Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

My sister telephoned today.  It was before noon.  That speaks to the intensity of the season!  Sh-h-h! She is a late riser (if the truth be told). But today is the 14th of December and the Christmas season is upon us with its pitiless flood and urgency. She accordingly wasted no time addressing the purpose of her call other than first to inquire i) if I were at home or in the car, and ii) whether I were having lunch.  I replied I was at my desk absorbing the dynamic view upriver. In fact I had only just finished my breakfast. So much for the slur about early risers. With those formalities conveniently and speedily disposed of, we then entertained the tenor of her call; namely, to invite us to their home in the Glebe for luncheon on Christmas Day, December 25th @ 12:30 pm.

The invitation is by some standards anomalous.  First, it’s on Christmas Day and it will just be the four of us, my sister and her husband, my partner and I (all within or perilously approaching our 70s).  It is not the youthful congregation one normally associates with Christmas Day, opening gifts, frolicking beneath the glistening Christmas tree and invoking sleigh rides or skating on the canal. My sister’s junior daughter and her husband have just concluded their one-week Canada visit and returned to their home in California with Hawaii on the immediate horizon. My sister made it clear that things on the home front are as a result considerably quieter (her daughter had a sprightly chihuahua in tow). And my sister’s senior daughter will (for reasons I cannot now recall) likely be otherwise preoccupied.  So problably just the four of us.

The second reason the invitation is out of the ordinary is that we’re rallying at noon; or, to be more exact, during daylight hours. I have lately broadcasted my dislike of evening foregatherings which subsequently entail driving home in the dark. In any event I generally find at my advanced age that I prefer reunions in the middle of the day rather than the middle of the night.

And lastly, the proposed menu for the luncheon has nothing whatever to do with turkey or plum pudding; and, more agreeably for those involved, the luncheon requires a limited amount of personal application in the kitchen.  Instead my sister (who by the way is an extremely qualified chef) advised that she intends to order a prepared salmon from Pelican Sea Food Market & Grill. It won’t surprise me to discover there are oysters included in the fare.  My late father was from New Brunswick.  His father was among other things a fish monger. At Christmastime we regularly received wooden crates laden with wood shavings and fresh oysters in-the-shell which my father skilfully shucked in the garage.  He and my sister were especially entralled by these Maritime delicacies which they consumed avariciously. It is a Christmas tradition which has been perpetuated. To this particular addendum of the invitation dealing with nutrition, I wish to record that my partner and I have undertaken to contribute the dessert.  Neither my sister nor her husband is a devotee of sweets as remorsefully as we both are.  In keeping with our own unrelated “tradition” (it’s really more a habit, and I suppose a bad one at that) we’ve agreed to collect a carrot cake from Antrim Truck Stop in Arnprior, Renfrew County.  As I like to quip, your teeth begin to rot when the fork is about here!  The icing is nonpareil as far as I’m concerned.  When I initially told my sister we hadn’t need for a dessert, she vaporously dismissed my objection out-of-hand saying, “Billy, it’s Christmas!” Upon reflection I can’t imagine a more credible assertion.  I therefore intend to get the large model of the cake just in case anyone wishes seconds.  Christmas is no time for austerity.

It isn’t unnoticeable as well that this particular invitation is probably the first we’ve had on Christmas Day for over a decade because in the past we’ve been away from home. My partner and I are somewhat curmudeonly in that we profess on balance not to “celebrate” birthdays, anniversaries or public holidays. It is somewhat of a deceit however because we often use the event (disguised though it may be) as an excuse to lunch somewhere though without candles. But I similarly confess that on this occasion I’m relishing the festive fuss which surrounds the season. For me this has already included making a corporate Christmas card (which we’ve emailed to our family, friends and closest acquaintances); putting the “real” Christmas cards we’ve received on display with the fluffy Teddy Bear in his red Christmas hat with white trim and red tie; capturing photographs of the changing appearance of the Mississippi River and the snowy fields adjacent; and chatting with other residents in our apartment building.

This latter business of chatting with other residents has as well arisen in a most unexpected way. As snow, ice and salt have begun to overtake the local roadways I have altered the location of my habitual morning tricycle ride to our subterranean basement. The basement – which is dry and flat – affords an ideal pathway for my limited exercise.  I have calculated that there is a space of about 6′ between each of the parking spaces.  Along one wall where the parking spaces are uniform (that is, uninterrupted by the elevator shafts for example), there are 26 spaces, so about 6′ x 26 = 156′ or 2 x 156′ = 312′ for the round trip.  I am able to make a round trip (that is, end to end) almost exactly every minute. That by the way is a happy fortuity – it keeps me moving with alacrity and deliberation.  And thanks to the brilliance of my Apple Watch (which stops when I stop, then reactivates when I do), my 1-hour (60 minute, just in case you missed the thrust) routine exercise translates to 312′ x 60 = 18,720′ (3.54 miles or 5.7 Kms).

What I hasten to add to this image of athletic flawlessness is that I regularly pause throughout the endeavour.  As you may already have surmised my application is interrupted with those who come to the garage to retrieve their car.  With few exceptions I end talking to those who appear on the Olympic circuit. Each time the conversation is animated.  Today for example I spoke with a woman engaged in a local charity for disadvantaged youth.  The particular charity (should you care to know) is Urban Promise Ottawa. She spoke glowingly of the venture and I echoed my approbation. Today I also met a gentleman (of Italian birth, Canadian by citizenship) who previously operated a business in Fort Lauderdale but who now has changed direction to film in Africa.  This is the first time he and I have met so I haven’t had the opportunity to connect all the dots; but I am very interested in getting to know more. I told him I adore Federico Fellini.

These individual accounts have polished the gleam and brilliance of the Christmas holiday.  I won’t however deny that listening (as I force myself to do) to the news, whether CNN or BBC, the tales of war on the West Bank and in Eastern Europe are utterly disheartening. And perhaps moreso at this time of year. Clearly there is some dreadful motivation in the hearts of men which far outdistances the mystical theme of Christmas. While I would like to think I would never succumb to such barbarism, my own father was a so-called “war hero” (and one who was decorated by King George VI with the Distinguished Service Order). He was commander of a Lancaster bomber shot down by a German submarine in the North Atlantic where he and his mates bobbed in and out of a dinghy for nine hours before being rescued by the British. Not all of them made it alive.  The Lancaster bomber sunk the German submarine before being downed itself. Those boys never made it either.

In September 1939, the British Empire and most Commonwealth countries—but not Ireland—declared war on Nazi Germany, following the invasion of Poland. War with the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan followed in 1940 and 1941, respectively. George VI was seen as sharing the hardships of the common people and his popularity soared. Buckingham Palace was bombed during the Blitz while the King and Queen were there, and his younger brother the Duke of Kent was killed on active service. George became known as a symbol of British determination to win the war.

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, as well as formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for operational gallantry for highly successful command and leadership during active operations, typically in actual combat.

The Avro Lancaster is a British Second World War heavy bomber. It was designed and manufactured by Avro as a contemporary of the Handley Page Halifax, both bombers having been developed to the same specification, as well as the Short Stirling, all three aircraft being four-engined heavy bombers adopted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the same era.

In spite of these abrasive allusions I continue to enthuse about having a merry little Christmas. It is possibly a narrow window of my life when I can rejoice in the personal fortuity of having health, wealth and family. Though I haven’t any surperstitious expectations I am nonetheless disposed to embrace the event heartily and with commensurate gratitude.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!