Empathy and a God in Our Own Image


The holiday season is a good time to think about our interactions with other people. We really want to make our loved ones smile, so we’ll do as much as we can to please them. We search out gifts for giving that we think will delight our friends and acquaintances, hoping to strike that balance between spending too much or not enough. And, in the best case scenario, we find it in our hearts and pocketbooks to donate a little to those who have less than we do; some of us will do that because we think it’s right to share what we have with others, while some will do so because donations can be written off on next year’s taxes. Either way – our donations and caring will have some impact on those in need.

For most of us, that is all that the holidays require; a little thought for others, an attempt to ease some of the stress and strain that we humans navigate most days. Our songs and stories commemorate how we feel when we come together, in peace and joy, ‘heart to heart and hand in hand,” and lift the winter’s darkness for a short time.

lincoln empathyWe are driven by kindness and care, and empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings and emotions of others. The quality is usually strongest in children, who can be almost clairvoyant in their ability to feel the pain of others, either human or animal.  From a very early age, we can sense goodness and meanness in the intent of others, and even as babies, we instinctively dislike those who are cruel to others. Little children have yet to learn that most grownups are oblivious and indifferent to the feelings of animals. And many children, sadly, will grow up into adults who will, very often, be just as oblivious to the feelings of those who are different from themselves.

Different by virtue of skin colour, or gender, or by an accident of birth that sticks a silver spoon in one child’s mouth, and bitter alms in another. Children are born all over the planet, every minute of every day, but not every child will be welcomed by it’s family, or it’s people, or by those who hold power over the powerless.

So, here we are, with Christmas 2017 behind us. The days will get shorter now, and for many, the snow will fall far more than we’d like. The young, the old, the sick and the well – all of us will cope with good and bad events, to varying degrees, and with varying success.

The poor will suffer the most, since winter is hardest on those who live in inadequate housing, with uncertain heat, and even more uncertain nutrition. The middle class will struggle along, carrying the largest burden, since it is the middle class that invariably bears the cost of keeping society afloat. And the wealthy  … ah, the wealthy will have their own special burden, that of hiding their untold riches in ever more clever niches.

Inequality, already a societally crushing issue in the United States, was exacerbated last week when a group of old, mostly white, and mostly male Republicans forced through a bill looting the Treasury coffers, while enriching themselves and their donors. There is no other way to look at the tax scam perpetrated by the Trump administration than as the brutal rape of the American taxpayer, for the benefit of the wealthy.

tax scam 2017Every tax payer in America will suffer, and I say ‘every taxpayer’ because the wealthy were already well ahead of most Americans in the non-paying of taxes. Even as the rhetoric on American taxation being ‘the highest in the world’ (it’s not) crescendoed, the wealthy and corporations snickered up their sleeves, knowing that their trusty accountants and willing elected officials had long ago resolved that little problem. Very rarely do the tax bills of the 1% exceed 1% – it’s more likely that they’ll be coasting on credits from past corporate ‘losses,’ government grants, and well established tax havens in other countries.

The Republicans gathered to celebrate these cuts that were given to those who are currently sitting on trillions of dollars that they cannot be bothered to invest in their own employees and companies, and the corporations responded by cutting staff and automating the lowest paid jobs. And buying back their own stock. And giving themselves massive, million dollar bonuses.  Oh – and bemoaning a rise to minimum wage, as it would impact their bottom line.

trump tax ripoff

Meanwhile, the American people can look forward to death by a thousand tax cuts. There are cuts to pretty much everything necessary to live, not the American Dream, but a life not lived on the streets.

No sector of society has been left untouched. Health costs will soar, children will die from the loss of medication and treatments. The young, the old, the poor, the sick, small businesses, students, home owners, veterans, ‘dreamers,’ refugees and immigrants … all will pay the price for the corporations’ champagne dreams.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” says the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, but now, she’s beckoning them closer so that she can mug them, and then sell their blood and organs to the highest bidder.

The astonishing lack of empathy or fellowship shown in this tax scam is frightening. How do you explain to someone what it means to care about their fellow man? To care for their neighbour, not just because there’s something in it for them, but because their own laws say that all men are created equal?

I don’t know how to open the eyes of those who cannot see the suffering in front of them, or who do see the suffering, but brush it away with impatience. The greed and detached cruelty of those who have the power to ease the misery of others, to elevate the standard of living for all, and yet fail to do so, is astounding.

The gleeful joy and unbelievable callousness exhibited by those who passed this bill is beyond me. I think it’s likely beyond even our fictional monsters. It took Scrooge three ghosts to understand his perfidy, but I think the Republicans cut back the ghost jobs last year, and replaced them with automation.

I’ve got mine, Jack,” they gloat. “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps,” they say, neglecting to mention that the bootstraps and ladders they used to climb to power were pulled up behind them, and the door closed to those who might use those means to succeed in the future.

There are practical, and even self-serving reasons, to make sure that all of your people have health care, public education or access to higher education, and better paying jobs that enable the masses to buy the junk that corporations have made in cheaper lands. But even that doesn’t penetrate the scaly skins of the elected officials.

minimum-wage-graphic Ontario 2017Years of recession, of belt tightening, of cutting staff to the bone, have weakened respect for workers, and tested our own belief in the value of what we do. After all, if we had any importance, surely our jobs and wages would not be treated with such disdain and indifference! When we are no longer valued for what we bring to a company, when corporations would prefer to pay as little as they can get away with, rather than pay a minimum wage that would allow their workers to have a decent life, the very idea of the dignity of work loses meaning.

When we see hundreds or thousands of jobs cut, and the CEO rewarded with multi million dollar bonuses for his/her skill at excising these workers, we begin to see our lowly place in the big picture. We see that minimum wage is, indeed, the lowest amount a company can legally pay a worker, but that they’d gladly drop that amount by even more, or welcome slavery, if only it would come back into fashion and usage.

Minimum wage today buys less than it did in 1950. That’s why some households have two, or even three, family members, all desperately working as hard as they can, just to bring in enough to cover their basic survival needs. That house of cards shivers every time something unexpected happens – an accident, an illness, an unanticipated expense … or the cost of an education that might allow a family member to dream of a better job.

min wage earnersWhen I see the memes of the self-righteous, those who sneer at those who fill these jobs that pay only a minimum wage, I cringe. It chills me, especially when those jeers come from someone who grew up in a time when there WAS a more level playing field, more opportunities for advancement, or who came from a middle class family able to pay for the speaker to get a leg up in life.

Those people are often under the false impression that it is only the young and incompetent that work for such a low salary. They are very wrong. And even when it is shown to them that they are wrong, they will defend their position, trotting out sexist, racist, or xenophobic tropes to bolster their words.

I don’t know if such an ugly and pitiless state of mind comes from the mindset of a political party, the real and imagined fears of the unknown or unknowable that plagues some as they age, or just a sheer bloodymindedness and complete lack of empathy for anyone other than oneself. I don’t know – because it is unimaginable to me.

Worst of all, those who propound these horrors, ‘for the good of the economy,‘ most often profess  to be good Christians, following the Bible, manipulating and misquoting it’s words to defend their deeds.

golden rule empathyIn all religions, there is one rule above all others, and the only one that must be followed. It is always some variation on the Golden Rule … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Somehow, the importance of that must have gotten lost in the conservative/right wing/Republicans’ bibles.

These people worship riches, not a God. They deify those who have amassed assets beyond any conceivable use, and spit upon those who have not been ‘blessed’ with wealth. And yet, they simultaneously and methodically put into place barriers prohibiting the vast majority of others of ever attaining a similar goal. It is inexplicable. Somewhere along the line, our justified laughter at the silly crassness of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” morphed into an adulation at the altar of the Kardashians.  And it ain’t pretty, folks, it ain’t pretty at all. In fact – it’s nauseating.

Religions tell us that we were made in God’s image. That we are little God mini-me’s. It suits their purposes, because they can then mold our thinking to what works for the benefit of the religion, the church, and for those who profit from the preaching of the tenets of the faith. If we are just like God, we must be right and just. What we fear or hate is rational, as it is God’s own fear. We must love those that believe as we do, and hate those who believe differently. Carrot and stick – behave in the way we’ve outlined, and you get to go to Heaven. Misbehave, and it’s eternal damnation for you, buddy!

In reality, we create our Gods in our own image. We decide what a God should be, and it would seem that we’ve decided that’s he’s a pretty nasty creature, who demands absolute adoration, and will strike down all of ‘his’ children at the slightest indiscretion. He needs money, apparently, lots of money, to build fancy places of worship. This faux God insists that he is the arbiter of faiths, and that all who profess different beliefs are infidels, and must be converted, or murdered so that our religion is the only one worshiped.

What a vicious, reprehensible, ugly, vile, bugger some have chosen to represent the Almighty! Is this really how an all knowing, all seeing being, capable of creating the heavens and the earths would wish to be portrayed?

A benevolent God doesn’t hate poor people – in fact, they are his best beloved, along with children, the sick, the lame, the blind, and all of the others that elected governments prefer to throw under the bus, in order to curry favour with those who already have too much wealth and power.

rich need bigger needleGod DID hate those who wielded money and power like a weapon. Remember when he threw the money changers out of the Temple? Or that bit about the camel and the needle? Were you aware that the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News,” and that, at the time of this usage, had no religious feature, but instead meant ‘the forgiving of debt?’

An omniscient God doesn’t hate gay people, or refugees, or those with a different coloured skin or language. A compassionate God loves all mankind, not just a neat subsection of people exactly like Himself – or yourself.

A Vengeful God that spits out vindictive words and bile about ANY other human being is a false God, created in the image of the fallible and power hungry.  When the likes and dislikes of those imperfect humans are foisted onto a deity of your choice, the only religion that can be carved out is one that reflects our own prejudices and fears of ‘the other.”

empathy religion. JpgThe essence of empathy is an understanding that we are all equal, and all deserving of love and compassion. When empathy is removed from business and politics, we are on a slippery slope to the collapse of an Empire.

A nation is built upon the backs of ALL of it’s citizens, all of whom must have a place at the table. When the political administration in power only caters to the wealthy, they have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of all of the people … and that their time in power is only temporary, and at the whim of those people.

This holiday season, the Republican party flaunted a lack of empathy and a slavish devotion to the upper class, all the while telling the middle class that they were giving them a ‘Christmas present.’  Those same smiling faces said that this year, you could once again say “Merry Christmas,” as though there had been some admonition against it while ‘the black man’ was president.  In truth, you could always say “Merry Christmas,” but after this tax scam, you just won’t be able to have one. strong people. jpg

The new year will reveal exactly how low they are willing to go in their abject fealty to these overlords. With luck, it will also open the eyes of those who’ve enabled their ugly, selfish, partisan goals, and lead us all to a world where fairness and democracy replace greed and apathy.

My wish is that 2018 be the year when we finally understand that ‘peace on earth, goodwill towards men’ was never meant to last for just a day, but rather, needs to be our goal, every day, every where, and for all people.

happy-new-year-quotes-2018

 

 

Making Your Own Merry Little Christmas


Calendar time between my birthday on December 4th, and Christmas Day, on December 25th, is just three weeks .. 21 days .. The calendar doesn’t lie – it’s 21 days, but somehow, it always flies by like it’s a lost long weekend, and into that time, we have to pack in all the festive frippery and chaos we can handle.

mum and gram xmas 1972Those three weeks fly by. The holidays just aren’t the same since my mum and gram died in 1992. Gram, who had hoped, but didn’t quite get the chance to celebrate her hundredth birthday, always had the gravitas and the gravy, along with the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, to guarantee that our scattered family would be gathering around her for the holidays.

Mum was the original Elf on the Shelf™.  That woman embodied the Christmas spirit. She loved Christmas like no one else I’ve ever known, and I’ve got the boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments and detritus to prove it.

xmas 1982 last tellier xmasIn the last several years we’ve lost loved ones, downsized, moved, and had less and less space or time for frivolity. Preparing for the holidays has been less about ‘joy to the world’ and more about ‘just getting through the holidays.” And that’s sad. It’s not so much about aging, as it is about the absent friends, and the growing up and out of our kids and grandkids. The frantic lives we all lead in the pursuit of romance, careers, and the necessary amenities to keep us all in one piece don’t help either. Our non-stop gyrations may be necessary – but they are not at all conducive to keeping families as close knit as generations before us.

I wish I could find the energy and spirit to bring out my treasured knickknacks, but somehow it always seems like there’s never the time to unpack, display, and then repack those fragile memories, all for just a few days that will fly by in a flurry of appointments, dinners, and gift exchanges. And that’s really sad. When did the holidays go from being a time of anticipation and good will to a season so many look forward to with dread?

I originally thought I’d write a cheery little post today, this last column before Christmas, but darker thoughts refused to be pushed away. So instead, I’ve tried to put together some past and present reminders of what Christmas can, and should be, about. christmas snow

I found this sweet little home movie on Youtube, quite by accident, of a completely ordinary Canadian family, filmed at Christmas, 2013. Ordinary people, doing the ordinary things that will, in time, become the priceless memories of their lives. Something about this two minute film spoke to me. Ah, the traditions; the tree, the groaning table set with our best china and crystal, the new and old ornaments, the geegaws pulled from a big box in the basement, or purchased at Dollarama, tobogganing, and faces glowing from the cold and the snow … if you get the mix right, presents aren’t even necessary. Oh – who am I kidding? There’s got to be presents!

Toronto, one wintry night in 2009. It’s fun to see the different neighbourhoods dressed in their holiday finery.

Here’s what you missed if you missed the annual Cavalcade of Lights/ firework display at Nathan Phillips Square last month.

And here’s how you can have some fun in Nathan Phillips Square this year!
“Back for its 2nd amazing year, Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square celebrates the season with an enchanting artisan market, delicious food, festive drinks at the Jackson Triggs Polar Point Bar, live entertainment, and a winter midway, bringing excitement and charm to the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto, all in support of Epilepsy Toronto.”

December 1st to 23rd. Tuesday to Friday, 4-10. Saturday & Sunday, 12-10. Closing at 6:00pm on December 23rd. Closed Mondays.

If you’re still trying to find a few last minute gifts .. and your errant Christmas spirit … perhaps a visit to the Toronto Christmas Market is in order.

“Inspired by the Old World and influenced by the New, this is month-long event celebrates the sounds, sights and scents of Christmas. Set in the Victorian-era, cobblestone-lined Distillery Historic District, the Christmas Market brings together local craftspeople, musicians and artisanal food-makers for a truly festive experience. Sip on mulled wine and European Christmas cocktails as you peruse the selection of hand-made ornaments, wood carvings and crafts. Then cozy up by the fire or take in carollers, brass bands and authentic European dancers.”

Free admission Tuesday to Friday; $6.00 admission Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.

TubaFest-2017-300x300Yay! It’s Tuba Fest! I couldn’t find which schools were participating this year, but just knowing that somewhere out there, someone’s tuning up a tuba, just made me smile.

“Celebrate Christmas by joining in the Holiday Tuba Festival. A jolly gathering of musicians creating some holiday cheer. In December of each year. tuba, baritone and euphonium players decked out in tinsel and Santa hats from local schools play alongside professional musicians at spectacular outdoor concerts to celebrate the holiday season. This year, we’ll be celebrating Tuba Fest on December 16, 2017.

Recordings courtesy of the Manitoba Band Association and Rob Monson, band director at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg. Arrangements are provided by Scott Irvine. Download your favourite holiday songs arranged especially for tuba here:”

https://www.musicmakesus.ca/celebrate/tubafest/

Man, there are a lot of Toronto musicians who’ve recorded holiday songs. Gordon Lightfoot first recorded this song for his 1967 album, The Way I Feel. It’s a tune that all faiths can enjoy.

From 2015, Walk Off The Earth‘s Feliz Navidad. I have a friend who has a very hard time at the holidays. It’s only by hearing this song that he keeps a smile on his face.

We all need to have some song, some film, some event that has that affect on our spirits. My Christmas never officially begins until I watch “Holiday Inn,” starring Bing Crosby, with some fancy footwork from Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds.

Be careful! It’s not my watch you’re holding – it’s my heart.”

Years after the break-up of the pop group Eye Eye, former front man/songwriter, Bill Wood resurrected his career as a singer/songwriter, recording and performing as Bill Wood and The Woodies. I met Bill at Graffiti’s last year, where he had a duo gig with that sharp dressed man, Chris Bennett, as well as a regular gig with The Woodies. This song was their 2012 Christmas single. Written by Bill Wood and Mark Shannon and performed by the Woodies, including Chris Bennett, Dino Naccarato and Mary Wood, with special guests Sean O’Connor – flutes and whistles, and Donna O’Connor – celtic voices.

For fans of the heymacs:

“Some solo Xmas tunage from Macky a few years back (Macky’s monkey soloing on the bells) and thanks to Roxy for putting together the slideshow . . ( she also made an appearance in the heymacs flick for ‘Hit The Road, Jack’ with Ms. Laurie and Lee von Blonde)”

Toronto’s Ron Sexsmith‘s performing “Maybe This Christmas” filmed by Virpi Kettu & Colleen Hixenbaugh.

And, last but not least, the 2014 release, IN2 The Spirit, an instrumental jazz,blues & rock Christmas CD from guitarist John Findlay, ably abetted by Bill Payne, Will Lee, Keither Carlock, Robi Botos, Gordon Sheard, George Whitty, Joel Rosenblatt, Ric Fierabracci and many others.

xmas 2016 at Relish Shawn Barb hapAh, the holidays … the holidaze. However you celebrate the season, I wish you peace, joy, somewhere warm to cuddle with loved ones, and sweet dreams for the new year. If you haven’t a family, it’s never too late to make a new one, with like-minded, good-hearted people. And we’re lucky to live in a city so rife with choice.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Merry Ho Ho’s to All! 😉

coexist-xmas

 

Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep


keep calm and gobble onHappy Thanksgiving weekend! Hopefully most of us will be lucky enough to be gathered together at some point with friends and family to share the bounty of the harvest – or at least the goodies we’ve bought from our local grocers — and that most precious of commodities …. our time.

It’s crazy how fast the days and years go by. That’s not an ‘old people’ thing anymore; even kids in grade school find it hard to accommodate all of the information and entertainment they need to constantly absorb in order to successfully process their world. Those of us with much to remember don’t stand a chance, post-retirement, of guessing the day with much accuracy. (Helpful hint: Write everything down!)

Although I’m not a religious person, I consider myself blessed. I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and a husband, family, and friends that love me. I also have a keen awareness that I am more fortunate than a great many people, who often lack the things that a lot of us take for granted.

While I do try to do what I can to help others, this weekend I’m grateful to be enjoying the hospitality of two lovely friends, who asked us to share their respective feasts.

toronto-skyline-nightOn Saturday night, we joined long time friend and writer Ira Band for dinner at the Island Yacht Club, on Mugg’s Island. It was a beautiful night, with weather more like August’s than October’s. Earlier this summer, the island was horrendously flooded, but is now back to being it’s luxuriously landscaped self. After a delicious Thanksgiving buffet, we alternated between enjoying the fireplace inside, and the view of the Toronto skyline from the comfy lounges outside. A perfect evening!

Today, we’ll be joining fellow scribe/photographer/Energizer Bunny Pat Blythe for her amazing festive spread. That woman can cook most people under the table, and still sparkle as the hostess with the mostest. We will enjoy the company of friends, and Pat’s famous pies, and who could ask for anything more!

i-came-in-like-a-butterballMonday will be Bring On The Fat Pants Day and let it all hang out. I can live with that.

But let’s talk about Canadian Thanksgiving. I like when we celebrate the holiday. Let the Americans have theirs on the fourth Thursday of November; ours is just better positioned. We’ve got Halloween at the end of the month, which acts as a speed bump before we get on the tilt-a-whirl that is the countdown to Christmas, and that’s just fine by me.

So why aren’t our holidays celebrated simultaneously, you ask? It’s all about history.

According to wiki, “the first Canadian Thanksgiving is often traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher. Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean, held his Thanksgiving celebration not for harvest but in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. On his third and final voyage to the far north, Frobisher held a formal ceremony ifrobisher-thanksgivingn Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion.”

Over the years, succeeding waves of immigrants brought their own harvest traditions and delicacies to Canada, and we gratefully blended those new foods and tastes into what we now call Canadian cuisine.

And of course, we cannot forget how new Italian/Canadians brought their own tradition of the Spaghetti Harvest to our great land.

What we think of today as a traditional Thanksgiving feast owes a lot to what American film and TV has idealized as the proper fare… the groaning board that begins with pickles, olives, and hot dinner rolls (Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are a favourite for me) and carries on with mashed potatoes , roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing and giblet gravy, all but the preliminaries to the guest of honour, the roast turkey.

And when you’ve had your fill, and have moved your belt buckle over a notch, lo and behold, the desserts arrive – pumpkin or cherry or raspberry pie, carrot cake, ice cream …. Ahhh … yep, sounds like Thanksgiving at Pat’s!

I’m happy to have a day designated for giving thanks. We’re an entitled bunch of gits, and having to stop and actually think about what’s good in our lives is rare; we’re far more likely to be complaining about what we don’t have. This is a day – or a long weekend – on which Canadians can all agree that they are blessed to live in a country which, because of or in spite of current leadership, allows us freedom in so many ways.

thanksgiving-gratitudeI try to have an “attitude of gratitude” as the platitude goes. No matter what life brings, I try to remember that there are people on this planet who would kill to be in my shoes. Which is not to say that I don’t occasionally complain, but I do value what I have, and I thank those who make my life better, just by their presence and love.

 

“When we neglect to require our children to say `thank you’ when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically. The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.” Zig Ziglar

grateful-for-everythingSo, what are you grateful for in your life? I’m grateful for my husband, my children and grandchildren, and my family and friends, who continue to love me despite my many, many quirks and odd behaviour. I’m grateful for the food in our pantry and the roof over our heads. I’m grateful that I’m getting older, because the alternative sucks. I’m grateful that I get to write this column every Sunday, and some of you actually read it and even discuss ideas with me, whether you agree or disagree with my points. I’m grateful that I’ve never lived in a country ravaged by war or pestilence or famine, and probably never will.

Little girl asleep in bed.I’m grateful when I lay my head down on the pillow at night, and know that the odds are good I’ll be waking up in the morning to another day filled with possibilities. I’m grateful for every bit of my life so far, and the wonders that still await my discovery. For as long as I am on this planet, I want to be cognizant of the beauty that is all around me, and never take for granted the gift that is existence.

Even when the going gets rough and it seems like there’s nowhere to go but down, it’s best to consider the good you have in your life, and be thankful. That small shift in thinking can put things into perspective.

Never underestimate how important it is to have people in your life who are kind and loving and thoughtful. When all else fades away, love and kindness are the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

There’s a reason why this song has over 52 million hits … the simple lyrics, and the joyful delivery remind us of the things that are most important in our lives.

Have a wonderfilled Thanksgiving weekend, everyone, however you choose to celebrate.

 

 

It’s The War on Christmas, Carol


As hard as it might be to imagine holiday songs battling it out, the plain fact is … Christmas songs mean big bucks. Over and over and over again. A Number One Christmas song can mean early retirement for the writer, with a nice pension income supplemented every year in December.keep calm xmas songs

Sound cynical? Maybe. But it’s the reason why many writers and artists get their ho-ho-ho’s in gear in time to hit the December charts. Pop songs come and go; a classic holiday song lives forever.

Picture “Jingle Bells” pummelling “Santa Claus is coming to town” a la UFC, though I would think songs like “The Christmas Song” and ‘Silver Bells” would never lower themselves to a fight. Perhaps they would slap each other’s little faces with their velvety gloves, and request a sunrise duel.

I tell you, the battles are real. In England, perhaps more so than anywhere else. Being an unrepentant Anglophile, let me fill you in on some of Britain’s most infamous chart races.

“In the United Kingdom, Christmas number ones are singles that are top of the UK Singles Chart in the week in which Christmas Day falls. Novelty songs, charity songs or songs with a Christmas theme have regularly been at the top of Christmas charts. Traditionally the volume of record sales in the UK peaks at Christmas, with the Christmas number one being considered especially prestigious, more so than any other time of year. Many of the Christmas number ones were also the best-selling song of the year. Due to the common practice of dating a chart by the date on which the week ends, the Christmas chart is dated on or after 25 December, but comprises sales for the week before Christmas.”

“The official UK Singles Chart slade merry xmasbegan in 1952 after appearing in the New Musical Express; the positions of all songs are based on week end sale totals (from Sunday to Saturday until 2015, then from Friday to Thursday). Before 1987 they were released on a Tuesday due to the need for manual calculation. The emergence of a serious contest for the Christmas number-one spot began in 1973 when the band Slade deliberately released “Merry Xmas Everybody” as an effort to reach the top of the charts on Christmas” (Wikipedia)

Yep, the furious fight for #1 first took shape in 1973 in Britain. Three songs were vying for the top spot; “Step into Christmas” from Elton John, “I Wish That It Was Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, and “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade. The numbers were close, and since these were the days before computers were commonplace, the tallying went on right up until the last moment.

wizzard xmasElton stalled out at #36, while Slade and Wizzard held their collective breaths … Wizzard took a respectable 4th place, and it was Slade by an angel’s hair! It seems most Britons preferred their seasonal greetings shouted at them. Still, 40 plus years later, both songs continue to enrich their writers, and keep the British public dancing.

“”The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade’s Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it’s been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.” – Jim Lea, Slade.

and those losers in fourth place ….

 

Things settled down for the next decade, but by 1984, another battle caught the public’s attention. Bob Geldof/Midge Ure’s Band Aid release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was tugging at our hearts, and the video, with it’s array of current and venerable pop stars, was delighting the little girls. But no matter how adorable George Michaels was in Wham’s, “Last Christmas,” Band Aid took the prize.

 

Both songs were re-released the following year, so George had another kick at the top spot, but alas… only came in second for the second time in a row. Maybe that’s what sent him off in his quest for love in all the wrong bathrooms.

 

Hey, it’s not like the British taste is always impeccable. In 1993, Mr Blobby’s song/video took the Number One spot, and it wasn’t even about Christmas.

 

And in 1994, a boy band called East 17 kicked America’s perennial fave, Mariah Carey, and her “All I Want for Christmas is You” to the curb. No accounting for taste.

 

In 1996, 97 AND 98, The Spice Girls took the Number 1 spot each year … with “2 Become 1,” “Too Much” and “Goodbye,” none of which had much to do with the holidays at all. But it was the 90s – little did we know worse was to come.

Ah yes, it’s a mad world … speaking of which, Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for FearsMad World’ did indeed win out over Britain’s Pop Idol contestants, and their cover of John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ in 2003.When the Pop Idols fizzled at #5, glam rockers The Darkness tried to sneak in with ‘Christmas Time.’ But that was 2003, and we were all pretty bummed out that year. “Mad World” suited us just fine.

 

By the 2000s, reality show pop singers were dominating the British charts, but in 2009, Rage Against the Machine snatched the Christmas victory away from X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, with their song “Killing In the Name.”

Just how big is the big biz in holiday songs in England? It’s a huge market, and those who capture their nation’s imagination earn a permanent place in the hearts and pocketbooks of the fans. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues is said to have effectively retired on the proceeds of “Fairytale of New York“, which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. The song went to number two in the UK charts when it was first released in 1987. It was kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’Always on my Mind’.

 

shane macgowan new teeth.jpgFun Shane MacGowan facts: 1) He was born on Christmas Day, 1957, and 2) he recently had his famously horrendous teeth and lack of replaced by implants, in six surgeries that his dentist called “the Everest of Dentistry.” The whole process will be aired on SKY-TV this week, in a documentary entitled Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn. 

So who’s vying for that coveted spot this year? The Biebs is looking good, bieber xmas.jpgas he’s currently dominating the British charts, holding both numbers one and two with his songs Love Yourself and Sorry, respectively.

But close behind, and with a good chance to scoop the honours, is the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir ,all professional health care workers, with a new release of a mash-up of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Fix You” by Coldplay.

 

There’s a big reward waiting for those who climb the British Christmas charts, and the contenders will battle to the finish, with no place too low below the belt to avoid. How big, you say? Big enough to even dig out the disco, as this holiday release from Kylie Minogue demonstrates … only a cynic would say that everyone but Kylie seems to get the joke …

 

With visions of discoing Minogues pirouetting and bumping in your heads, it’s time for me to be off to our family’s Christmas celebrations. Happy Whatever You Call it to ALL! Thanks for reading my offerings during 2015. Have a wonderful holiday season. Hope you see you, all perky and fresh faced, in 2016!

New-Year-2016-Celebrations-Photos

(originally published December 20/2015 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/roxanne-tellier-its-the-war-on-christmas-carol/)

 

Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past


My mum embodied the Spirit of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and she made every one of my childhood Christmas’ as merry and bright as she could.

She’d grown up in the depression – she knew Christmas wasn’t about money. When times were tough, she’d tell us it would be a “Hoodoo McFiggin” year – that meant the only presents would be things she had to buy us anyway, just to keep us clothed and fed – underwear, socks, boots. Presents were lGrinch xmas means a little moreovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we had to spare was love.

She just had so damn much joy and childlike belief in the season that it all came naturally through her to us … the breathless lead up that began months before, when she’d start asking my sister and I what we were going to ask to receive from Santa, and the admonition that we must be very sure of what we’d tell the Big Man when the day came … this was serious business! We were to name only one important item we really, really wanted. If there were other gifts, they would be of Santa’s choosing. We’d spend hours arguing over what toys were best, what we really wanted, and we’d change our minds a zillion times before our visit to Santa’s Kingdom.

cindy lou whoNor were the needs of others to be forgotten. We’d be given a small amount of money, and a list of those we needed to delight with thoughtful gifts. It’s extraordinary how far $5.00 could go back in the sixties. We would have been mortified to not have a gift to give to any of the family who had brought a gift for us. Some years would find us digging through our own stash of precious things, in order to find something we could wrap quickly and present to an unexpected guest.

In the run up to the Day itself, we’d drag out the boxes of carefully packaged ornaments that Mum had collected through the years. She’d linger over the battered aluminum stars made from pie plates, reminding me that she and I had made those together, one year when I was very young, and recovering from the mumps. She’d carefully unwrap the fragile glass ornaments she’d had since she and dad first married, each colourful globe a warm memory. soap bubble ornamentAnd she’d always linger over a set of orbs, some round, some tear-shaped, so transparent they reflected rainbows, so precious and delicate, “they’re like soap bubbles , Roxanne! Aren’t they beautiful?!”   

We had to have a real tree. She felt there was no point in having a tree if it didn’t come with that delicious smell, and the scratchy feel of pine needles under foot. The tree would find a place of honour in the dining room, and strict instructions about its care and watering were delivered. After the tree was set into the metal holder, she’d draw a bright red and sparkly cloth gently around the base, and then add puffs of ‘angel hair’ to make the tree look like it was floating on a cloud.

xmas tree old timeyShe’d drape the tree’s branches with long strands of tiny glass beads, the beads a little more worn every year, but shining nonetheless. The box of tinsel was precious too; after Christmas we’d gather as many of the used strands as we could and save them for the following year. We had two special toppers for the tree – one, a paper plate collage of an angel adorned with cotton batting that I’d made in first grade, the other , a plastic doll dressed as an angel, it’s halo tipped jauntily to the left, a scratch of pen ink faintly visible on it’s cheek.

Christmas songs would be playing on the little record player, and we’d all sing along as we decorated. Jodi and I liked to make up new and naughty words to some of the classics, just to make mum laugh, before she’d chide us to “Behave! Santa hears and sees everything you do!”

Once the tree was up and decorated, we went into a two week hiatus, where the other 50 weeks of naughtiness were replaced by determined niceness. We’d wait brearankin bass productionsthlessly for the Christmas specials to appear on the TV; without video or DVD, you had to be home to see “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or one of the other animated delights, most of which seemed to be Rankin Bass productions.

As my sister and I got older, we began to appreciate more adult offerings; Jodi loved “It’s A Wonderful Life.” My favorite was “Holiday Inn,” with the moment I waited for being when the heroine posed in silhouette against a giant red paper heart, before dancing through it … and breaking poor old Bing Crosby’s heart.

 

 

And of course no Christmas was complete without the scary, but ultimately uplifting, black and white classic … Alastair Sim in “A Christmas Carol.” God bless us, everyone!christmas-carol-1951

There was also one special box that contained nothing but photos, recipes, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and a few very treasured books. Our favourite to read and to have read to us was Erwin L. Hess’ Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past,” a large full coloured collection of holiday poems, stories, artwork and photos, from 1961.

xmas and snowbound n the treasured past

We remember our best Christmas.  A flashback appears and this favourite Christmas plays on a very special screen in a picture of color, and we see the scenes we remember so well.  Immediately our story we’ll begin to tell…It snowed early that year.  In those days the holiday spirit was in the air with the first fall of snow.  Sleigh bells jingled and that meant Christmas was near!” 

We loved that book; it epitomized an ideal Christmas, one that we’d never had, nor likely ever would. But it held a promise, so much so that the phrase, “Christmas and snowbound in the treasured past” became our family code for how we imagined paradise to be.

First_Snow Jay MaiselWere winters colder then? Not always … one memorable Montreal Christmas Eve, the family toddled off to church in summer dresses and sandals, only to emerge into a starlit night made brighter by soft, fat flakes of snow gently falling onto the sidewalks. But that was an aberration; most Christmas Eves were ‘see your breath’ cold, brightened by our new knit hats and mittens that Gram had made to keep us warm.

Cold, colder and coldest was more often the weather on Christmas day. During my teen years, the habit was to gather at one of the uncles’ house to carve the roast beast. The best parties were at Uncle John’s big house in Chambly, as there was plenty of room for the kids to play, and even a special room where we could have our own holiday meal, manners and decorum cast aside, while the adults ate, smoked, clinked glasses and laughed about adult matters. We felt a little sorry for them – they didn’t even get to watch TV while they ate!  50s kids watcing tv

No matter where the party was held, in time the celebrations would wind down, and we’d gather our outdoor clothing, say goodbye to the umpteen cousins, and kiss all the ‘grumps,’ (grown ups) before piling into the car for the long ride home, across snowy roads and an ice-laced Pont Cartier, and then along Sherbrooke Street for miles, our bellies full and heads nodding, and inevitably slipping into sleep just before the car drew into the driveway. If we were small enough, we’d even get carried to our beds, where our new pjs and slippers awaited us.

It was a very different time, and, as with every generation that comes along, we were creating our own version of what Christmas should look and feel like. My mother’s memories were precious, but no more precious than the one’s she created for my sister and me.

Times change, and families are usually smaller than they used to be, and often times, a great deal more complicated. The name we give to that wonderful time of year when we get together to eat and sing and laugh and pray may be Christmas, or Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, or even Festivus. Heck, call it “Christmahanakwanzika“ if you want to.

What we call the holiday doesn’t matter – what matters is that we take the time to find that small, still place in our hearts, where peace and goodwill live. We gather with our families and friends to join our hearts and hands, to share what we have, and to give thanks that we … together … made it through another year, and are ready to enter another year, whatever it may bring … together.

coexist xmas

 

 

Hoodoo McFiggin’s Christmas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZm0WoTl1wU

 

(first published Dec, 2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/roxanne-tellier-christmas-and-snowbound-in-the-treasured-past/)