(Warning: content may be deemed discriminatory)
In October, I was shocked to read that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had declared Christmas to be discriminatory.
Like many thoughtful consumers of the news today, I read the three-word headline, let my emotions run wild, and cursed the idiocy of “them” before moving to the next piece of click-bait. But now, a month into the Christmas season and having had some time to reflect on Christmases past, I realize I might have some grievances to file about Christmas. Perhaps the commission will take my call.
First off, the unconscious bias known as, “Christmas Starts in November.” Poppies were not off of collars before I heard my first round of Christmas carols at the local Home Hardware … on November 12! This was a clear case of Big Retail’s piped-music-privilege trampling the rights of those who wait for the beginning of Advent in December. I asked my salesclerk about it, and all she could do was shrug helplessly. Forty-three more days of Dean Martin crooning in one breath to “Let It Snow!” and complaining “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the next. Oh, the inequity!
Except she may not hear Dean complain about it being cold outside. “Christmascarolism” might be a new word to some readers, but the struggle is real, and, in this country’s most egregious display, CBC pulled “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from its airwaves in December of 2018. An ally to my core, I decided to hang lights on my second-storey front deck while playing the song repeatedly at full blast on my portable speaker. The tinny music piercing the sub-zero temperatures drew neighbours outside to look up at me worriedly. I waved and yelled, “Merry Christmas!” to reassure them I was not losing my mind, I was standing with Dean.
And speaking of that front deck, let us at last acknowledge the elephant in the room and call out Christmas’s shameless discrimination against second storey living rooms. When the decorations are off that dry, dead tree, and you realize you must get it to the end of the driveway, being on the second storey is a microaggression that can scar for life. The same year Dean was gagged, I was the microagressee, looking from the narrow, bent staircase leading to the front door and driveway, to the bushy spruce that was now taking on Nieman Marcus department store proportions.
There was one other option, and that was the door to the front deck, perched over the driveway, and site of my three-hour “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” protest. The oppressed must rise to some occasions, so I opened the door, letting in an icy wind that caused the tree to sway like a threatening colonizer. I eyed the trunk and decided on my target. Then, yelling “Charge!” to jumpstart my adrenalin, I lunged at the tree, grabbed the trunk with both hands and lurched onto the deck where I collapsed against the railing with my body trapped in the tree’s boughs. My hands scratched from needles, and my arms shaking from the weight, I realized with mounting horror that this evergreen monster could take me over the railing with it.
“This is no time for cowardice, Colleen!” my brain rallied with eco-terrorist fervour. I heaved the tree up and over, yelling out loud, “Let’s do this!!” The tree covered me with needles before leaving my body, sailing over the deck, and landing with a scratchy thud on the driveway next to my car. I surveyed my work, smiling proudly and breathing heavily. Looking up at me from the sidewalk, and with that touch of worry I had seen before, were my neighbours, silent witnesses to the truth of the second-storey struggle.
At least that tree had been something impressive. There is also the insidious big-and-beautifully-decorated-tree gloating that plagues Christmas every year. You know what I am talking about. That sting when you arrive at your friends’ annual Christmas party, catch your breath at a pine-scented tower of colour-co-ordinated magnificence that could only have been decorated by God’s angels, and remember your own lopsided wonder displaying homemade decorations and half-lit blinky lights at home. Surely, the commission can end the shame.
You can be darn sure those friends did not fall for Christmas’s misinformation reel of glistening snow, smiling children, and shopping-mall-worthy trees to accept an invitation to hike into the Alberta woods, chop down a Christmas tree, and transport it to the living room, like I did one year, believing the lie borne of 1950s-Christmas-movie propaganda, “The kids will love this!”
“Why?” my four-year-old Julian asked at breakfast when I told him and his 11-year-old brother Sean the plan. It was a snowy Saturday in December, a day for firing Nerf darts at each other, watching Spiderman movies, and finding no reason to change out of pyjamas.
“Because Caroline and Doug invited us to,” I answered. “And it will be fun!” I quickly added, sensing a hike with my friends was no match for Nerf guns.
“Can I cut down the tree?” Sean asked, immediately warming to a plan that might result in him swinging an axe in the wilderness.
Sean’s question was all the encouragement I needed to pack snacks, wrestle Julian into a snowsuit and boots, and pile the boys into the car, seeing the blowing trees but convincing myself, while protected by two storeys of modern-day stucco, that the wind was not that bad.
Forty-five minutes later, we tumbled out of the car on the edge of a snowy plain dotted with evergreen trees, parked behind Caroline and Doug’s SUV, and met with a biting gale that pushed clouds across the sky and snow across the asphalt. When the wind hit Julian’s face, he let out a cry as he suffered his own human rights violation.
Insult was added to injury when I lifted Julian from the car and perched him next to the roadside in snow above his knees, making clear his 40-inch self would never manage the hike across a plain and up a hill to the patch of trees that was our target. While he teetered in the wind like a leaning snowman, his toque slipping to touch his eyelids and his scarf rising to touch the drip of his nose, Julian did what any self-respecting victim of systemic tall-ism would do. He howled.
Doug looked at Julian and made steadfastly for the trees while Sean, eyeing the saw swinging from Doug’s gloved hand, chased after him. Caroline tried to drown Julian out with “Deck the Halls!”, roaring her CBC-acceptable carol into the bracing wind with gusto fitting of a Les Miserables cast member. If she had waved a Santa Claus flag over Julian’s crumbling composure while she sang, she would have made me cry.
Thirty minutes later, Doug and Sean emerged from the forest, dragging two pine trees behind them, and an hour later, Julian was freed from Canada’s winter weather chains, back in the safety of the living room watching Doug drag the tree up the narrow, bent staircase and perch it into the tree stand. What had looked majestic in the woods was now an enormous stick with a few needles on it.
“There!” announced Doug, snow melting off his boots and flying off his gloves while he slapped them together with pride.
We stared at the skinny boughs, barren shelves of empty Christmas promises.
“Where will we hang the decorations?” Sean asked. Julian, indifferent to the state of the tree and noting his brother’s rare moment of distraction, reached for a Nerf gun.
It was while craving a respite from Christmas’s repeated violations that I headed to Toronto’s Christmas Village in that city’s historic Distillery District this past weekend. I looked forward to hours of peaceful serenity while touring a Christmas-lit market too perfect to include challenges, mishaps, flops, and fiascos.
An hour in, I stopped on the cobblestones, realizing with sudden clarity the true violation of humanity at Christmas. At stand after stand, I had found not quirky and imperfect Christmas crafts created by locals with a love for the season, but food, food, more food, and the occasional chain-store merchandise, made on a machine in China.
Families were not visiting Santa. They were lining up for free swag and an Instagram picture in the Ferrero Rocher igloo. The centre-stage Christmas tree was not a nostalgic throwback wrapped in traditional garland, stars, and angels. It was a glittering gold-ball monolith draped in a massive Dior logo. The few stores that sold decorations did not offer a beautiful array of religious and cultural expressions of Christmas. They sold Christmas bacon and half-clothed Santas waving Pride flags. I tried to find a Baby Jesus and could not find one.
“Do you have a nativity scene in here?” I asked the young man patrolling the door at one massive gift shop.
He gave me a perplexed look and then pointed to a shelf on the other side of a throng of people. “There might be one over there.”
Hopeful, I squeezed through the crowd and peered at the glass-cased shelf. There sat a group of faceless, egg-shaped figurines forming a circle around another smaller egg on its side. No hint at who was Jesus, Joseph, or Mary, who was man and who was woman, no indication that these figures were even human.
As I came upon the Dior tree again, watching people stage their photos so the logo was behind them, I wanted every one of my Christmas challenges, mishaps, flops, and fiascos back. Carols starting too soon. Lopsided and sticky Christmas trees decorated with crafts my boys made. Nerf guns and all-day pyjamas. Heaving a monstrous tree to the curb. Hikes in the deep snow that might start with tears but always end with hot chocolate and laughing.
Cancel my call to the commission and my request for a smooth and unoffending Christmas. Something tells me those commission types would not answer the phone anyway. And, really, I have better things to do – such as leave the shortbread in the oven too long and dry out the turkey while crafting a nativity scene. What could be better than doing my imperfect things with imperfect people I dearly love? While Dean Martin reminds me about joy, even when, baby, it’s cold outside.