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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Christmas - I like it

I like Christmas.  Sure, it’s become separated from the original message celebrating the birth of the messiah, a guy who lived in poverty and gave his life for the salvation of humankind.  Instead, we’re accused of worshipping at the altar of consumerism in the temple of our local mall where we seek solace from the emptiness of our existence in the purchase of stuff we may or may not ever use or need. But, I’ll just forget about all that for Christmas ‘cause for me, Christmas is all about tradition, thinking about others, however briefly, and the one time in the year, my family gets together in the same place at the same time. 

New baby with tree
I love the natural pine-fresh smell of our freshly cut tree we found in a restricted area next to a capped oil pump.  Every year we go out Christmas tree hunting, even the year Nicola was pregnant with our youngest and had experienced her first contractors earlier in the afternoon, a fact she failed to tell me ‘cause she’d had already had two babies and she knew when this one would come.  I have visions of sliding off one of the narrow forestry roads we were navigating in our crappy caravan without snow tires and our toddler girls being forever traumatized as I helped Nicola give birth in the back. 

What was Nicola’s reason for taking this risk besides a misplaced faith in the mechanical integrity of our van and my driving ability?  Tradition.  We went out for a tree every year, sometimes with a forestry permit, sometimes without.  We even found one when we lived north of the Arctic Circle in Fort Resolution.  Sure it was about four feet high and forty years old, but it was still a tree we’d cut and retrieved ourselves. Even my complaining every year when I have to put up the lights is a tradition.  The worst was when I strung them upside down with the light socket end at the top of the tree.  I’ve never made that mistake again. 

Road race set 
Obviously, Christmas traditions can have both a strength and a weakness particularly for the children.  At first, there’s that transition from childhood to being an adult.  Problems can go in either direction.  In grade 8, my friends and I were into road race sets.  Back then, they fitted on a track and would zoom around the track with the driver only able to control the speed.  I wanted nothing more than to get my own and Christmas was my big hope.  Instead, I got a hand blow-dryer for my hair that I could care less about because my parents figured that, because I was now becoming a young man, I would be concerned about my appearance.  I didn’t and I still don’t care about my hair and I still like toys.


Guy toys
As toddlers, each of my children received advent gifts in tiny stockings that would be hung along the wall.  Each day, Nicola would fill that day’s stocking with a little gift.  This was easy when they were young but became increasingly difficult as the tradition continued through high school and even into university when we’d drop off their stockings usually filled with age appropriate items like a miniature bottle of liquor or sometimes, a tiny toy or figurine like they would have received as children.  I don’t know how they felt about that just like I don’t know how the girls felt about me reading them bedtime stories until my eldest was in Grade 10 or 11.  Just like I don’t know how they feel about coming home for Christmas every year especially now that my eldest has a boyfriend in Britain where she now makes her home. 

There were the years we’d go to my wife or my parents’ house for Christmas.  Those could be hard.  Each have different traditions they value and want to maintain.  My mother always had difficulty when it was time to go home or the in-laws.  She always felt we should be staying a bit longer.  I don’t blame her.  I would have felt the same.  And Nicola’s mom wasn’t crazy about me so it took me a while to discover that, so long as I wasn’t around for the first day or two of our visit, my presence would be given much greater tolerance.

Grown kids with Russell, the dog
A problem with grown children as that they view their parents more as equals than persons that necessarily carry a wisdom that should be followed.  Frankly, having taught high school most of my adult life, I’m quite accustomed to the pessimism with which the young adult receives information or advice.  As a guidance counsellor, I rarely argued with students.  If they believe that something might cause them harm, I attempted to present alternative sources of information.  Otherwise, I’d just acknowledge their observation and then move on to provide information that might help them resolve their difficulties or help them achieve a goal.  That said, I found my conversations with these young adults could be as enlightening for me as I hope they were for them. 


Like the insights I used to receive from the young adults I taught and counselled, my children provide me with insights into me and my interests.  My son usually gives me a bottle of Scotch he thinks I should try or craft beers that he thinks are particularly good and he knows I wouldn’t normally purchase on my own or, for that matter, know to purchase.  My middle child usually gets me a toy, a gadget, or an accessory for a gadget which, I’m hesitant to admit are a bit of a weakness.  One year, she gave me a remote-control helicopter.  Another year, a car that I could control with my phone.  Last year, she gave me a case for the computer I’m presently using, an item of disproportionate value in my tiny universe. 

My eldest usually gets me a book or books.  Last year, she gave a book of 1000 books I should read
with descriptions of each.  Very helpful, particularly if I’m at a loss at to what to read, which can be often.  A couple of years ago, she gave me “One Man and His Bike: A Life-Changing JourneyAll the Way Around the Coast of Britain” by Mike Carter.  It’s a memoir that starts with Mike on his bike at a stop-light in London where he wonders, what if I didn’t turn left toward home.  What if I just kept riding straight until I reach the ocean and then continued on that road all the way round the coast of Britain until I return to this same spot.  So, that’s what he did for over 5000 miles.

I’ve thought the same thing.  What if I just got on my bike and just kept riding, south.  Then, I was in Campers’ Village the other day and I’m looking at walking shoes and I get talking to a nearby clerk who’s pricing cross-country ski poles and he says that he likes a really light shoe and he shows me a trail running shoe.  Even hiking? I ask and he says, of course.  Then he tells that what he wore when he rode his bike from Edmonton to Patagonia on the southern tip of Chile.  I was skeptical.  That’s a long way and there’s some dangerous territory to be travelled through.  So, I asked, how you’d you get past Panama? because I know that’s where the road ends and he says, there’s ferry from there to Columbia.  I said, isn’t dangerous biking through some of those countries? and he says, In Venezuela I took backroads ‘cause I was afraid of being kidnapped.  (Yes, It’s a problem there.)  He also said that he’s ridden his bike across much of Europe. 

Recommended shoes that wouldn't fit
Then he tells me that he doesn’t deal with shoes and he points me to another, female clerk.  After I decide on a shoe she and I get to talking a bit and I tell her how amazed about her partner biking all the way to Patagonia and she says, how old do you think he is? I want to play along and since I figure he must be in his early 40s, I say, 35 and with a big grin on her face, she says, 51.  You’re kidding, I say.  Nope.  He is Asian, she says as if I hadn’t noticed.  They always look a bit younger.  Yah, I think, but 51.  He probably would have known “Chez Helene” and the “Friendly Giant” and the “Junior Forest Rangers,” all television programs only those of my generation would know. 

Before reading that book, I hadn’t seriously considered cross-country bike rides or long-distance hikes, both of which were sparked by reading that book. My daughter remembered that I liked biking, a fact I often forget myself and opened my eyes to a possibility I’d never before considered.

I don’t know what my family thinks of the presents I’ve given.  Not really.  They all provide the appropriate response but I really don’t know and I care that much because gift giving is a learning process.  We learn from the giving as well as the receiving and best of all, the giving forces me out of my tiny world to put myself into that of others.  


We went a tad overboard here.










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