I lived in Saint John, New Brunswick for a year when I was a kid (literally a year, to the day). One of the things I remember is that we had a terrible ice storm that year. (A man ice fishing on the Kennebecasis River near our house, stood up and was swept across the river by the wind and froze to death before anyone could find him. It was a brutal storm). The other thing I remember from that year is the Saint John version of 'We Three Kings' that the kids were singing in elementary school.
We three kings of Haymarket Square
Try to sell some cheap underwear
So fantastic, no elastic
25 cents a pair.
Haymarket Square is a place in Saint John. You had to be there. We thought we were hilarious. Saint John was also the place my family enacted a Christmas tradition right out of the storybooks when my dad drove us to a remote forest (so we wouldn't be caught) trundled into the silent, snow-covered woods and picked out a beautiful tree, cut it down and drove it home. It wasn't until the end of the day when the tree was drying out in the back porch that we noticed the smell. Turns out we had carefully selected a Cat Spruce which has the infamous trait of smelling like cat pee. Needless to say we had to abandon that poor tree and chose another.
Ah Christmastime. Some of us are just tryiing to make it through the holidays. Some of us love every minute of it. Some of us glide through on some merging of the two. Whatever your preference and even if you don't celebrate Christmas, if you live in the northern hemisphere, the dark winter months are times for reflection. Last month I wrote about the dark days of November and holding onto my warm, happy memories in the sun. By December, with Christmas lights twinkling all around me, I'm in full reflection mode.
I'm also well past my annual date of personal Christmas reckoning when I have a serious talk with myself and accept that I will have to pare down my expectations and plans once again. I hit that usually about the first week of December. It's a direct result of sometime back in early November having fleeting visions of the dangerous idea 'this year it will be different'.
This year I'll be that person by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book, swaddled in a tidy house, full of Christmas baking. My homemade gifts are wrapped and delivered. You know how the rest of that nonesense goes. A part of me never believes that will happen so it's not a dissapointment that hits hard. It's just always somehow a bit of surprise. It is amazing to me that I can fool myself like that each November. Why can't I use that mind power more effectively elsewhere in my life?
This year again I have dissapointed myself by not producing an epic Christmas form letter. I really think this idea has legs and one year I will get to it. I can't take all the credit, it's something the husband and I have wanted to write and send out for years. A Christmas letter highlighting the lows and banal details of the past year. A snubbing and retort to its brighter cousin, the Christmas letter reporting only the highs and banal victories of the past year. Our letter would tell it like it is and also aim to bore you with descriptions of dull trips and plantings in the garden.
'Well, another year of dissapointment and heartache has come and gone. We tried again to grow cilantro in the backyard and once again met with defeat. We just can't seem to get the hang of it. We bought the expensive soil this year (only to have our debit card declined at the till and forced to add more debt to the VISA) and tried a more southern exposure, but to no avail. The kids are growing like weeds. Speaking of weed ... '
You get the idea. Maybe I'll get to it next year. And there is the problem right there. Next year. At this time of year I am constantly reminded of the passing of time. The speed of it and the blow of it. Time allows for all this, our entire existence, yet it is measured and finite. Each breath really an heroic accomplishment. All of it a double-edged sword of sweetness and sad. Which is why I wanted to put the two photographs above together.
The first picture is of an elf I bought at a Christmas craft fair last year. He's only been with me a year and clearly feeling comfortable as I recently caught him in my kitchen making snow angels with flour, no doubt in ancitipation of Christmas. The second is of my Uncle Brian. My elf reminds me to be silly and so does Brian. Uncle Brian loved Christmas and he also died just before Christmas, which still seems both apt and unfair. Apt because I think of him so much more at Christmas, like he is injecting himself into everything I do, but in a spirited, good way. The man was capable of silliness personified. And silliness is a bright light in a dark world. It's not just for kids. I try to be more silly this time of year, to remember Uncle Brian and to cheer myself up.
My favourite Christmas song is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and I think because it captures the full melancholoy of the season. 'If the fates allow'. We never know if we'll be here next year or who among our beloved will be gone by next. It's a simple line that is not so simple. It captures our existence of never knowing from one minute to the next what is really going to happen. The song holds the joy and the sadness of the season. Forces us to 'hang a shining star among the highest boughs' because what else can we do? But go on and try to live with light and love in our moments here with each other.
And now solstice has come and gone. From the depths of December we're spinning towards spring. More importantly, tonight is Tipsy Eve, a sacred holiday celebrated by some members of my Atlantic family. Christmas is almost here. Whatever you celebrate Dear Reader, tonight I will raise a glass to you and wish you light and silliness wherever you are.