrated since my mom can remember. This “holiday” message did not reflect my Christmas; how tacky.

Of course, the “Christmas debate” has been raging for many years now, between whom I’m not entirely certain, but I know that some people are irate about all this Christian clatter. And some people want to fix what is the matter. Political correctness has dictated that government, schools, and businesses extend an inclusive holiday message. Absolutely. But does it make sense if you aren’t celebrating a holiday? That’s like saying: Happy Valentine’s Day, you sad, pathetic guy who just got dumped. Or Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Elizabeth.

I was so relieved by a reasonable reaction last season to the stripping of Christmas décor at an American airport. The rabbi who had caused the kafuffle, feeling Hanukkah deserved to be represented just as tackily as Christmas, threatened to sue the airport. After much silliness, tearing down and re-decorating, a wise man revealed that Christmas is now widely celebrated as a secular holiday in many western and non-western cultures and not to the exclusion of anyone in those cultures. It can be one big food-filled, wine-spilled party for whoever wants to join! I was relieved because I could have my childhood Christmas and not feel guilty, not have to grin through the stuffing.

Some of us have our super-glued Christmases, some of us don’t. Julie tolerates the lampshade candy canes and goes home to her tinsel-stuffed dining room table. My husband grins and eats it. We have sloppy multi-coloured lights drooping from our roof and hedges. Our kids love them. I, well, you know what I prefer.

Christmas is what you have always known it to be, or something you are just starting to celebrate, or something you don’t even think about. Everybody and anybody can do whatever they want on December 25th; Christians can keep the Christ in Christmas; Bob can keep his eggnog spiked. There is room for all things tacky and otherwise in this Canadian’s Christmas, as long as I can call it that.

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