The Lies of Christmas

sailsigns

The lies of Christmas. They’re all around us. Every day in every way. I saw lies everywhere I walked in the mall. There were signs that said or implied, buy this coffee maker and you’ll be happy. Buy this shirt and you will have a wonderful Christmas. Love, many of the signs said, can be judged by how expensive the gift. The more you love someone, the more you should spend on them. The more you want someone to love you, the more you should spend on them.

Show your family and friends how successful you are. Buy them this jewellery. Buy them these golf clubs. Buy them gifts that cost more than what your brothers and sisters bought, or your uncles and aunts, or your neighbours.

The signs all chanted buy, buy, buy as I walked by. Some signs whispered. Some shouted. One had a new car wrapped with a red ribbon. A gift for someone you love, a gift you can put In your driveway so everyone can see how much you love your wife or your husband or your fiancé or you son or daughter.

The strange thing is that when I look back on decades of Christmases, I remember very few gifts. What did I get for my sixth Christmas. I dunno. What did I get for my fourteenth Christmas. I dunno. What did I get for my twenty-fourth Christmas. I have no idea. I do remember I used to always get a book for Christmas. I remember the gifts under the Christmas tree, gifts that we opened on Christmas Eve. I remember that there was always a gift from Santa on Christmas morning. But I’ll be darned if I remember what they were. When I was twelve I got my Cooey. 22 single shot. Another year I got a football but I don’t remember what year it was. Probably when I turned fourteen. A gift I do remember and will never forget is the finely knitted vest my grandmother made for me. Like her cooking, it was made with love.

What I do remember are Christmas’s at my mother’s parents. Grandma Smith didn’t have a dining room but she had her fold out table all set with her best plates and cups and glasses. She was a wonderful cook and she had turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables and her special scones. The house was hot from the cooking so we had the front door open and the cold air made clouds as I flowed in. We talked and people told stories and after supper we had tea and sweets and my brother and I fell asleep sitting with my parents on the couch.

I remember Christmases in Gimli at my parents’ house. Exciting Christmases because my grandparents would come from Winnipeg. We watched for them to arrive on the bus. Some of my father’s siblings and their husbands and wives and kids would join us. My parents’ best friends and their two daughters would come through the door. I’ll never forget those Christmas suppers. The smell of supper cooking, the setting out of the table, the laughter, the joyousness of our friendships.

When I think of Christmas’s past, it is people I think of. I don’t regret the disappearance of the gifts, whatever they were but I regret the loss of the people who came through our front door, who shook our hands, who hugged us, who were obviously happy to see us, who embraced us in their friendship. There is nothing so precious at Christmas as to be among people who love you.

I thought as I walked through the mall what lies the signs whispered. I would take a Christmas without the blenders, the DVDs, the vacuum cleaners, the head phones, the ear buds, to be surrounded by friends and family. Yes, the Magi brought gifts to the Christ child, but they didn’t do it as a promotion for the myrrh, frankincense and gold industries. They didn’t do it to boost GDP.

They didn’t do it to buy Christ’s love.

There’s nothing wrong with gifts and may you enjoy the gifts you receive this season and may those you gift enjoy the gifts you give them but remember that love comes from the giver and the receiver not from the price tag on present.

Christmas Wish

poinsetta

Expendable

That’s you. That’s me. Our previous government thought we were expendable. Do you know what that means? We don’t matter. We can be sacrificed at no cost to anyone important. Our young family members were expendable during WW2. Fifty thousand killed in an attack? A hundred thousand killed in an attack? Didn’tmatter. They didn’t matter. Their families didn’t matter.

Expendable. It’s an ugly word. It separates the necessary, the important, the valuable people from the rest of us peasants. The old stock and the new stock. Remember that? We were told that gee whillikers, it just meant some people’s families were here longer than others. No, it didn’t. It made it clear that the government divided us into the important and unimportant. I hate to say it, but most of us are unimportant. If we suffer, if we get ill, if we lose our house, if someone we loves die, if we die, it doesn’t matter because we are expendable. When I say we, I mean you, your kids, your grandkids, your parents, your relatives, your friends. Mine, too.

Hopefully, that has changed with the election of the new government. I pray that it has. I don’t want our government thinking my kids and grandkids are expendable.

A large test is coming. Most people don’t understand the implications of the fall in the price in oil. They don’t understand the fact that the US is going to raise interest rates. They don’t understand what the Canadian dollar falling to seventy cents US means for their daily lives. They don’t understand why their lives are going to be changed by the fall in the price of iron ore, copper, oil, natural gas, nickle, and grain.

That is, they won’t understand until they get a pink slip. But, but, but I don’t work in mining, or the oil business or farming. No, but it is those industries that provide the profits and the taxes that mean you get your pension cheque. It’s not magic. Pension funds get their money from profit and interest payments. In a year of bad crops and bad prices for crops look and see how every business in a farming community gets hurt. Not just the businesses selling farm equipment. The café, the coffee shop, the furniture store, the bar, the hotel. The list is endless. The people running those businesses say business is down, we’re sorry but we’ve got to lay you off. But, but, you can’t do that, my kids have braces, I’ve got a mortgage and a car payment. Sorry, we don’t have the money to pay you. You will have to apply for EI.

There are people ranting, raving, being absurd about how Notley and the NDP are ruining Alberta. North Dakota is going into to a recession. The ND Governor, just like Notley, didn’t bring oil down to 27$ American. Some people in Alberta have been threatening to murder Notley. I wonder if they’re going to want to murder the Governor of North Dakota? Whatever you do, don’t tar all Conservatives with this brush. I have a lot of Conservative friends. I like them. I admire them. They’re smart. They’re good people. They’re not going on the internet and saying that the way to fix Alberta’s problems is to put a pitch fork through Notley’s neck.

I’m sure the ND Governor, Jack Dalrymple, just like Notely, is doing the best he can but the price of oil isn’t partisan. What the Saudis are doing is going to hurt people all across North America, in cities and in small towns, Republican, Democrat, LIberal, Conservative, NDP.

Canada is going to get hurt twice. The drop in the price of oil has done serious damage to Russia and Putin says they are going to compensate by growing more grain. Just what our farmers don’t need.

Low interest rates have not, as classical economics would predict, helped our exports. Instead, low interest rates have removed our large retired community from purchasing groceries, clothes, holidays, vehicles, everything that retired people buy. They didn’t help create a diversified manufacturing structure. An economic principle that is outdated being applied by people who don’t understand the economics of today.

Low interest rates have resulted in insane house prices, massive mortgage debt that the banks convinced the Conservative government to unload on CMHC. What has that got to do with you? Everything. You see, CMHC is you. You are guaranteeing to pay the banks all the money that will be owed when people default on their mortgages. There is no such thing as government money. It’s your money. Money that the government has collected from you in taxes and fees. Every time someone defaults on a mortgage, your tax money is going to be paid to a bank. That money won’t be available for health care, or paving roads, or building schools, or outfitting the military, or anything else.

The Harper Political Party has left you in a terrible mess. It’s left your parents and your kids and grandkids in a terrible mess. But we’re all adults, right? Nobody gets to say, give me back my money. It’s gone. Your money was expendable. Where did it go? I don’t know. It certainly didn’t go to buy new equipment for the military. Our navy is falling apart. Our airforce is flying old planes. Bombs nowadays are very expensive. Don’t think of them as explosives, think of them, when they explode as a million of your tax dollars blowing up.

Will JT make things right? I hope so but I have no idea.I don’t know what has to be done. I don’t know what is possible. I know I want health care, I want education, I want infrastructure, I want security, I want compassion and caring. I don’t want to be expendable. I want the government to think I matter.

I want the government to think you matter. I guess that’s my Christmas wish.

Dapper

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There are words that disappear with time. Dapper used to be a word that one heard regularly. My father was always described as dapper. Tall, handsome, he always wore the best clothes that he could afford. When he went commercial fishing, under his coveralls or nor’westers, he wore a white shirt and a tie. He was never into scruffy.

This was a time when houses had small closets because people didn’t have a lot of clothes. A woman would have her everyday house dress and a good dress for going out or going to church and special events. A man would have his work clothes and a suit or slacks and a blazer. Given what people earned, clothes were expensive. The world had not yet been flooded by cheap goods from foreign countries.

A lot of Canadians were only one generation or, at most, two generations away from immigration. The struggle was to not have an accent, to ditch the babushkas and the shawls, the home spun baggy pants and dress like the English did in the city. To get ahead a person had to fit in, not be foreign, not allow oneself to be stereotyped. People changed their names, anglicized them, Canadianized them, shortened them. When you were looking for a job, you didn’t want some person doing the hiring saying, “We don’t want a Hunky from the country. Or a Goolie from Gimli.”

Knowing how to dress well created opportunity, even if that opportunity was simply having a job at a bank or Eaton’s. Those jobs were better than digging ditches or working in a laundry.

Hollywood provided models. Those dapper leading men in well pressed suits, ties, polished shoes. The war also had an impact. No scruffy airmen, soldiers, sailors allowed. I was looking at a picture of one of my uncle’s yesterday. He’s around twenty, snappy in his wedge cap and blues. If it didn’t do anything else, the armed forces taught the boys to pay attention to their appearance. When it came to looking for jobs after the war, the men doing the hiring were often ex-officers and the condition of your shoes mattered. Before I went out for an interview for my first job, my grandmother said to me, polish your shoes.

Then the 60s and the hippies came. Scruffy, hairy, disheveled, in rebellion against dapperness and discipline. Some, like the Beatles, turned that rebellion into fame and fortune. They didn’t start out that way. Early pictures show them coiffed and pressed. Coiffed and pressed doesn’t work when you’re trying to reflect a generation in rebellion.

John Kennedy was dapper. But he destroyed the haberdashery business by appearing in public without a hat. Until that moment, no gentleman would go out without a fedora. My father leaned toward Hombergs. Hombergs have a certain ambience about them, a slightly rakish but serious aspect. He looked smashing in a Homberg. He loved my mother to dress well. He bought her jewelry. They weren’t rich. Often times were hard financially but the way they dressed mattered.

They weren’t alone. My home town, Gimli, was made up mostly of the descendants of parents and grandparents of Icelandic settlers. Icelanders, having gone through terrible poverty and plagues, placed a lot of emphasis on dressing well. Halldor Laxness, the Icelandic Nobel prize winner, would skip meals to have the money to dress well. He knew that appearance mattered, that dressing well meant he fitted in with decision makers in the countries where he wanted his books to be published. I’ve heard it said about visiting Icelanders, “He has a fortune on his back.”

So, although I’ve never been dapper, I applaud Justin and Sophie and their spread in Vogue. How nice to have a PM and wife that have some class. Nice to have a leader who can set some style. It helps, of course, when the magazine loans Sophie a dress that costs $5,700.00. However, cost doesn’t define style. I learned that when I taught at a private women’s college and the most stylish of the students was someone who put together her beautiful outfits from pieces bought everywhere, including WalMart.

Of course, being Canadian, it would never do if everyone thought our leaders being stylish is great. Canadians love to carp and complain. Jealousy, sometimes. Resentment, sometimes. Political bitchiness, quite often. A lot of the time, though, just disgruntlement at someone else having something they don’t have. I mean, how many of us have realized our youthful dreams? Instead of saying isn’t it great that we live in Canada, we have more than ninety-eight percent of the world, some of us have turned into shriveled up gnomes who have forgotten how to be proud. Disappointment turns some people mean.

Anyway, JT and Sophie, you look great in Vogue. Fantastic that a fashion magazine thinks you are classy enough to grace their pages. My Dad would approve.