The night before Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! A softened calm has settled upon the frozen snowy river and the whispy silent meadow. The roof of the tiny dillapidated barn, with its eerie windows and entrances open and unsealed, is neatly enveloped in clean white snow.  Ribbons of white in successive parallel lines like endless drawings along the open tarnished fields distinguish the rolling hills in the distance, going on and on to eternity. The dark trees stand tall and bare, their spindly scraggly branches shaded with snow. There is no sign of movement anywhere.  It is Christmas Eve, the night before Christmas.

Our preoccupation today began early morning. We travelled to nearby Arnprior to breakfast at the Antrim Truck Stop then afterwards collected the large homemade carrot cake with its signal cream cheese icing and thick, dark and moist cake with raisins.  We’re bringing the cake tomorrow to my sister’s place on Christmas Day for luncheon as our contribution to the festive board. The drive to Arnprior was a bonny one past the Village of Blakeney then through the Village of Pakenham, along the winding Mississippi River until we reached Arnprior when the river veered into the Ottawa River basin then reappeared as the Madawaska.

At the Truck Stop our server (who acknowledged upon enquiry that she was indeed a supervisor) confessed being harried by the holiday commotion. They had had difficulty getting and holding onto staff; and as a result she had worked long and late.  She expressed anxiety about the so-called modern view of work by the younger set, some of whom appeared then vanished. The little I know of these matters leads me to believe that the employees of the service industry generally have challenged the proprietors to reconsider the paradigm of delivery. For example my erstwhile physician – a notable world traveller (he is in Antarctica as I write) – has lately advised me upon return from a recent European jaunt that all restaurant bills now include an automatic gratuity, thus compensating the servers and relieving the patrons of having to address the always burdensome matter of payment. For one such as I, that is a so-called “professional”, the matter of compensation for services rendered has always been viewed as an odd distance between oneself and the client because naturally I never yearned for nor received a gratuity.

The practice was imported from Europe to America in the 1850s and 1860s by Americans who wanted to seem aristocratic. However, until the early 20th century, Americans viewed tipping as inconsistent with the values of an egalitarian, democratic society, as the origins of tipping were premised upon noblesse oblige, which promoted tipping as a means to establish social status to inferiors. Six American states passed laws that made tipping illegal. Enforcement of anti-tipping laws was problematic. The earliest of these laws was passed in 1909 (Washington), and the last of these laws was repealed in 1926 (Mississippi). Some have argued that “The original workers that were not paid anything by their employers were newly freed slaves.” and that “This whole concept of not paying them anything and letting them live on tips carried over from slavery.” The anti-tipping movement spread to Europe with the support of the labour movement, which led to the eventual abolition of customary tipping in most European countries.

As coincidence would have it, we left a tip for our server at breakfast this morning.  And later when we returned home (the long way upon the highway through Stittsville then back to Carleton Place and past the Village of Appleton) we deposited a gift into the palm of my favourite chap at the car wash. Both handouts were no doubt an expression of the Christmas season. I fully expect too that the beneficience was equally meaningful to the giver and the receiver. Until the boundaries between server and served are more properly defined largesse will linger as a token of appreciation.

The sky is darkening, a map of bluish-grey upon the entire celestial dome. I may have seen a distant trace of reindeer and a sleigh high above. No one will go to bed tonight without thinking about Santa Claus; and what it was once like to have been young and full of imagination and hope.

Merry Christmas to all!  And to all a good night!