My evolved humanistic perspective on Christmas

“Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.”

Christmas has always been something of an enigma to me. There was a brief period in my early childhood when I recall on Christmas Eve setting out a cup of milk and caramel squares on my night table – for Santa Clause of course.  In my first season of playing rep hockey, in the game immediately prior to Christmas, the players all received a hockey stick from the coach. I was about to ask the coach for the stick lie number six I was accustomed to instead of the number five I was given but my father appropriately intercepted my near faux pas and told me it was a gift.  Why would the coach be giving us a gift I wondered?

Growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood of Toronto in the 60’s with a large population of holocaust survivors (my parents however were not), Christmas was largely a non-event save of course for the year or two when I suppose I believed in Santa. We were aware of it for sure, but we had Hanukkah around the same time where the children also received gifts but commonly not the parents. I don’t recall any of us feeling we were missing out on the commercial aspects of the holiday plus we received chocolate coins and real coins too – not a tradition of Christmas! With Hanukkah being a post biblical holiday and therefore having diminished religious significance compared to the biblical Jewish holidays of for example Passover or Yom Kippur most Jews don’t attend synagogue. Not too dissimilar a scenario from a substantial number of Christians who choose to ascribe limited religiosity to Christmas – all was equal.

This all began to change for me as I entered University and subsequently the working world.  That point in time also saw the rise of the evangelical movement in the USA with Jerry Falwell and the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979.  At Carleton University in Ottawa I spent my initial two years in residence and for the first time in my life lived in a predominantly non-Jewish environment. I wrote about some of those revelations and new challenges in my book When Walls Become Bridges.  There were a couple of people from my residence floor who objected on what I felt were prejudicial religious grounds when I was Santa Clause for our floor Christmas party. Beautifully though, my dear first year roommate invited me to his family home over Christmas (a new experience for me) and there were many more Christmases in his Southwest Ontario home to follow. Those enlightening moments are precious memories to me as he and I reminisced this past Christmas Eve.

Even as I traveled parts of the world after university it [the world] would soon nonetheless become narrowed to me. I slowly embraced and then withdrew into a Jewish religious community of like-minded individuals and institutions, many of those people however were some of the loveliest I had ever met.  Still, I would take on new idiosyncrasies that further isolated me from the world at large. For example, I not only felt it wrong for me to utter the words “Merry Christmas” to friends, colleagues or clients but I would narrow-mindedly be offended when greeted by those warm and sincere wishes of the season. I became one of those “Seasons Greetings” people.

But over time things changed – as most constants do. Think about what has changed in your life, but more poignantly – why?  A relationship? A job? A move? A birth? A death? A friendship? Some other life altering event?

Nothing remains the same – nor did some of my idiosyncrasies.

Something would eventually happen to me every December. A friend made an unassuming social media post this week captured in the heading of this piece that perfectly captured it for me.  Christmas did become a feeling.  Most people also can sense it themselves. There is a percolating energy of peace, a growing sense of lightness and joy in the air that becomes unmistakable each and every December.

Despite the Northern Hemisphere certainty of December as a cold winter month here in Toronto, I am yearning that December could last. And maybe the tide is turning …

Speaking with a homeless person on Christmas Eve who had been on the streets for several years as he recounted to me, he said that he has seen an outpouring of goodwill, generosity and love this season. “It’s a bit too much” he told me as we both shared a laugh at his observation.  Oh, how I wish that laugh could carry on for twelve continuous months …  

Our Gut Instinct

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs

It has been a few months since you last saw my words strung together here, these thoughts of mine. Oh, I have been writing, observing the world around me – like most of you do as well – but I have not published again until today.  I am now especially motivated to do so …

A week ago I was heading to a hot yoga class. I parked my car on a busy street on the west side of midtown Toronto, used a mobile parking app to pay for the time I needed and got out of my vehicle. Walking only thirty metres or so to the yoga studio I was startled by a cryptic message on my phone.  My end point was interrupted by that message and instead a gut instinct altered my course – the first one of yet another to strike me that morning. I was persuaded to abandon my hot yoga class that I was so looking forward to.

What is gut instinct all about? You might also call it your inner voice. Is it a supernatural or god-like power not merely guiding us but compelling us towards an absolute action or direction? According to the Collins Dictionary a gut instinct is “an instinctive feeling, as opposed to an opinion or idea based on facts.”  This latter perception is a conscious, thoughtful and reasoned conclusion akin to a Benjamin Franklin protocol on how to make a sound or even unbeatable decision.  Have you ever been so motivated by a gut instinct?

The Cranberries wrote and performed a beautiful song called Animal Instinct which I hope you will click on. It is a raw love ballad illuminating something many of us have experienced.

“It is a lovely thing that we have
It is a lovely thing that we
It is a lovely thing, the animal
The animal instinct”

We know of being in that carefree present moment of love making when we are seemingly in a free-fall of actions without a thought to orchestrating a pro and con analysis of next steps or what if scenarios. And it is not thought to be learned, but an innate ability – an animal instinct if you will.  That was the allegorical gut instinct I experienced last week but not a sexual one.

I was in an elongated moment of confusion, uncertainty and fear. I had no previous experience on which to draw. Facts were not within my reach. I had no capacity to formulate an opinion. Suddenly, an action ensues, and I am in free-fall.

Powerlessness. Trust. Abandonment. Faith.

As a person who so often writes about choice and free-will I am not sure I acted out of choice this time. And I ask myself repeatedly – WHY NOT? Five minutes later and I would have been doing a downward dog or tree pose.  So, was it a force that interrupted my journey at that moment? If it is truly a gut instinct or inner voice, I trust that this power is so great and pure – following it will and did end happily, and I’ll leave it at that.

I urge you when and if the moment arises, to be fully self-aware of that extraordinary opportunity. But then again, if it does, you will know it – just as I did.

Let’s all make a difference in our lives and those we touch or can …