By Pauline Kerr
A space alien visiting Earth this time of year would probably be wondering whatever happened to the celebration pictured on those Currier and Ives greeting cards.
Ah, a Currier and Ives Christmas – crowds of rosy-cheeked children skating on picturesque frozen ponds, houses decorated with a veritable forest of pine boughs and acres of red ribbon, tables laden with a mountain of food, everything sparkling in the candlelight and the warm glow from the fireplace.
The space alien might be in for the shock of its life if observing a real family celebrating the holidays this year.
First of all, the snow will not come in a few pretty flakes. Sometimes it does not arrive until after Christmas, leaving children disappointed. Sometimes it comes in a sudden deluge that clogs intersections, frazzles nerves, and has plow operators out on the roads even on Christmas. Sometimes it comes in a miserable, sloppy, grey-brown mess. And occasionally it arrives in a blast of solid white that scares the living daylights out of drivers and closes down everything.
The one Currier and Ives element that holds true is the children – they love the snow however it arrives, whenever it arrives. Forget those pretty wooden sleds pictured on the greeting cards, though – real kids will be sliding down hills on everything from state-of-the-art snowboards, to random pieces of plastic. There will be inner tubes on the hills, flying saucers and the occasional cafeteria tray. Even adults appreciate at least a light dusting of the white stuff on Christmas, although they would prefer that it stay off the roads.
Holiday decorations vary between traditional and pretty, to innovative and garish. Some homes have enough lights that they can probably be viewed from Mars, while others have a modest wreath made of strips of cut-up recycling bags and a metal coat hanger, with food-colouring-stained snow sculptures in the yard and paper snowflakes taped to the windows. Inflatables seem increasingly popular, with some neighbourhoods apparently invaded by packs of giant grinches and huge elves.
As for food – it may be roasted turkey with traditional cranberry sauce, take-out fried chicken washed down with cola, or a vegan stir-fry. It may be stew from a Thermos, eaten in the cab of a plow, or stale cookies washed down with day-old coffee. It could be military ration pack food – surprisingly tasty – eaten in front of a lanky tropical plant decorated with coloured paper. Somehow, there always seems to be fruitcake – heavy, dense and fragrant with rum and spices – as well as small, buttery cookies and candy canes, unless the children get to them first.
Those rosy-cheeked Currier and Ives children have morphed into creatures with hair of colours not seen in nature, and rings in their noses. There is nary a velvet dress or plaid vest to be seen, but plenty of shredded pants, hockey jerseys and tuques.
There are also uniforms, scrubs and work clothes. Some people do not spend Christmas at home, but looking after patients in hospitals, patrolling snow-covered roads, serving food to travellers, and monitoring the technology that keeps our towns functioning. Some of these workers will return home to enjoy a Christmas celebration the next day, while others, serving overseas with government, military or charitable organizations, will not be home for weeks or even months. Christmas in July?
Lest the space alien worry that Christmas has disappeared, it should visit a church hall, food bank or community centre. It will discover hundreds of modern-day Santa’s helpers scurrying about, gathering gifts and food for people they have never met, putting together baskets of goodies for the less fortunate and serving dinners to the needy. It will see people devoting untold hours to organizing special community events, parades and gatherings – decorating, directing traffic, making phone calls, putting together “to-do” lists and checking them repeatedly, and having fun doing it all.
Christmas has not disappeared. The way it is celebrated may be different but the spirit of the celebration remains the same as it has for over two millennia.
Merry Christmas to all.