Category Archives: Christmas and other celebrations
Ah yes. This is Christmas
Joyfully, we gathered around the Christmas tree. We hung decorations. Teased one another. Laughed and shared memories of Christmases past and hopes and dreams of Christmases to come.
This morning, I walked into the living room, switched on the tree lights, made myself my seasonal eggnog latte indulgence, sat at my desk, and watched early morning traffic cross the bridge. It is sparse at this early hour. Car lights moving west to east, crossing over the river that flows in an indolent stream of shimmering waters growing ever slower as Arctic air swoops down to envelope us in its icy maw.
Baby it’s cold outside.
Inside, my world is wrapped in the scents and scenes of Christmas á la 2022.
Like pocketbooks all over the country, my yearning to decorate the house is thinner this year. Perhaps the austerities of the pandemic have invaded my senses.
The big [;astoc tubs full of boughs and decorations lay unopened. Some of them didn’t even make it up from the storage room downstairs.
The tree stands tall in all her glittering light, festooned with glass balls and ornaments, delicate butterflies and feathered friends.
I wonder if this simple yet beautiful display is enough.
If maybe this year, it’s time to pare down the excess of Christmases past and cull the bountiful stash of Christmas ornaments I’ve accumulated over the years.
Perhaps, in keeping with the austerity these inflationary times seem to naturally have ignited in so many, it’s time to declutter Christmas.
I sit at my desk and watch the river slowly shifting-shape from flow to frozen shape. The reflection of the Christmas tree lights shimmer in the window in front of me. Darkness holds the night still.
Long before Christianity appeared along the human journey, people gathered around evergreen trees to celebrate Solstice. For our ancestors, the evergreen and its constant colour, needs and scent, represented the promise of longer, warmer days to come.
In our gathering last night, we decorated the tree connected through time to this ancient symbol of the light regaining its strength over the dark.
In our gathering, our laughter, our shared history and love, we wove the magic of time and this season together into a beautiful tapestry full of the promise of Love. Hope. Peace and Joy.
Ah yes. This is Christmas.
Wrap yourself in loving-kindness
When I worked in an adult emergency homeless shelter, amidst the joy and laughter, the lights and decorations that adorn this time of year in the rosy glow of family gatherings and festive delights, the air was also filled with the sadness of loneliness and the heavy despair of homelessness.
For those without a place to call home, finding joy always came shrouded in the memories of joy lost, connections broken, family circles torn apart by poverty, addiction, violence and loss.
One year, we invited clients to share holiday messages to post on our website. I was always in awe of how excited those who participated were to have a chance to reach out to family and friends and let them know they were thinking of them and wishing them well.
One of those individuals was Zahir. His nickname was ‘Happy’ because he could always be counted on to lighten even the darkest moments with his laughter.
Zahir was diagnosed with a mental illness when his daughter was three. He was exiled from the family home and his community and began a long journey through homelessness.
He was in his 50s when we did a video story with Zahir one Christmas. We wanted to show the human side of homelessness. To help those who had never experienced it or judged the shelter and those experiencing homelessness, find compassion and understanding for those who used the shelter as their respite.
This video had an even more important purpose which would only be revealed several months later when I received a letter from a woman who had never given up searching for the father she’d lost when she was 3 years old.
As a child, she’d been forbidden from seeing or searching for, her father. As an adult, she made it her mission to find him. One of the things she did constantly, was search the websites of emergency shelters across Canada in the hopes of finding him. In her letter, she told me it was a miracle she stumbled across our video. She had started to give up hope of ever finding her father.
Zahir and his by-then 30-something daughter were reunited. At that reunion, Zahir got to meet his 2-year-old granddaughter and learned that he would be a grandfather again later that same year.
Zahir, despite his daughter’s requests he come live with them in another city, would not leave the shelter. It was the world he knew. And, though he never met his second grandchild, when Zahir passed away later that year, he was a very happy man. He had met the daughter he’d never lost hope of one day seeing again.
In the darkness of homelessness, Zahir held onto hope and loving-kindness.
May we all do the same.
This is the video that sparked the miracle of Zahir and his daughter’s reunion.
Happy New Year!
2021. High On Expectations
I originally titled this post – 2020! Need I say more?
But then I wondered… what if it’s not about 2020 anymore? (Which btw it isn’t when I look at the calendar)
What if it’s all about 2021? We (as in the entire planet) sure are expecting a lot from it.
How will it ever live up to our expectations? Especially, if as the saying goes, “Expectations are premeditated disappointments.”
Which got me thinking that perhaps the best thing I can do is to stay out of the field of expectations and instead, water the seeds of Love growing in the garden of my heart.
That garden is the one I must tend to, no matter the season, the times, the weather, the state of the world around me. No matter if Covid beats a hasty retreat and we are free to embrace one another again without fearing the worst, the state of the garden of Love in my heart keeps me rooted in grace and gratitude. It opens me up and brings me into the beauty of this moment in which I find myself breathing freely.
May the garden of your heart be full of beauty growing wild and free in all the colours of the rainbow. May you awaken to Love blossoming with every breath you take.
Still. Silent. Softly.
I am standing in the middle of the pedestrian bridge that spans the river connecting the east and west end of the city, just before the rolling plains leading to the foothills and the Rockies begin.
I can see where I was standing as I sit at my desk now.
It is early. The sky a grey covered cloudy blanket full of misty, snow-filled moisture.
The world is quiet. Calm. Serene.
There is no traffic on the separate vehicle bridge on the far side of the one on which I stand. No sign of pedestrians on this one either other than one bicycle track that had ploughed through the snow earlier than even my morning saunter.
I shake my head at the thought of someone riding their bike through the snow and am reminded of my friend J.H. who no matter the temperature or conditions, rides his bike everywhere. All year-round. We worked together for several years and some mornings when the wind was howling and the snow blowing, he would arrive at work looking like the Abominable Snowman. It never deterred him. It was one of the things he had to do to help save the planet, he said.
I helped save my sanity yesterday.
I unplugged. Mostly.
Other than FaceTime with my daughter and family, and a check in with La GrandeFamille in France and India via WhatsApp, I kept my online time to the bare minimum.
It was self-preservation. The Christmas blues lurked. Real close. And, without the excitement of preparing to receive family and friends for dinner, the slope into self-pity yawned before me with its alluring view into oblivion.
To keep myself from heeding its siren’s call, I kept myself out of the Christmas chatter that fills my Social Media feeds.
The messages are all so beautiful but yesterday, it kept reminding me of how different (and strange) this Christmas was.
I had awoken early. 4:30 am. At 5, when a girlfriend text to wish us Merry Christmas, I was still awake. I text back a few times and then lay in bed debating about getting up. At 6, my Auntie Maggy called from India. We laugh and chattered and when we hung up, I was wide-awake. I decided to get up.
I wandered through the house. Turned on Christmas lights and music. Bundled up and took Beamont the Sheepadoodle for an early morning wander.
The world was quiet. The sky midnight blue. The river flowed with its normal winter chatter. A Canada Goose honked somewhere in the dark.
The world was as it usually is early on a Christmas morning, though this was a very different kind of Christmas.
C.C. still made his Finnish pancakes but we packaged them up to deliver to his son and girlfriend who, because they live on her parents property would be having dinner in her family bubble.
We still cooked a turkey but instead of sharing it crowded around a table of family and friends, we packaged it up in the late afternoon and delivered it to my daughter’s for The Great Exchange between my daughter, sister and us.
Like soldiers in the trenches on Christmas Day of 1914 who carried out an unofficial truce and crossed the no-man’s land between them to exchange Christmas wishes and even gifts, we approached one another, holding out our packages like peace offerings in a time of war. Except our enemy is an invisible microbe that does not announce itself with guns blazing but slips in undetected until it’s too late to take up arms again.
After The Great Exchange, we drove to dear friends, stood at their front door and from a distance, wished them Merry Christmas and left behind a container full of turkey dinner and fixin’s to enjoy. When we returned home, I made up a heaping plate of turkey dinner and took it to a neighbour. Her husband has been ill. She wasn’t up to cooking a turkey dinner, she’d told me earlier in the day when I’d dropped off a Christmas card and ornament at their door.
And that’s where the Christmas Spirit prevailed. In the small acts of kindness we could share wholeheartedly with one another.
There are still gifts under the tree that haven’t been unwrapped. The roasting pan sits on the kitchen counter waiting to be put away. The dining room table is still set for two, a lonely reminder of the different circumstances of this Christmas. Like year’s past though, there are left-overs in the fridge. The pot of soup we started making last night sits on the deck chilling.
And through it all, woven like threads of gold in a tapestry lovingly crafted by the hands of the many lives that touch ours day in and day out, is the Love that binds us, sustains us, fills us up.
I unplugged from the virtual world yesterday to spend time savouring the magic all around me.
Just as the virus finds little room to create its havoc when we take loving measures to keep our distance, there was no room for the blues to take up residence in my heart. It was too full of the love and joy of the spirit of this season.
May the sacred nature and giving grace of the spirit of Christmas embrace you and your families. May the New Year bring all of us great joy, good health and the closeness that comes without Covid in our midst.
I Took A Bite of Memory
I took a bite of memory yesterday. It slid across my lips and landed on my tongue full of tantalizing reminders of Christmases past.
It took me back. Back to my early teens. We are living in a white house with a big Chestnut tree in the middle of the front driveway. The deck overlooked the garden and then the city below. The drive backed onto a hillside that took you up into the vineyards that dotted the edges of the Black Forest town in which we lived.
Inside, the house is full of the smells and sounds of Christmas. My father is baking in the kitchen. Christmas music playing. Loud.
My sister, Anne, and I are squabbling over whose turn it is to vacuum and whose turn to clean the bathroom.
My mother is fluttering around, trying to keep dad’s dishes to a minimum and desperately trying to admonish Anne and I to ‘quit fighting’ and get to work.
My brother is wafting in and out from his room. Like a prince holding court, he stands (forever) in front of the full-length mirror in the front hallway trying to determine between blue shirt, white shirt or maybe a sweater? In the middle of turning this way and that, he asks Anne and me what we think of what ever he is wearing.
We roll our eyes and say, in unison, “Whichever”, and pretend to go back to doing our jobs.
It was our way, we’d placate our brother and then whine together, like co-conspirators in a bad spy movie, about how he always got to go out and do whatever he wanted while we had to do all the work around the house. Sometimes, if we got the tone and attitude just right, he’d think we were talking about him and pester us with questions. “What’d you say?” “What? You think I should go with the sweater?” “There’s nothing wrong with my hair today, right?” We’d tell him we weren’t even talking about him and scurry off to get our jobs done so we could go meet our friends.
If high-fives had been a ‘thing’ in those days we’d have worn our palms out.
And through it all, my father would be bustling around the kitchen, elbow deep in flour and sugar and everything nice to make one of his many baked Christmas delicacies.
Yesterday, I took a bite of a piece of Stollen. I’d picked it up that morning fresh from the bakers and was transported back to those days long ago..
My father’s Stollen were home baked. It was his way. The kitchen was his domain during the holidays. And while deliciousness was his ethic, excess was his trademark.
In later years, when I was living in Canada and my parents had not yet moved back from Europe, my dad would parcel up a huge box of Christmas goodies and have them delivered by airmail to my front door.
That box came full of his loving hands spicing up every bite and, my mother’s hands too. Because, while the production of so many culinary delights was my dad’s purview, making it all look pretty was my mother’s gift. She shared it well.
Butter tarts. Tins of many different cookies. Pound cakes. Christmas cake. All wrapped up in crinkly bows. Pretty, sparkly papers around each cake. Cheery tins of laughing Santas and elves and trees all dressed up in Christmas finery. It was a gastronomic and pictorial odyssey.
There was something for everyone in that box. Chocolates for my daughters. A treat for the dog. And always, wrapped in a piece of cheese cloth covered with wax paper, tin foil and red wrapping paper, there was a Stollen. Waiting to be devoured.
I took a bite of memory yesterday.
It tasted good in my heart.
Last night, as I sat in the glow of the lights on the Christmas tree, I felt the overwhelming sadness of missing those we cannot be near this Christmas.
“Buck up, Louise,” my inner critic said in a jolly voice. “It’s not that bad. At least it looks like it will be a white Christmas.”
“Small consolation,” I hiss back. “We’ll be all alone. Nobody in our home when Christmas dinner calls us to the table.”
I’m never sure why I feel the need to speak in rhymes to my inner critic (badly I might add) Perhaps it is to disarm him.
“Nope,” the critic says. “It’s to distract yourself. You don’t know how to handle feeling sad, so you avoid it.”
Seriously? You sound like my mother.
Oh, not the one I spent my life trying to understand. That mother took her last breath in February. A sweet, tiny, sparrow-like woman whose arthritic fingers floated up to touch the faces of her daughters and granddaughters who had gathered around her bed to say good-bye.
We could do that still, in late February. Gather with those we love to say farewell. Sit in a circle around her bed, close together, heads bowed, holding each other’s hands, as we said a prayer for this, the final leg of her journey.
That mother, who bid her farewells in February was often a mystery to me. Full of contradictions and insecurities. I sometimes, unkindly, called her needy.
This one, the one who comes to visit me now from someplace on the other side, is full of understanding and wisdom. She laughs and drinks martinis and wears too much perfume and too much jewellery. She doesn’t seem to care. She’s having the time of her life in the afterlife she says.
In her aura, I no longer yearn for the mother of my dreams. I simply yearn for her to keep visiting.
And then I realize he is. Her. My inner critic is my mother’s voice. But this time, she’s not visiting me while I’m in the bath, as is her custom. She’s here, beside the Christmas tree where I sit feeling the melancholy of the hour before midnight and the sadness of this season of joy that will be spent alone.
My mother loved Christmas. She would spend hours decorating, baking, gift-buying and wrapping. From the man at the counter of the store where she normally shopped, to the woman who cut her hair, to the son of the son of the woman who cut her hair. My mother gave to everyone.
It was her way.
The gifts under our tree this year are sparse. Most were ordered online and sent directly to their recipients to avoid physical contact.
And my mother’s voice breaks into my reverie.
“It’s still Christmas Louise. A time to join the triumph of the skies and proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
“Since when do you quote Christmas carols?” I ask this unseen presence who sounds like my mother’s voice but doesn’t speak like her at all.
“Since you keep slipping into melancholy instead of Christmas cheer,” my mother’s voice says. “You love Christmas carols. Remember when your girls were little and you’d organize a carolling party and all your friends would come and you would wander the neighbourhood singing at the top of your lungs?”
And I smile and remember. Yes. That was such a good time. Full of laughter and friendship and children’s voices giggling while we parents struggled to carry a tune that nobody cared about anyway. It was the feeling of being together, of being connected that made it all so special.
And I sigh.
“We don’t have those connections this year, mum,” I say to this woman whom I cannot see but whose presence feels so real to me.
“True,” she says. “But it doesn’t mean those days are gone forever. And it definitely doesn’t mean those feelings of connection and belonging aren’t still alive. You just have to work harder to feel them. Use your creativity Louise. You’re good at that.”
And I smile in the silent night. My mother’s voice drifts away and I sit and watch the Christmas lights glow with the promise of a most Holy Night.
Christmas this year can’t be like Christmases past.
But it can still be full of those feelings and sensations I love so much. Of being connected. Immersed in love and joy. Of being part of something magical and mysterious and miraculous.
If it is to be, it is up to me.
Quietly, I turn off the Christmas tree lights. Let Beaumont out for one last romp in the now snow covered earth and then climb into bed beside my beloved who is already fast asleep.
I close my eyes and say a prayer of gratitude. For my beloved sleeping beside me. For my mother who visits me now so I can know peace. For this life I live that is so full of joy and for all those who make it a beautiful tapestry of family and friendship woven together with Love.
We may not be gathered around a crowded Christmas table laden with the food we all prepared, but we will be gathered together in our hearts. And in our hearts, there is only room for one thing. Love.
Always and forever.
Time to stop not missing the missing pieces
I have been suffering (and I pause and look at that word and wonder, am I really suffering or is it just a mere annoyance?) …
I have been annoyed by what I am calling my ‘Covid-brain’. A sort of spongy, mushy, sieve-y brain that forgets the simplest of things and has difficulty focusing.
Can you relate?
Why, just yesterday, I dropped off a bag of goodies at a friends and left before she could come to the door. (I kind of like the randomness of it all) A while later, when I realized I had missed her call because I’d forgotten my phone was on silent (again), I called back and she thanked me for the parcel.
“I’m curious though,” she said. “I’m not sure what you want me to do with these two envelopes addressed to…” and she named the recipients.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed into the phone. “I had put them in the bag while I took everything to the car. I was going to drop them into a mailbox on my way over.”
I, of course, had totally forgotten. Not just the ‘drop in mailbox’ part but the fact the envelopes were even in the bag.
Fortunately, my girlfriend offered to drop them into the mailbox. Crisis averted.
It is happening a lot. This forgetting things. The being half way through a task and getting distracted by another.
Even my Netflix viewing is under the thrall of my ‘Covid-brain’. Last night, deciding it was a good time to douse myself in Christmas romance, I was 20 minutes into a movie before I remembered I’d watched it just a few nights ago. And don’t get me started about the movies waiting for me in my ‘Continue Watching’ folder. That one’s even longer than Santa’s naughty list!
Some of it, I think, is because I am constantly dancing between the pull of diving deep into my favourite time of the year and having to push myself into doing anything remotely connected to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.
Take my shopping list.
I don’t have one.
Yup. You read that right. I haven’t even made a list of names and gift ideas this year. Heck, I’ve barely bought a gift! Though I did manage to get some parcels shipped off early enough they might even make it before the big day!
Though even there, Covid-brain slithered in with its nasty habit of stealing my memory away. In this case, a girlfriend had offered to ship some gifts with hers as she had someone at work who was doing all the post-office, standing-in-line related activities.
“Awesome!” I told her and promised to get them to her by end of week.
In the interim, I packaged up the parcel, got it all ready to go days before I had to drop it off. And then…
Well, let’s just say I saw the box sitting on the counter and asked my beloved if he’d take it to FedEx.
Totally, I mean totally, forgot about my girlfriend’s offer.
It has been an unusual holiday season. Okay. Unusual year.
The quietness of the house. The lack of comings and goings. Of friends dropping in and family gatherings, planned and impromptu. The busyness of going to the mall or favourite shops to browse aisles filled with tempting ideas on what to give that special someone who has everything, but not that. The rushing about. The wrapping and carefully placing each gift under the tree. The anticipation of watching faces light up. The hugs. The sharing of Champagne toasts and special dinners with friends in their homes, or ours or even a restaurant.
My mind is so full of not missing ‘the missing pieces’ it is struggling with staying focused on what is most important.
And as I go to write what is most important, I realize that is where I need to change the story in my heart. Covid-brain or not.
See, the story in my heart is all about the love and joy of celebrating this special time of year with family and friends. It’s all about the excitement of finding that perfect gift for the ones I love. Of making those perfect somethings to nibble on over a glass of bubbly with a girlfriend I haven’t seen in a long while. Of lunch and shopping with a friend. Of watching my favourite Christmas movie with my daughters. Of driving around looking at Christmas lights and singing Christmas songs in the car. Of setting the table and dressing it up all pretty and bright for dinner and the multitude of things that make time with family and friends so special.
That story is not a possibility this year. Health matters must come first. Which means, it is time to re-write the story I hold dear to my heart. If only for this one season.
And so, I let it go.
The working on not missing the missing pieces.
They’re not missing pieces. They’re just not in the story of Christmas this year.
Without having to spend so much energy working on not missing the missing pieces, I free up my mind-space to make room for the things I can do that still speak to the love and joy I feel at this most wonderful time of the year — like make those cookies I’ve been putting off to give to neighbours. Like sending out those cards I haven’t yet sent!
See, in working on not missing the missing pieces, I have put my attention on what is wrong with this holiday season and not all that is right.
All that is right is we are well and healthy. Our families are well and healthy. Our friends are well and healthy.
The gift we give each other this year is the gift of good health. By staying apart, by celebrating separately, we are gifting each other, life without Covid.
What an amazing gift!
And if I focus on that, if I stop thinking about all the things that are missing and having to then remind myself to not think about all the things that are missing, I am free to celebrate and enjoy and savour this gift of well-being that is a true expression of the greatest gift of all…
And yes, I have immersed myself in creating more bookmarks. Their creation fills my heart with joy and pulls me out of focusing on thoughts of how to not miss the missing so that I can breathe once again into the beauty of all that is present, right here, right now.