By Peter MacRae
I’ve known her for 40 years, ever since she was, for my sins, my underpaid bureaucratic alter ego who corrected my spelling and wrote a lot of my memos. She filtered my phone calls, staved off uninvited office invasions, and showed up in my absence, to restore diplomatic nicety to difficult public programs that were occasionally fraught with the organizational gaffs of my making.
Meanwhile, back on her domestic ranch, she was lovingly mothering boisterous children (and occasionally, later on, their children). She was nursing an ailing and failing husband, and making their modest surroundings hospitable to any family, friend or neighbour possibly happening along. With consistency she was, and is, a model of industry, refreshment and loyalty.
And she was, and probably still is, a Christmas whacko, a festive fool never able for long to leave the moment alone to find its own sensible level of existence; incapable of allowing the church’s or any other calendar to run an appropriate course.
She’d plant the seeds that would begin sprouting ’round about Easter, with the withdrawal of winter and some emerging solar warmth. True growth would be well underway by early July; greeting card lists would be reviewed and edited; obligations from earlier years would be noted; in August, gift-buying sprees would be proceeding apace.
By Labour Day, lights and baubles would be trotted out and inspected for defects; Thanksgiving would begin a baking frenzy that would cram mince pies and fruit cakes into the freezer. By Remembrance Day, sparkling ersatz reindeer would clutter the front lawn and plastic holly wreaths would take up spots on both traditional and contrived venues in windows and on walls.
By the time The Day rolled around, surrounded by clans-folk, she’d collapse into the nearest recliner, ogle a gleaming spruce tree, tear into any gaudy packet with a ribbon on it and, with a last burst of energy, hoist a neat scotch in toast to the moment.
A day later, cards would no longer grace the mantlepiece, all lights and trinkets would be safely returned to the attic, and a darkened spruce would be languishing in the snowbank. Christmas, to my avowedly agnostic friend, would have to come to a breath-taking halt and she’d be a nervous wreck yet devoutly proud of her fidelity to the scriptural dictates of the Book of Profit Margin, Walmart’s Letter to the Vacuous, and the Gospel According to Canadian Tire.
Sound cynical? Maybe to the Chamber of Commerce. Reproachful? That’s up to you. Apologetic? Depends, I reckon, on how it all speaks to and about the world we live in; how it hangs on what one insists is its meaning and how one defines the image it portrays and what the phenomenon says about us.
Time was, you know, in Christendom at least, when an Advent season would, like Lent, see some “giving up, the suspension of smoking, movies, cursing, dessert,” in the interest of self-denying reflection and returning. Most of us, nowadays have pretty well given up Advent.
Holy and other writs have long attempted to stimulate little victories over social misery, to reduce the shame of bombs political arrogance, lust, envy and sloth. These particular December days were first rolled out – citing people named Isaiah and Matthew and Paul – to talk of better dreams for time and place, touting the plough’s superiority over the sword’s, clear-sighted cooperation over blind obedience. In those days, too, there were tales of wasted cities, broken trusts, pitched ideological battles, the veneration of trivia and the belittling of honour.
There might still be some resistance to the giving up of Advent for Advent. There may still be hints that there are lessons out there that the internet doesn’t teach. One of them might be that we take a deep breath and remember what started it all: The birth of the humble; the curious arrival of the sanctified.
So as the book says:
“Peace be within your walls... and quietness within your towers.”
It might work. It’s good stuff.
Too good to end up in the snowbank on Boxing Day.