Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yes, Virginia...!

I still believe in Santa Claus. You will never hear me uttering the phrase “Bah, humbug”. Also you could never call me a Grinch although I have appeared a little green on the occasional Christmas morning. Hee hee!I have always loved the Christmas season. There really is something in the air that always makes me feel good during the month of December or maybe it’s just my olfactory glands overreacting to the smells of fresh cut fir trees and gingerbread. And before you snap at me I too also feel the stress the season brings. I just have my own way of dealing with it in a positive manner.
As we progress through our ever changing life, we also go through different phases of our Christmas experience. As children, the days leading up to Christmas were always filled with excitement including visits to the department store Santa. I defy anyone to tell me that the longest day of the year occurs at the Summer Solstice; any kid can tell you the longest day of the year is Christmas Eve. Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games, as a good Catholic school boy I did have to go to Christmas Mass.  Even then it was a lot more festive than regular Sunday Mass. Also, it seemed that I would always come up with lovely illnesses during the Christmas break from school including measles and pneumonia. What fun is it being sick if you can’t miss any school?
As a teenager, I never lost the Christmas spirit but it tended to wane a little. The one tradition I miss because no else seems to like plum pudding was Dad soaking it in brandy and setting it aflame and then heaping hand whipped cream on it. By the end of the family Christmas dinner, I couldn’t wait to head out the door and hang out with my friends.
My real enthusiasm for the holiday was brought about by the lovely Version 1.0. She was the real Christmas freak and it became infectious.  We adhered to several old seasonal traditions which evolved in traditions of our own. One of my favourite things about this short period in my life was our Christmas tree. We started with the usual coloured glass balls but worked on replacing them slowly with specially selected individual ornaments. Unfortunately, she ended up with all the Christmas decorations. Hopefully, she still has a few of the good ones especially my Kermit the Frog and Gonzo ones.
Then came the in-between time; for the first time in my life, I was living on my own. Not a lot of Christmas spirit is expected of a single man in his mid-twenties but I still managed to keep my love for the holiday alive. I didn’t go overboard with adornments for my tiny apartment but did have a few holiday trinkets spread around. I always found some friends to share a cup or two of cheer on the Night Before. The best of these events were several at the McIlroy Sisters annual Christmas Eve Party. Hey, nothing says Yuletide more than imbibing mulled wine with five tall gorgeous blondes!
When Lorraine and I got married I began to indoctrinate her on the joys of Christmas beginning a new set of traditions and special Christmas superstitions. The three biggest being the orange at the toe of the stocking, no presents are allowed under the tree until Christmas Eve and I have to buy at least one present on Christmas Eve. I did keep one of my old habits and continued to add at least one new dated ornament to the tree each year. As much as possible these ornaments had to have some special significance. We would look for these ornaments whenever we travelled and would quite often find just the right one.  The rest of tree was filled with Disney character decorations including a Mickey Mouse tree topper. This is no surprise to anyone that knows me.
When the Crown Prince was born it brought a completely new aspect to Christmas. Being an only child, he was definitely well looked after under the tree. One of the new traditions that developed was reading “The Night Before Christmas” to Bryan every Christmas Eve. This carried long after most childhood traditions would have thought to have expired by demand of the Prince.
In 1995, we moved down the hill a bit from our condominium and moved into a townhouse. It was then my obsession with lights was born. Because of constraints due to size and restrictions I can’t compete with Clark Griswold but I do have the brightest place in the whole complex. Along with the tree and the lights I started work on the rest of the interior and yes it includes more Disney stuff. (Oh, did I mention the Crown Prince and I are shareholders in the Walt Disney Corporation?)
Every year, I would spend at least two days in the kitchen baking dozens of cookies both for consumption and to re-distribute.
                From about the 18th until the big day we would make a point of watching a least one of the Christmas movies from our collection each night. Lorraine’s favourite was “The Santa Clause” mine was more of a classic “Miracle on 34th Street”. For some reason my eyes would always seem to water near the end of each film. I suspect it was due to some sort of allergy to gingerbread or holly.
I am definitely a bit old fashioned, I still mail out Christmas Cards. For you younger ones out there these are folded pieces of paper with pictures on them that you place inside another folded piece of paper. They arrive magically through a hole in your front door; and if it came from your grandmother you could shake it really hard and a dollar bill would fall out.
Because of my city dwelling life the Christmas song I’ve always related to is “Silver Bells”. One of the things I have always loved doing during the holiday season is going downtown at least once. Downtown Vancouver seems to change at this time from a sterile valley to a vibrant colourful wonderland. As I kid I remember taking the bus to see the amazing window displays at Woodward’s and Eaton’s. As adult, we would visit the Four Seasons to see all the trees and the Hyatt Regency to see the fantastic gingerbread houses or more correctly, gingerbread sculptures. Until recently, Robson Square was a great place to visit with all its lit up deciduous trees. Now it resembles a war zone.
My favourite memory of going downtown was in 1995. I had taken the Crown Prince over to Canada Place for the lighting of the sails and the sail past of the Carol Ships. (Lorraine had opted to go to an office party at a mediocre Chinese restaurant.) The two main corporate sponsors of the  event happened to be Signature Vacations, promoting new packages to Disneyland and the new Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, promoting their opening production , Showboat. (Hmm! Does anyone out there know somebody that loves Disney and musical theatre? Hee hee!) We happened to get there early and were practically alone viewing the newly refurbished Woodward’s windows that were on display when Mickey Mouse walked out of the backroom to do some pre-show media stuff. We were able to get a picture of Bryan in his Santa hat and Mickey all to ourselves. Later on as part of the lighting ceremonies the entire cast of Showboat including Cloris Leachman appeared on stage and pulled a bunch of children including Bryan up and read “The Night Before Christmas”. Bryan still has the book they gave him. (Lorraine never forgave me for her missing this because guys as you know no matter what it is “all your fault!” lol!)
Coincidently, although Vancouver has been called a cultural void by many it has also been the originating point for several North American urban holiday traditions.  The decorating of the tall construction cranes first became popular in downtown Vancouver. The Carol Ships were first introduced in our harbour to serenade the sailors on the ships waiting to load their cargoes and stuck an ocean away from their loved ones on Christmas. One of the arriving cargoes that was always welcomed every year was the arrival of the Mandarin oranges (The ones in the wooden crates). There was always a big ceremony on the docks with women in kimonos greeting the ship. Vancouver got the oranges first adn the rest of the continent had to wait.  Of course, nowadays, they are on the shelf all year round and come from every so the novelty is missing.  The New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim was started by the Pantages family here in English Bay. Note: As crazy as I am the swim was one tradition I never participated in. I almost did once but I was running a fever of 102 that day so I ended up holding the blanket while my silly pals waded in. Yes, you’re right there’s still time and I may just do it one year.
Now that Lorraine is gone, I try even harder to maintain all the traditions. I still go nuts putting up my lights, decorating the living room and adding a new ornament each year. This year it’s one I purchased on my most recent trip to San Francisco. By coincidence, the only remaining ornament I have from the Version 1.0 days is an ornament we bought in San Francisco and originally gave to my mom. Unlike a lot of people my lights and decorations stay up until January 6, the Feast of Epiphany when the three wise men supposedly arrived in Bethlehem. This is actually the twelth day of Christmas. (BTW – I find “The Twelve Days” and its novelty derivatives to be the most tedious of all Christmas songs even if I can do a mean “Five Golden Rings” with my deep bass voice.)  
The only tradition I have discontinued is the cookie baking; at least for the time being. For several different reasons it ended up the last two times with me consuming most of them over a period of several weeks. At least by then I had something I was more than willing to give up for Lent.
You will not have a problem catching me wearing a furry Santa hat and as well quite often one of my several Christmas ties. However despite rumours to the contrary,I do not own a gaudy holiday sweater.
Despite being somewhat sceptical of organized religion, I do not take a totally secular approach to the holiday. I believe it is important that we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth even if we actually celebrate it at the wrong time of year. All indications according to other historical events of the time point to him being born in the spring but obviously this would have conflicted with Easter celebrations. The early Christians decided it was best to separate the two most important holidays of their faith so they came to celebrate Christmas in winter so it could easily be hidden amongst other festivals in particular the Roman Saturnalia Feast. Rather than go into to any theological arguments of who exactly Jesus was, I believe what is important was the message he and other “ancient prophets” such as Buddha and Mohammed and “modern prophets” like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were trying to convey. After you peel away all the layers of dogma that have been piled on throughout the years, all of their teachings can be summed up in the one phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  If everyone lived by this one simple rule there would be “Peace on Earth and goodwill towards man”.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day here in the Magic Kingdom. Oh crap, wrong theme park!


  1. I soooo love your stories of childhood Denny. They end up taking me back to remembering some really good times. Like plastersine! Hahaha!!

    But seriously, great stories.

  2. I always loved the cranes and the carol ships... such a nice memory to revive! Thanks, Dennis... as for baking; perhaps a group of us could organize a "baking exchange" where we make three dozen cookies (or enough for one really bad binge) and get together to trade... "I'll give you half a fruit cake for a dozen sugar cookies"... lol.... Wait! That sounds more like poker! Hmmmm.... Christmas Baking Poker Fest! I like it!

  3. Hey dude! Thanks so much for sharing all of that! Really got me going this morning as I am struggling to make Christmas happen. See you on the 27th, right?