Culture & Conversation

The posts of Christmas past: No. 4

'Merry Christmas' by Banksy

In Occupy Your Heart, first published Dec 31, 2011, Shawn Katz considered other forms of gift-giving than the kind dictated by the malls and mega-companies.

My relationship with Christmas has never been an obvious one. My family are what I like to calll good secular Montreal Jews, after all. You know: “Jewish” for us tended to conjure up the holy pantheon of bagels, smoked meat, Leonard Cohen and Mordechai Richler more than the traditional mythology of Moses and his chums. Of course, we did have our Hannukah gatherings – which as years went by, morphed ever so suspiciously into Christmukah hybrids, replete with cranberry sauce and a giant turkey …wrapped in strips of bacon. Delicious, by the way, but I digress.

Having moved on from the familial hearth, Christmas for me became an ever more oddly alluring affair: all those pretty lights, the glistening white snow (weren’t those the days?), the lush green of decorated wreaths, or the ubiquitous good cheer of perfect strangers; how could such a thing possibly be bad? Or so would intone one band of little soldiers, anyway, in the interminable petty war that waged inside. The opposing brigade, of course – righteous,  moralizing – was the one that would make me shudder and tense in stupefied horror the minute I was unfortunate enough to land among the bag-draped hordes, swept along involuntarily in the feeding frenzy of a consumerist tide. Never, perhaps, was I happier to sit out Christian culture than when thrown hapless into a mall at Christmas time. Ahh, Christmas shopping: neither Christ, nor mass. Discuss.

In all humility, being a perennial outsider to the seasonal ritual of gift-giving can place you in a unique position. The wide array of practices I would witness among friends never failed to inspire some earnest reflection, and admittedly at times, even a share of disappointment at being excluded from the ritual of exchange. I would see friends share among friends; I would see friends share among extended family and, budget (but not heart) obliging, perhaps leave it at that; and then I would see people oppressed by unending demands, somehow lured into an infinite web of unwanted exchanges based on little more than nominal ties – your boyfriend’s mother whom you’ve met a couple times, or that sister-in-law’s pet beagle who’s been needing new boots.  There’s a significant chance I might have made that last one up, but still, you know the scene, and the tune.

It’s a familiar little consumerist ditty that’s got us humming right along, and someone, somewhere, is smiling ear to ear. I can even make it out now if I strain hard enough to hear: a faint din of sardonic delight, I think, an echoing laughter behind the sounds of scuttling shoes: back, forth, shop to shop… Oh you wily one-percenters, I’d know that cackle anywhere…

And yet, and yet…aren’t gifts…nice? Don’t I…like getting gifts? Don’t I love giving gifts? The thoughts bounced to and fro in my head, as I grasped to uncover my own authentic “Christmas” spirit. What, at heart, could ever be wrong with making love tangible, holdable, to the ones that you hold dear? Or to lending a little of your warmth to another in these coldest, darkest of winter weeks? (And even if prodded by an arbitrary holiday ritual?) Poser la question, as we say, c’est y répondre. But only, perhaps, if we cling stubbornly to the ideal.

So last year, I decided to jump right in. On my terms.  No malls, no megacompanies, no debt, no burden. Just pure, unsolicited, heart-driven offerings. It was a genuine delight, and soft on the budget. Question: how much does it cost to tell someone ‘I love you’?

Of course, if you have time and talent in ample supply, the best answer to that is always an investment in a few little materials (if you don’t already have lingering from past projects); nothing says affection, after all, quite like the fruits of one’s own labour. But even if you’re no DIY dallier, or are understandably tight on time – too often the case, these days, for us lowly overworked 99-ers – well that’s fine too: that’s what your local artisans and independent shopkeepers are for.

A trinket here, a bracelet there, a handcrafted card, a symbol, a thought. And if you really haven’t a clue what might make someone smile…well, maybe that’s a sign they shouldn’t be on your list. To keep it genuine, keep it intimate.

And never cast a thought to what you might get in return.

Shawn Katz is a Montreal writer, blogger and tweeter. He has worked with local blog Forget the Box, and has been a regular contributor to The Rover since 2010.


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