Ho Ho Holiday Memories!


by Roxanne Tellier

“Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop.”  “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” Oh NOes! Must be getting close to the holidays – the earworms are out in full force!

Here comes Christmas 2019. Before you know it, it will be a bright and shiny new 2020! Let’s hope that 2020 applies to our vision, rather than to our hindsight.

I’ve got a holiday gathering to go to this afternoon, and every year, it takes me a little longer to get ready to be serially hugged. But one of the perks of having written a weekly column for many years is that, now and again, we can reach back into those past ponderings and re-release them into the present, dusted off, re-edited, and ready to be digested anew.

For your Christmas reading, wonderment and wandering …. a few morsels from my past holiday tables …

Originally published December 14, 2014 – Zombie Christmas

Zombies love shopping on Black Friday .. Deals!

It’s lurching toward you … the days tick by, and you rock between anticipating and dreading the upcoming holiday season. You’re looking forward to seeing friends and family, but wonder how you’ll juggle all that you still have to do to get ready for the Big Day.

The pressure is on to try and create a meaningful experience that will leave everyone – including yourself – with lasting memories of “goodwill towards men,” exemplified by overeating and overspending, but you can already envision how exhausted you will be, and what the credit card balances are going to look like in January. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like a zombie Christmas …. 

I remember the year that I realized that Christmas presents were to be both given AND received. That was a shocker. My mum gave me a whopping $5.00 to spend on the family, and I trotted down to the Army and Navy Stores in downtown Edmonton. I bought gifts for everyone one the list; GrandMere and GrandPere, my aunt Noella, my sister, and my parents, and STILL had change jingling in my pocket on the way home. I was proudest of the perfume I had bought for my mother – Max Factor’s finest .. Sophisticat

The best Christmases are the ones that center on the very young or the very old. It’s impossible not to smile at the look of awe on a child’s face as he or she approaches Santa’s throne, grubby list in a damp, clenched hand, gathering up the courage to sit on the venerable old gentleman’s knee, and whisper their most secret wishes. Still believing in Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, still believing that anything is possible, that magic can happen. That innocence is gone so soon. 

Somewhere along the way, most of us go from true believers to frantic shoppers, desperate to find that perfect gift for our perfect someone, forgetting what the holiday season should really mean. We become Christmas Zombies, lurching through the malls, snatching up the toys and goodies strewn before us, all part of the multi-billion dollar industry that corporations count on to fatten their bottom line.

When, really, it’s all about the festive spirit, whether you call this festivity Christmas, or Hanukah, the winter solstice or Saturnalia, Festivus or Kwanza. It’s about the smell of holiday baking, the taste of buttery shortbread, and the eggnog spiked with a drop of rum, the cold raw scent of a Douglas pine, the twinkling porch lights that glow beneath a soft layer of fresh snow, the sound of carols and the snow crunching under your boots. Spending time with friends and family, making happy memories, not of senseless consumerism, but of this glorious feast for the senses.

originally published December 13, 2015 – 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 Christmases 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 lovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we really had, enough to share, 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 for 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.

Nor 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. And 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.

She’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 breathlessly 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.  

There was also one special Christmas 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.

“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.

originally published December 20/2015  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.

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.

The furious fight for The #1 British Christmas Song first took shape in 1973. 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. 

Slade

Elton 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.

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. So, no matter how adorable George Michael 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.

originally published in December 11, 2016 –  Christmas Presents

Sometimes it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to dredge up the spirit of the holidays that we all need, and have always needed, to face a cold world and a new year.

But we must have hope, and we must inspire our children to have hope, and to have faith that we are stronger together, united, than we are apart. The sharing of a meal with loved ones has never had to be about the biggest turkey or the fanciest desserts; it’s always been about communing with those we love and care about, sharing our energy, and giving each other strength

and that’s what the Grinch (and Christmas) is all about, Charlie Brown…

Beggaring ourselves to buy expensive presents that are rarely received in quite the spirit we hoped, is not how we show our love to others. The true gifts we give to each other are those of support, of listening to what the other is saying, and to responding thoughtfully without concern for more than what is best for the other. And these gifts of love must be all about understanding that not a single one of us is perfect, or without traits that will annoy someone else at some point.

Yes, there are distractions. Yes, the world is a very scary place right now. Yes, those of us sensitive to world issues fear for the lives and souls of the vulnerable.

But we also owe it to ourselves, and to those we love, to find the time to gather together, and to share what we have with each other, in a spirit of generosity and community. It’s how human beings have coped with the vagaries of our times since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze, and regardless of what deity we worshipped at the time.

My wish for all is that you have time with loved ones, and that, if for some reason you do not have that opportunity this year, that you reach out and accept an invitation to join others who find themselves alone in the holidays. There is strength in community and we all need that shared strength to get us through whatever awaits us in the new year.

…………………………………………….

Wishing everyone a warm and peaceful holiday season! See you next year!

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