happy holiday!

happy holiday

Can you feel it? When you first opened your eyes this morning, did you have that “day before Christmas feeling”? No, not the stressed “I have too much to do” feeling. The other one, the feeling that’s been part of you since childhood, that catches at your heart with the magic of twinkling lights and shortbreads and singing.

I get that feeling when I’m wrapping presents and humming along with carols. I get that feeling when I come downstairs in the dark of the morning and find the living room awash with soft glowing colour from the Christmas lights. I get that feeling when I hang each special memory on the tree: the stack of gifts ornament my mom helped me make when I was young, the felt rabbit that I sewed years ago, the cat with angel wings to remind me of my special Tobey, and all the treasures given by friends and family.

Wishing you much magic amid the madness, however you celebrate the season. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

Photo taken on December 23, 2010

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on the day before Christmas

Christmas lights

Although Christmas is called a “festive season”, today is when the fun really begins. Everyone I know is now focused on one intense 24-hour period: Christmas Eve to Christmas dinner.

We’re almost ready. We’ve baked cookies (gingerbreads, walnut snowballs and chocolate-dipped florentines), chosen and wrapped gifts for family and friends (everyone will be getting at least one thing that’s homemade), and put up the Christmas lights. Today we’ll be getting the tree and tomorrow will be dedicated to tidying and trimming, accompanied by a feast of Christmas music.

But I will admit that — as much as I enjoy the activities, the parties, the service, the carolling, the family gathering, the food — what I am really looking forward to is the week after Christmas. That’s when I will have time to review everything, replay my memory of the best moments, look at whatever gifts I may have received, and savour a few leftover treats. Our visits with extended family and friends will feel more relaxing because “the big day” will be behind us. And the shining new year, full of the potential to challenge and astound us, is just around the corner.

Photo taken on December 16, 2010

a shining welcome

shining welcome

I wanted to share some photos of the Christmas lights in our neighbourhood. The houses are so beautifully decorated, they just need a good snowfall to make the scene look more like Canada and less like Florida. Instead, I’ve chosen this photo, taken last year during a snow storm. This (to my mind)  is what a picture-perfect Christmas looks like, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year. We’ve had rain and wind during the night, and it looks like it will be another day before it blows over. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a few flakes before Christmas, but the temperatures this week are at the point where any snow could turn to rain (or vice versa).

Still, it could be a lot worse than rain on Christmas. It could be a lot of rain, like the 150 cm over 24 hours in southwestern New Brunswick last week that caused a river to overflow its banks, flooding 120 roads and damaging nearly 100 homes. It looked like Christmas would be ruined for many people this year, but for the amazing, generous and heartwarming response from local businesses, neighbouring communities and politicians who have collected funds and organized disaster relief, hosted dinners, offered temporary places to stay and distributed dehumidifiers and other supplies to those affected. With so much generosity, so much warmth, so much welcome, who needs snow?

Photo taken on December 9, 2009

(for every) madonna and child

madonna and child

One of the good things about this season are all the increased efforts to help others, especially children and struggling families. Here in Saint John, the big event was the Empty Stocking Fund, a region-wide telethon that featured children performing on TV raising money so that other children can have something under their Christmas tree. Another big fund raiser is the Harbour Lights campaign which raises money for food banks in southern New Brunswick. Many workplaces, churches and community organizations raise money to support projects around the city at this time of year, and the Salvation Army kettles (they even have an ikettle this year) are out in all the shopping centres collecting change to support their work with the homeless and poor. I’ve made a few contributions so far, and I plan to support another program or two before Christmas. Even small donations can help people in need. Who is on your year-end donation list?

Photo taken on November 26, 2010

a Christmas song

a Christmas song 

I’m sure it’s a nefarious plot, it’s a commercial campaign calculated to make us hate Christmas, starting with the first “Little Drummer Boy” in mid-October and ending with “Santa Baby” sometime in late December. For a solid two months, you can’t turn on the radio or step into a store without hearing the tinny strains of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

The Christmas Top 40 played in public venues includes a range of secular and sacred, sublime and ridiculous. You might be lulled into nostalgia by “White Christmas”, or feeling virtuous singing along with “Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed the World)”, but then “Holly Jolly Christmas” or the “Chipmunk Song” jars you into annoyance once again. I have to admit, some renditions of old and new carols make me grit my teeth and head for the nearest exit as fast as humanly possible.

But for all my grinching, I can’t help but be caught up in the Christmas spirit, especially when the decorations are lit up at night and there’s a dusting of snow to make everything look picture perfect and it really does feel like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. And those songs, well, deep down I really love them all.

Photo taken on November 26, 2010

{Edit: Thank you Lori for pointing out that it was Grandma who got run over, not Santa!}

men in skirts (and other seasonal attractions)

pipers piping

No, it’s not yet the 11th day of Christmas (“11 pipers piping”), but the pipe bands marching in Saint John’s Santa Claus parade on Saturday night have helped to put me in the Christmas spirit. Twinkly lights and red bows brighten the streets from one end of the city to the other, and carols accompany every trip through the grocery store.

The newspaper is also fatter — just like the legendary Christmas goose — filled to overflowing with sale flyers promising super specials on everything from cranberry-stuffed cheese balls to a computer-enhanced paintball game. My own Christmas shopping will be much too modest to boost the local economy, so as an antidote, I try to focus on the non-commercial aspects of Christmas. To quote a perennial holiday film, here are a few of My Favourite (Christmas) Things:

10. Pipe bands (gotta love those kilts) or brass bands, playing outdoors.
9.   Skating on Lily Lake to the sound of waltzes from the pavilion loudspeaker.
8.  Watching dogs and children frolicking in the fresh-fallen snow.
7.   Strings of lights and cheery decorations on people’s homes and businesses.
6.   The food. Oh, the food, the food, the food.
5.   Visiting. Seeing farflung friends and family is worth a holiday all by itself.
4.   Decorating the tree. All my ornaments have stories; hanging them on the tree is like opening a box of precious memories.
3.   Singing along with Handel’s Messiah. Just try not standing up during the Hallelujah Chorus (I know, that’s part of the Easter section, but who’s counting…).
2.   Giving gifts. While I do enjoy getting, giving is even better — I love seeing that pleased expression on a loved one’s face.
1.   Hearing the Christmas story. You know the one — pregnant teenage girl, hasty wedding, weary travellers desperate for a place to stay, the stable, the birth of a baby, singing and dancing shepherds — a real barn-burner. And you know there wouldn’t be a Christmas without a baby.

Photo taken on November 20, 2010