Montréal, le 19 décembre 1998
Numéro 27
(page 6) 
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          Each year it seems that the Christmas advertising begins earlier and earlier, soon I expect it will be all year round. I suppose that this is silent testimony to the disappearance of the spiritual aspects of the feast and their replacement by crass commercialism. As the advertising frenzy mounts, it is harder and harder to recall the true meaning of this celebration. Many of our youth probably have no real idea about its true significance and think that it is just the time of the year when you receive expensive presents from doting relatives. 
          Religion and its practice having practically disappeared from sight, at least in this part of the world, Christmas remains one of the two or three days of the year in which our churches contain more than a handful of grey, white or no-haired wrinklies. The decline in the practice of religion correlates closely with the rise in collectivist practices as the state has successfully abrogated unto itself many of the civil responsibilities formerly found within the province of the churches. 

          Successive provincial governments in Quebec having managed to remove most traces of religion from the school curriculum and the heads of the populace, one could expect that it is time for them to devise some form of communal winter celebration. Perhaps a celebration to balance their favourite summer festival, the so-called National Holiday. Upon further reflection, it is surprising that our « collectivist » government hasn't replaced Christmas by the feast of Saint René and Saint Lucien. Two for the price of one so to speak. 
Fading traditions 
          Another fading activity is the commemoration of the feast by the exchange of cards between friends and acquaintances. If you haven't bought and sent your Christmas cards by the time you read this, it is probably too late anyway. Save your money for next year. If you bought them at the local discount store did you realise that you may actually have sent one of those cheap cards to your boss? Stricken with remorse? Should you have splurged and bought one of those fancy thick art-deco cards in a lined envelope at $10 apiece? Perhaps it is better after all not to let your boss think that he pays you too well! 
          Another symbol of this festive time is the tree. Did you buy a real tree this year? Or, like me, did you settle for a look-alike one of the plastic variety? Thankfully, you don't see many of those appalling glitzy red or silver ones any more and our green fakes have become very hard to distinguish from the real thing. Another advantage of the plastic kind is that you don't have to organise those massive needle sweeping campaigns or constantly make sure that the bucket is full of water. The artificial variety are more ecologically friendly anyway enabling one to feel quite self-satisfied about it all. No more feeling guilty feelings. 
          Did you make your own Christmas pudding this year? Or, like the rest of us, did you buy it at the store and make your guests believe that it was made by your own fair hands? What about mince pies, which the Puritans called « superstitious » pies? Did you find your mince pies downtown, or did you actually make your own for a change? Whatever you did, I hope you enjoy them. 
          Will you go to Midnight Mass, or its equivalent for our separated brethren? You might find that it makes the whole experience of Christmas worthwhile. Trudging through the snow – if indeed we have any – to join your friends in the brightly lit welcoming interior of your place of worship. Oh! for the candlelight of yesteryear, the harshness of electric light is so ill suited to this joyous but peaceful feast. How humbling to sit quietly in the warmth of the church, listening to the swelling tones of the organ as the organist plays those well remembered tunes of long ago. The quiet murmuring of the congregation as the choir, who hopefully did manage to practice this year, shuffle nervously in their stalls and then clutching their music sheets they rise to welcome the celebrant as he approaches the focal point of the church. Such is the stuff of Christmas. 
          In the TV Guide, will you mark all the shows that you want to watch during this Festive Season? Having done that, do you think that you will actually get around to watching them? Or will the demands of the season make you too tired? Will the unaccustomed distension of the waistline make sleep supervene before you get the chance to watch whatever interests you? 
          Did you tell little Johnny that there is no Santa Claus? Did you firmly deny the rumours he brought from school the other day? Or did you perpetuate the myth of a bearded giant riding around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, slipping into the house through the chimney to distribute gifts when all are asleep? Perhaps your children pretend to believe in the myth so that you won't be disappointed. It would hard to admit that Mum leaves those cookies out for nothing, to say nothing of the food for the reindeer! 
          Although little is known of him, Saint Nicolas did exist, being traditionally identified as Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the 4th century. In Holland, his feast day is December 6, and it is on this day that Dutch children receive their gifts. The English adopted him from the Dutch and, as usual, corrupted his name from Sint Nikolaas to Santa Claus. 
          Do you open your presents at midnight after church, or on the morning of Christmas Day when you first get up? Perhaps you opened them long ago when you discovered their hiding place! Now you are hoping that your inability to replace the packaging properly will not be noticed! 
Party season 
          Another non-religious Christmas diversion is the beginning of the party season. Of course there are several kinds of party. Teenagers, hormones coursing wildly through the blood, listen to deafening noises – which they believe to be music – and drink alcoholic beverages in quantities their inexperience cannot handle. Young adults do similar things, but their encounters usually have as a purpose the selection of a mate, hopefully for a lifetime. The middle aged, usually married, or in so-called stable relationships, tend not to do much partying, being content to stay at home quietly. Of course some find themselves back at the young adult stage, having dispossessed themselves, or been dispossessed, of a mate and are out looking for a new companion. The elderly return to the party scene mainly to prove to themselves that they are still alive and able to get around! 
          The old office party often degenerates into vociferous criticisms of the company, its policies and its management, voiced by some individual infused with more alcohol than his or her capacity allowed them to metabolise. Such demonstrations are invariably followed by profound embarrassment and silence on the part of the offender, until the next party that is! This is one party which is losing its attraction, probably because men and women have become too frightened to flirt. Another result of our present preoccupation with political correctness.  More and more, men are reluctant to engage in banter because they are afraid of accusations of sexual harassment and women are afraid to be seen as flaunting their sexuality. 
          There is one other kind of party, it is the children's Christmas party, an event which reminds me of the warning printed on most non-prescription medicine bottles, « Keep Away from Small Children ». It is very good advice on most occasions, but especially at this time of the year! 
          How do you greet non-Christians at this time of the year? Are you totally insensitive and wish them a « Merry Christmas » anyway? Did you realise that he, or she, may really not care that much about that wandering star, or whether Wenceslas last looked out or not! Do you mumble something about « Happy Holidays » in the hope that it will be understood to include the New Year? You are probably out of luck there too because it is most likely not New Year for them either. 
          May Peace and Joy be with you at this time. 


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