To­ward sal­vaging Santa’s saint­hood

The News (New Glasgow) - - OPINION LETTERS - Peter MacRae

I’ve known her for 40 years, ever since she was, for my sins, my un­der­paid bu­reau­cratic al­ter ego who cor­rected my spell­ing and wrote a lot of my memos. She fil­tered my phone calls, staved off un­in­vited of­fice in­va­sions and showed up in my ab­sence, to re­store diplo­matic nicety to dif­fi­cult pub­lic pro­grams that were oc­ca­sion­ally fraught with the or­ga­ni­za­tional gaffs of my mak­ing.

Mean­while, back on her do­mes­tic ranch, she was lov­ingly moth­er­ing bois­ter­ous chil­dren (and oc­ca­sion­ally, later on, their chil­dren). She was nurs­ing an ail­ing and fail­ing hus­band, and mak­ing their mod­est sur­round­ings hos­pitable to any fam­ily, friend or neigh­bour pos­si­bly hap­pen­ing along. With con­sis­tency she was, and is, a model of in­dus­try, re­fresh­ment and loy­alty.

And she was, and prob­a­bly still is, a Christ­mas whacko, a fes­tive fool never able for long to leave the mo­ment alone to find its own sen­si­ble level of ex­is­tence; in­ca­pable of al­low­ing the church’s or any other cal­en­dar to run an ap­pro­pri­ate course.

She’d plant the seeds that would be­gin sprout­ing ’round about Easter, with the with­drawal of win­ter and some emerg­ing so­lar warmth. True growth would be well un­der­way by early July; greet­ing card lists would be re­viewed and edited; obli­ga­tions from ear­lier years would be noted; in Au­gust, gift-buying sprees would be pro­ceed­ing apace.

By Labour Day, lights and baubles would be trot­ted out and in­spected for de­fects; Thanks­giv­ing would be­gin a bak­ing frenzy that would cram mince pies and fruit cakes into the freezer. By Re­mem­brance Day, sparkling er­satz rein­deer would clut­ter the front lawn and plas­tic holly wreaths would take up spots on both tra­di­tional and con­trived venues in win­dows and on walls.

By the time The Day rolled around, sur­rounded by clans-folk, she’d col­lapse into the near­est re­cliner, ogle a gleam­ing spruce tree, tear into any gaudy packet with a rib­bon on it and, with a last burst of en­ergy, hoist a neat scotch in toast to the mo­ment.

A day later, cards would no longer grace the man­tle piece, all lights and trin­kets would be safely re­turned to the at­tic and a dark­ened spruce would be lan­guish­ing in the snow­bank. Christ­mas, to my avowedly ag­nos­tic friend, would have to come to a breath­tak­ing halt and she’d be a ner­vous wreck yet de­voutly proud of her fi­delity to the scrip­tural dic­tates of the Book of Profit Mar­gin, Wal­mart’s Let­ter to the Vacu­ous, and the Gospel Ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian Tire.

Sound cyn­i­cal? Maybe to the Cham­ber of Com­merce. Re­proach­ful? That’s up to you. Apolo­getic? De­pends, I reckon, on how it all speaks to and about the world we live in; how it hangs on what one in­sists is its mean­ing and how one de­fines the im­age it por­trays and what the phe­nom­e­non says about us.

Time was, you know, in Chris­ten­dom at least, when an Ad­vent sea­son would, like Lent, see some “giv­ing up, the sus­pen­sion of smok­ing, movies, curs­ing, dessert,” in the in­ter­est of self-deny­ing re­flec­tion and re­turn­ing. Most of us, nowa­days have pretty well given up Ad­vent.

Holy and other writs have long at­tempted to stim­u­late lit­tle vic­to­ries over so­cial mis­ery, to re­duce the shame of bombs po­lit­i­cal ar­ro­gance, lust, envy and sloth. Th­ese par­tic­u­lar De­cem­ber days were first rolled out — cit­ing peo­ple named Isa­iah and Matthew and Paul — to talk of bet­ter dreams for time and place, tout­ing the plough’s su­pe­ri­or­ity over the sword’s, clear-sighted co­op­er­a­tion over blind obe­di­ence. In those days, too, there were tales of wasted cities, bro­ken trusts, pitched ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tles, the ven­er­a­tion of trivia and the be­lit­tling of hon­our.

There might still be some re­sis­tance to the giv­ing up of Ad­vent for Ad­vent. There may still be hints that there are lessons out there that the in­ter­net doesn’t teach. One of them might be that we take a deep breath and re­mem­ber what started it all: The birth of the hum­ble; the cu­ri­ous ar­rival of the sanc­ti­fied.

So as the book says: “Peace be within your walls ... and quiet­ness within your tow­ers.” It might work. It’s good stuff. Too good to end up in the snow­bank on Box­ing Day.

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