Living as we do in North America where the traditional holiday schedule surrounds Santa Claus and the New Year (December 24th to January 1st), it is impossible to ignore the delirium and commercial toxicity which prevails in anticipation of the festivities. Even thinking about food supplies and booze is characterized by a concern about how busy the supermarkets and liquor stores are likely to become. And if one were to live in a snowbound locale, the collateral issues of weather and travel are commensurate.
The last time I slept in my parents’ home on Christmas Eve was when I was about 16 years old. I had travelled from Toronto to Düsseldorf, Germany en route to Stockholm, Sweden. When I arrived in Germany I learned that because of an enormous snowstorm my Air France flight to Stockholm was delayed 9 hours. I thought to profit from the delay by touring Düsseldorf. My mission was soon overtaken by a superior interest in baked goods which I had seen when walking about the city. I was however disappointed to discover that the majority of baked products were made with unsweetened chocolate. The whipped cream and other apparent delicacies proved to be a deceit. To this day I harbour an unqualified and unrepentant passion for sugar. After discarding my uneaten collection of baked goods along a snowbound rail line, I sought instead to strengthen my inner thoughts by visiting an art gallery.
Upon arrival at the art gallery I appeared to be the only one in attendance. The concierge offered to take me for a tour about the gallery, complete with his German to English tiny translation book. It was only upon leaving the gallery that I learned it was a private gallery. Seemingly the concierge had decided it was a slow business day due to the snow storm so he accommodated me in my own diversionary interests.
I cannot recall what Christmas Eve in Stockholm was like except that my sister Linda and I have always aligned ourselves with our own traditions which included naturally fanning the fires of excitement about what would transpire on Christmas morning. My mother and father had their own regiments. Mother’s focussed upon excessive gifts and magnificent meals. My father did extraordinary things like hanging rolled up dollar bills on the Christmas tree. He also regularly wrote a “Christmas message” which I as often read aloud on his behalf. Otherwise I suspect Stockholm lent itself to the enchantment of Christmas. Probably we attended a church service though I hasten to note that our conviction was more habitual than religious. My father customarily sat behind any pillar obstruction among the pews and feigned to listen attentively to the sermon.
Today while floating as is my custom on my back in the pool, I overheard the gleeful cries of young children on the nearby tennis court. They are likely staying with grandparents over the holiday. It reminded me of my own visit to my maternal grandparents one Christmas long ago precedent to a further visit during the same holiday to the maternal grandparents of Jennifer and Susan MacKinnon in northern Ontario where the snow was suitably knee-deep and the Christmas lights abounded. There was even a wooden display of Santa Claus and his reindeer on the snowbound roof of the house.
After my sister’s marriage (which entailed sharing visits to her in-laws on Christmas Eve), I did what I could to punctuate the occasion with my parents on Christmas Eve. Usually this meant little more than having dinner with them. It was always oysters on the half-shell followed by mother’s homemade tourtière accompanied by superb homemade relish. Routinely I returned to my own digs in Almonte where I attended midnight mass at St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Thereafter I prepared my own amplitude of gifts for family while excusing myself for indulging in neat whiskey and a blazing hearth.
For the past three decades approximately we have been out of Canada over the holiday season. We make no pretence about Christmas. Except for the cheerful voices of children in the background it is completely overlooked. We do this without purpose or vengeance of any description. It is the same disregard we have for birthdays. As my late father was wont to say, “Every day is Christmas!”