Monday, December 23, 2013

Merryish Christmas

I've been sitting here staring at this empty page a few times now, trying to figure out if I have something to say, and if its worth saying. Until now, I've pressed the "back" button and moved on with my life (read: filled up online shopping carts then left all the items unpurchased), but I feel like unloading. And that's what this place is for, after all (also: dog pictures.)

Christmas is a tricky mistress. I absolutely love this time of year, and pretty much everything that comes with it. With exceptions, of course.

My Christmas Likes
Most of the seasonal music
Shortbread cookies
Most Christmas specials
Turkey dinner
Watching people open their gifts
Christmas Eve
My Christmas Dislikes
"(Simply Having a) Wonderful Christmastime"
Gingerbread houses with wretched royal icing
Snow and Heat Miser
Paying for said gifts well into February
New Year's Eve

But if we're really digging deep here, my favourite and least favourite thing about this time of the year are the same thing: it's a magical, special time of year.

That's confusing, I know.

Basically, the best part of this time of year is that everything seems a little bit brighter. Acts of kindness seem to be shared more often, people go out of their way to be a little nicer, everything sparkles and shines and makes merry. But also, everything that's a little bit sad seems more so because ohmygodit'sChristmas! Tragedies seem all the more cruel and horrific because of the season. Every sad story, every natural disaster, every fire, seems to break me a little bit more than usual.

Videos that don't make even one eyelash moisten in June usually send torrents of tears cascading down my cheeks. Just try to watch me during the last 15 seconds of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" - by the time I get to "we have we", I'm basically the Trevi Fountain wearing a sweater dress.

So, for me at least, this season is filled with emotion. It's a time of reflection, looking at what's changed since last year, who's far away, reflecting on all the new people I've met and experiences I've had, and sometimes those memories and those realizations aren't all positive. This year has been a rollercoaster - I've been incredibly blessed but also had some frustrating setbacks and aggravating fall-outs that have left me with a decidedly bitter aftertaste as 2013 winds down. I know that I'm lucky - I've had the good fortune to be visited by great friends, had one of the best birthday parties I can remember (or mostly remember), I fulfilled a lifelong dream to own a dog, I have a lovely little house in a great neighbourhood with a solid teammate. My family is pretty healthy and my parents have been and continue to be very supportive, lovely folks. But I've also experienced some challenging financial setbacks (mostly resulting from Sewergate), resulting in a lack of funds to fix the things around the house that need fixing. It also influenced our travel budget, and that wanderlust-driven restlessness was hard to quiet. Some family arguments have been especially irritating, I've had more friends move out of the city than ever before, and some recent work-related disappointment has left me reeling and angry. In short, I don't know what to make of this year, but the push to be merry and full of cheer has made me feel by turns spiteful and depressed that I'm not more grateful to be living the life I'm living. I'm the Three Faces of Christmas Eve over here, basically.

And for the first time, I think I'm starting to "get" why this time of year is so contentious for some people. When things aren't perfect, or even positive, it seems more acute at year's end. As recent disappointments become less fresh, I'm able to try to focus on the positive but being *told* to focus on the positive this time of year actually has the opposite effect on me - the stubborn jerk inside me wants to be miserable to prove a point.
I think things will be fine - having a few friends in town has already made things brighter and, honestly, don't underestimate the power of brown sugar shortbread and a very cuddly dog. Things will be OK and I will be OK and Christmas will be OK, etc. etc. I just wanted to shout out to people who are not OK and let them know that... that's okay. And that you're not alone. And that this time of year is a big mixed bag of emotions at the best of times and that if all you can do is survive it, then that's enough. What you have to offer is enough. I'll try to keep that in my head as well, as the year winds down. 

Make merry as you can, everyone. We still have we.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Embrace the old

I've written about guilty pleasures before. Basically, I don't really believe in them- like what you want, for whatever reason you want and hold your head high. Recently, I got to indulge in one of my favourite proud-pleasures- the church Christmas bazaar.

How do I encapsulate my love for these little havens of knick-knackery and home baking? I can't - they are more than words to me. For as long as I can remember, every November my family and I have trundled ourselves off to the local churches for a day-long celebration of all things slightly-musty and homemade. And I honestly wouldn't trade that day for the world. After years of lollygagging and mindless wandering, we've finally developed a system that would make an army general proud.

8:30 - get up, immediately regret early saturday wake-up. Remember delicious chocolate chip cookies from last year. Get out of bed, stagger to bathroom, splash water on face and accidentally put undereye cream on instead of lipbalm.

9:00 - admire wrinkle-less lips, get on bus, head out to suburbs.

9:30 - arrive at suburbs, get picked up by family, who are equally sleep-and-coffee-deprived. Drive to first church.

10:00 - 13:00 - caffeine-less blur of bake tables, knitting projects, used book perusing and sandwich-and-soup-eating.

13:30 - leave suburbs, loaded down with books and "fill this for only a dollar" bags. Eat brownies until even the thought of chocolate brings on a brief weeping spell.

13:12 - begin countdown until next year.

We have it down to a science. Each of the four churches we visit on that frosty November Saturday has its pros and cons, and we don't even have to think about them anymore - we just know. We're the bazaar whisperers. It's common knowledge among us that the Catholics have a decent bake sale (but the prices are too high) and their raffle is worth a look; the Anglicans have a well-organized book room, a great white elephant table, and their cookie selection and pricing can't be beat; the Presbyterians have awful silent auctions but a top-notch tea room and a well-organized knitting selection. And the Unitarians? Damn, people. Just don't even bother trying to compete. They have it all - fabulous ethnic food, quality silent auction, books that are still charting on the bestseller list - seriously. My sister and I have seriously considered converting just to get the early bird deals at the Holly and Lace Bazaar.

As I get older, I try to simplify the holiday season. There were traditions I kept up with only because they were just that - traditions; I didn't want to be the first to break them. But really? I wasn't enjoying a lot of them. I was just saying to TB the other day that I love this season but Christmas day itself I can take or leave. It's full of cooking and schlepping and last minute wrapping (if you're us) and cleaning and tidying and blee blah bloo. But some traditions are just perfect. I love getting out my Playmobil advent calendar, I love sending the world's most annoying Christmas cards (actually putting them together is another thing, but I digress), I love walking through freshly fallen snow and singing along with The Carpenters' Christmas album and eating latkes, and decorating my office and drinking rum-soaked cocktails and hanging out with friends who've come home for the holidays. And damn it, I love me some Christmas bazaars. It's one of the traditions that's worth the fuss and bother of driving all over Hell's acres to get to. Because seriously, 5 cupcakes for $1.25? Suck it, Magnolia, I'll take whatever Ethel and Pearl are serving.