Saturday, December 26, 2009

The REAL meaning of Christmas

I have often wondered why the Christmas story is told over and over again in Churches and in films. I can recite the story by heart, and I know the ending so why retell it? Surely everyone knows the story by now.

I think that the Bible is a reflection of an oral tradition. Oral traditions, unfortunately are looked down upon by what we feel is a far more scientific written, or literary tradition. Yet, when we write deep concepts, such as the Christian story of Christmas, or the Christian view of love, creation or of life itself, we miss the subtleties and the often hidden messages therein.

This Christmas, I have taken time to reflect on the story and the multiple layers of meaning that are contained within. I have tried not to rush to the end of the story, nor to consider the story as an introduction to the end. I have tried not to impart all meaning to the end. Most of us, myself included, have great difficulties with that. We tend to want to 'get to the point', we are impatient with story and want something written down, something to summarize, to cut through.

Some of the worst wars have been perpetrated by the two world religions who have a book, either the Bible or the Koran. This is not to say that the religions are evil, nor are those who practice those faiths, rather it is a reflection of the dangers of taking what is meant to be, and written as a compilation of oral traditions and trying to find deep meaning in the particular, ie in every word rather than the general.

Have you ever wondered why the stories in the gospel differ from writer to writer. Some people have been driven mad by that! Why cant they get THE story straight. That is because there is no STORY, rather the Bible is a record of the faith experiences of people, it is the story of faith, and like all stories, it is interpreted in different ways and in different times. This is not to say that the story is not true. I am not saying it is make believe, or fantasy. I am saying that it is only by means of story and parable that deep meanings that transcend culture and time can be imparted.

The reason the story is told OVER and OVER again, is simply because its meaning is far too rich and complex to be contained in a simplistic reduction, where one looks only to the end, and forgets the journey itself.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is Christmas a humbug?

This year Cyril and I attended Peter Hinton's splendid play version of a Christmas Carol. For those of you who have never seen a play written by Ottawa's Peter Hinton, you are missing out. Once again Scrooge pronounced that Christmas is a humbug! I sometimes wonder if he is correct!

Every year I vow that this year, Christmas will be quieter and different from the past years. I vow that I will shop on line and limit the time I spend in stores. I vow that I will bake and enjoy preparing feasts for my friends and families and even invite neighbours in for a drink.

It is four days before Christmas, only half of my gifts are wrapped, I invited guests far too late for dinner and so nobody can come, I did NO shopping on line, choosing instead to spend time at Chapters (that was fun in fact) I did bake a cake, of sorts, with lots of fruit, that after two days could be used as a brick to smash windows! As far as inviting friends in for a drink, that too will not materialize.

I am not really sure why I think I should do all of these things, or why I feel a little guilty about NOT having a Hallmark Christmas, complete with falling snow, and a great dinner and smiling happy guests pulling Christmas crackers and sipping champagne all before a fireplace.

The reality is while I have a fireplace, it has an insert and quickly puts out enough heat to turn our living room and entire first floor into a blast furnace! I have somehow not been organized enough to invite guests and Christmas, although it comes every year on December 25th, has somehow snuck up on me.

I wonder how many others are in the same predicament or feel as I do. Perhaps we should all take action against Hallmark, or Christmas television programs, or even the department store Santas for making us feel guilty.

Christmas for many people can be a very lonely time. It is lonely precisely because they feel pressured to be with family or friends but most of them have neither family or friends, or if they do, it would be an unpleasant experience.

Christmas for others is an anti climax. After weeks of shopping, wrapping, decorating and cooking, the presents are all opened...and then what? Lots of wrapping paper to dispose of, batteries to buy and people pretending that they actually like the sweater that you bought them, or in fact needed yet another scarf or pair of gloves.

Is Christmas a humbug? I think for many people, tis the season of unmet expectations, unfulfilled dreams and wishes, dry turkey and unwanted short perhaps Scrooge was correct...for many people....Christmas is indeed a humbug.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas trees, memories of the base, and cats!

This year we put up our Christmas tree. Like every year it is a Scots pine, full and bushy with needles that prick you and pine sap that sticks to your fingers. It brought back many memories of Christmas past and our cats!

My father, who died some 20 years ago, was very fond of Scots pine. For him the only tree worth having was a Scots pine with its reddish bark and long needles. For many years we had beautiful glass ornaments, balls with silvery designs and sublimated patterns, and magnificent birds with stiff tails and silver and painted. They were brought back from the time when my parents met in France. I was told they were made in Germany. They were so lovely that as a child I imagined the birds could sing! Underneath our tree there was always a nativity scene. Since my father was a carpenter, he built a stable. This was no ordinary stable. This stable could have housed the holy family and several more with comfortable stalls for the animals. No squalor in this stable!

I remember he had painted it and glued it with what looked to me like moss on the roof. I always enjoyed arranging the figurines under our tree in the nativity set. We lived on an air base and all the houses were gaily festooned with lights, some red, some blue. Some would line windows all in the same colour. My father loved multicoloured lights and would string and staple them to the wooden window sills and door frames of our house. We would walk around the base and compare the decorations that our neighbours had. Some had nativity scenes on their lawns, others had fading Santa's perched on their roof, held on with ropes just in case!

Gradually our beautiful ornaments broke. This was partially due to a Langley family tradition of immediately throwing out the wrappings that ornaments came in. We would store our ornaments in close proximity to each other, sometimes with newspaper but never very carefully. Invariably when we opened our various boxes, shoe boxes, old boxes to retrieve the ornaments there was always a glass bird with its head crushed, or a beautiful globe with its hanging pulled out and cracked. The lights were another issue. At the time we had very large bulbs that grew very hot and were clearly painted. My father loved different colours and would string these large heavy lights, some with the paint so badly scratched they were white on the tree. Much to my mother's horror, he would buy flashers and watch in delight as the large heavy and hot lights would blink on and off. We would then put up icicles. The icicles were what looked to me like flexible tin foil. They were plastic coated with some heavy or noxious metals. They proved an irresistible treat for our cats!

A cat considers the home theirs and therefore the tree with all of its trimmings and decorations is clearly either an invasion, or a new toy to play with. As our glass bulbs diminished my father bought the latest which were silk balls. They were plastic, white plastic wrapped in coloured silk, we had green, red and blue balls and as my father so proudly told us, they would never break. That was without considering the cats.

Our cats viewed the tree as a private scratching post and as they scurried under it to sharpen their claws, we watched as the tree swayed and the ornaments dangled precariously. One of us would rush to steady the tree, while another would scold the cat. The cats were nonplussed.
Our cats would be entertained for hours by simply batting one of the silk balls. As their claws got caught in the silk strands the silk unraveled and the white plastic showed itself soon with only a few shreds of silk remaining. If that were not enough, the cats would knock the ball off and bat it on the floor, pouncing on it and pushing it to ensure that the silk wrapping would be entirely destroyed. The icicles were a treat to be eaten with glee. As for decorations, our cats regularly stole the cloth hats that the elves who adorned our tree wore. One of my cats was interested in sheep and the sheep from the nativity set would vanish into his lair.

This year, I have tin icicles and glass ornaments. I pack them carefully and the lights are small LED's that don't get hot. I miss the old lights that burned out and burned our fingers when we touched them. I miss the fact that if one light was burned out, the entire string would not work. In my neighbourhood there are inflatable Santa's or snow scenes with blowing snow in them. There are singing decorations, entirely lit up houses, Santa no longer needs ropes to hold him on the roof. There are reindeers made of wood and splendid wreaths on most doors. I miss the simple lights and the simple unsophisticated decorations on those drab military homes.

This year, I no longer have cats. My decorations are safe, the sheep are unmolested. I have two dogs who looked at our tree with the studied indifference that only a dog can have! Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let sleeping dogs lie

I have two dogs, both of whom enjoy sleeping on their respective beds in my study. As I am on the computer or at my desk, they are sleeping and I can hear them snore. Whether I read the news, or psychology or even philosophy, they snore through it.

While many of us imagine that what we do is important, the truth is that apart from our relationships, what we actually do is banal and unimportant. The dogs, and others can easily sleep through our exploits, our work, our accomplishments. To demonstrate that this is the case, name the person who won the nobel prize for Chemistry three years ago? What about the prize for physics four years ago? Chances are you cannot, and yet you could easily name people that have made a difference in the world and in your life by their sense of compassion and mercy towards others.

When I get up to take my dogs for a walk, or play with them, or even brush them, they wake up. You can hear them sigh and say "Finally! she is doing something important!" Maybe the idea is not so much to let sleeping dogs lie, but to learn from them that the truly lasting things in life are the relationships and friendships that we build with others.

Karine's Blog

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