The view from my chair - The Christmas Spirit


By Alan Gillies

G.E.M. Media

“I hate Christmas.”

I’ve heard many people say that, just as often as I’ve heard many others state that they love this time of year. Personally, I’m not at present all that fond of the season. It's cold, it's expensive and it's far too hectic.

Charles Dickens’ ghosts have never appeared to me. What usually does appear now is malls and big box stores crowded with shoppers searching for “Black Friday” bargains with holiday background music on a perpetual loop. Participating in it this year, it wasn’t long before I was so frustrated that I could’ve strangled a caroler.

“Black Friday”, as shoppers and retailers call it, is the day following American Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln created the holiday, with its roots stemming back to the Pilgrims in 1621.

And other than the single bird “pardoned” by the sitting President each year, turkeys must roost in fear of roasting as the day approaches.

Meanwhile, for those of us in Canada, it’s just the fourth Thursday of November, with mid-week NFL games and a Charlie Brown special on the tube.

However, even though our own Thanksgiving is celebrated the previous month, with cross-border shopping an ever-concerning issue for our nation’s retailers, we’ve adopted the “Black Friday” sales concept.

What most people don’t realize is that cross-border shopping only accounts for an estimated 2 per cent of Canadian consumer purchases.

“Black Friday” is also known as “Buy Nothing Day”.

Founded in 1992 by Vancouver artist Ted Dave, “Buy Nothing Day” has been called “Occupy Christmas” by Adbusters magazine.

Just when I’d thought that commercialism had taken almost all of the fun out of the holidays, the anti-consumerist lobby has attempted to finish the job.

As expected, the “efforts” had as much impact as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement from which it borrowed its nickname; essentially, none.

Boxing Day sales used to be fun, when I was younger. A day off, spend a bit and save a lot. Buying for everyone else had been done prior to the day before, so it was somewhat self-indulgent.

I used to love Christmas. Two weeks off from school, a guaranteed annual visit with distant relations, cookies and candies and presents. Toys and turkey and presents. People smiling and hugging and playing in the snow. Toboggans and sleigh rides and snowmobiling. Parties and church choirs singing. Oh, yeah... and presents.

Getting them was nice, giving them was fun. I usually got all my last-minute shopping done in an hour. It certainly never took an entire calendar day.

“Black Friday” is no longer a single day. Corporations and their advertising executives have extended the savings madness in both directions, starting earlier and ending later, with Friday apparently a week long, and carried into the next.

For a decade, “Black Friday weekend” has been immediately followed by “Cyber Monday”, created in 2005 to encourage online shopping. At least it’s a way to avoid crowds, but that, too, has been extended to include several successive days.

Meanwhile, actual stores continue their own sales in effort to compete and/or match the online binge-shopping.

And yet, as I was watching my TV last week, and still now in December, the word “black” was used less often to describe sales as it was in reference to the unrest throughout the United States following the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri.

Rioting and looting, underneath a street-wide “Season’s Greetings” sign. How festive.

Rather than gather ‘round the yule log, protesters chose to make do with a burning police car.

ISIL. Ebola. Kim Kardashian’s butt. All big things in the news right now.

I really need some Christmas spirit right now, and I’m not referring to Jacob Marley.

Not even Bob Marley… although he did release a very cool version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” back in 1965, which I find ironic for so many reasons.

Tonight, after I finish decorating a few trees, hanging hundreds of lights and wrapping a few presents, I intend to be sitting in my studio recording “O Holy Night”. Saint Augustine said, “Qui bene cantat bis orat”, or “He who sings well prays twice”, so I’ll be giving it my best effort, now that my voice has returned.

I’ve always resented those who feel obligated to say “put Christ back in Christmas”, even if perhaps their motives may seem pure. It feels like having religious zeal thrust upon me, even if it’s a religion I myself share. To me, He’s always been in it, by definition.

Despite the extension of “Cyber Monday” past the 24-hour mark, the day after has been called “Giving Tuesday”. That’s the day that should be lengthened.

It’s not Christ that needs to be put back in Christmas; it’s His message of peace, love, and joy. Ergo I’m hopeful that making “a joyful noise for the Lord” will help to renew the childhood enthusiasm I once had for the holiday season named for the celebration of His birth.