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 …  

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