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

 

Putting the ‘Wow’ in Pow Wow


2017PW-PosterThe Na-Me-Res (Native Men’s Residence) lucked out with the weather for the annual traditional Pow Wow held Saturday, June 24th, at the Fort York historical site. The day was sunny, yet breezy, and very well attended.

Barbette Kensington and I were early to this celebration of song, dance and ceremony. From the impressive Grand Entry, through an entire day filled with the pounding heartbeat of the drums competing to be heard over the cheerful chatter and laughter, the old Fort was a sea of smiling faces of all shapes and colours

Powwows honour Native tradition, and I was grateful to our emcees, Steve Teekens and Jay Lomax, who outlined the elaborate etiquette and protocol that is integral to understanding the rituals and colourful regalia.

The Grand Entry, for instance, is not to be photographed nor videotaped, since this is a sacred moment during which the members of the procession may be praying for loved ones or members of the community. The regalia, often the work of many hands over a long period of time, represent the totems of the wearers, with the colours reflecting their spirits. No one may touch any part of a dancer’s regalia without first asking permission. rox at pow wow June 2017 with dancer

” The moment you take on the role of an initiated dancer, a great deal of pressure is put on you by the people, not only to perform, but to be a role model, to be honorable. When you put on regalia, you take on the essence of the sacred animal, honor culture, tradition and the Creator.

“Being humble should be the number one priority for any dancer, thankful that you are allowed to dance with the animals you wear, your sweat and suffering are for the people, making people proud of who you are, showing your respect, because you represent them,” said Elder Antoine Littlewolf.

One of the unwritten rules of powwow is that no one should touch another’s regalia without first being given permission by the maker or owner.

Eagle feathers, which traditionally are earned, and all feathers, for that matter, should be treated with special care. It’s necessary to be humble and respectful to each feather being worn. The spirits of all animals being worn must be respected above all else.

Care and respect of the sacred circle extends, not only to respecting the arbor, sacred objects and other dancers, but to the whole atmosphere, the ground themselves, mother earth.”     http://ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/powwow-etiquette-dictates-respect-tradition-0)

Arena Director Earl Oegema handily kept the dancers in line in accordance with all of the tradition and protocol. “Powwow etiquette and tradition dictates that the Grass dancers be the first to enter the arbor, symbolically stomping down the grass to provide a flattened circle for the rest of the dancers to follow. They enter the arbor from the south entrance and go clockwise with the drum, following the wheeling movement of the sun, moon and stars.”

The Grand Entry is next, followed by songs and prayers, during which the attendees are asked to stand as a sign of respect. The beauty, colours, and the dignified spirituality on display before us brought tears to my eyes.

Bill and Vicki Wood PowWow June 2017We’d run into Vicki and Bill Wood (the Woodies, Eye Eye) on our way in to the Pow Wow, and spent some time chatting with them. Now it was time to begin our walkabout through the 50 craft vendor and information booths on site, chatting with old and new friends.

We were on a mission to find the Anishnawbe Health Toronto booth, as Barbette had some questions for the staff. On the way, we flirted and chatted with some of Toronto’s finest, part of the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit, established in September 1992 , the first major urban police service in Canada to establish a unit to deal specifically with the issues faced by the Aboriginal community.

pow wow at pow wow June 2017With lunch on our minds, we were happy to see our friend Shawn Adler‘s Pow Wow Cafe was represented with a food booth on site. From the moment the Cafe opened, the foodies were lined up for blocks; the food IS that good. So we were lucky to see the multitalented artists, Annalee Orr and Nancy Beiman, close to the head of the very long line up for his Indian Tacos. They asked us to join them, and with little persuasion, and some apologies to those we’d line cut, we did, and soon had our plates of bannock smothered in beef, vegetables, salad and sour cream clutched in our hands.

Annalee and son Daniel had established a little ‘camp’ under the one tree in the Fort, and there we quickly polished off the tacos. Bellies full, it was time to visit the vendor booths.

Barbette knows many of the craftspeople and vendors from Native Centre encounters, so we made a very slow promenade, admiring the jewellery and artwork, being inspired by the craftworks, and chatting with some of the artists.

dancers pow wow June 2017Dancers in full regalia drifted through the crowds, brilliant visions of colour and sound as the jingles attached to heels rang.

We were delighted to run into Leslie Saunders, former manager of The Meeting Place, a community drop in centre for those in need in the Bathurst/Queen area. Nearly half of the centre’s participants are First Nations people.

rox barbette david de poe Pow Wow June 2017And it is always a joy to encounter David DePoe, community activist, retired teacher, and Kensington Marketeer, best-known for his activities in the late 1960s as an unofficial leader of the Yorkville hippies, and founder of the Diggers movement in Yorkville.

What a pleasure it was to be introduced to the legendary, multi-disciplinary, artist, Stella Walker. The woman’s energy is breathtaking! She’s a singer, writer, actor, producer, comedian and painter, and in the middle of producing a new musical comedy that includes content from award winning Newfoundland writer, actor and comedian Andy Jones, and will be directed by John Mitchell. Barbette appears in one of Stella’s many videos – Under the B .. Busted.

As the day wore on, my energy was starting to flag, and we made our way out of the Fort, stopping briefly to watch the talented hoop dancers and inter-tribal dance exhibitions. If we had stayed, we would have been welcome to join in the Feast, and to enjoy the evenings musical offerings, which included Crystal Shawanda, the award winning country music artist.

aboriginal celebration June 2017

If you’ve got Pow Wow envy, you’ll have another chance to join the fun on Wednesday, June 28th, when the 8th Annual Aboriginal History Month Celebration at Yonge & Dundas Square begins at noon.

There’s a great line-up of entertainers, including Amanda Rheaume performing at 7 pm, along with an all day Kid’s Arts & Crafts Tent, craft vendors, and Indigenous agencies showcasing what’s available in the community. Hope to see you there!