Thursday, December 20, 2007

Presents or Presence

Tomorrow, December 21, is one of the most important days of the year for me. Why? Because it marks the Winter Solstice, the day of the year which has the least daylight in the Northern Hemisphere. To me, it means that things will start getting better, every single day, until we once again have long the long summer days that I love. I could stand the few daily hours of sunlight, during our Canadian winters, if it were at least warm outside. I don't imagine that I would do well in latitudes even further north, where there is even more darkness, and colder temperatures, during the winter months.

I remember my dad telling stories about his youth in Siberia. He and his parents and siblings lived in a sod hut, had no electric lights, no central heating, no indoor toilets, no television or other entertainment -- and all this in one of the most inhospitable areas on earth during the winter months. How did they manage? I'm glad I don't have to live that way.

By contrast, I grew up mostly in Southern Ontario, Canada. We didn't have much in the way of material things at first, but my siblings and I certainly had a much better life than did our parents during their years in Siberia, Poland and Germany.

Now, here we are at the end of 2007 and approaching that annual time of goodwill and friendship: Christmas. It reminds me of growing up in the 1950’s and the special anticipation I felt in the weeks leading up to December 25th.

What did I look forward to? Gifts? Sure, I always got a toy of some kind, perhaps some socks or gloves, but not much else. What I got instead was time to spend with my brother and sister and mother and father, singing carols around our Christmas tree, enjoying a special Christmas dinner, playing Parcheesi, Snakes and Ladders, Checkers, and enjoying time away from school.

There were no iPods; in fact no MP3 players at all. There was no Nintendo Gamecube or Wii, no Microsoft Xbox, no Sony PlayStation. There were no computers. Santa didn’t need a dump truck to deliver gifts to each home. Kids got, instead, love and attention from their parents. That, I think, was much more important that any number of toys or gadgets.

I don’t like much of the commercialization at Christmas time. I don’t like that the season has become to be about ‘things,’ rather than about friends and family, and for those who celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas, a remembrance of why there is a Christmas at all.

I'm going to enjoy Christmas with my wife and son. My friend Vince, from California, will spend some time with us. The family may head for the bright lights of Toronto for a day or two. Although my wife and I have bought some gifts for my son, there won't be a lot of Christmas presents in our home. Instead, we will enjoy the Christmas presence of each other and of friends and relatives. To me, at least, that is much more important.


  1. My opinion... you have the right perspective for the holidays.
    Wishing you and yours all the best of everything you want!
    Merry Christmas.

  2. That is an amazing story about your family's living conditions in Siberia what wonderfully tough people! Have you ever thought about taking your son there to do a dad/lad family history tour?

  3. Thanks, Jean... As for what I want: warmer weather.

    Lin: I had thought about it and in fact hope to do it some day when I have more time.

  4. A voice of sanity in an age of mechanistic amusements. In another time this would have gone without saying. Progress is a wonderful invention,eh?

  5. Didn't know your father was from Siberia. I, too, hate the commercialization of Christmas. Here in Santa Fe, N.M. it is the opposite of commercial NYC. The change is welcome.

  6. My dad and his family, as were many Germans who lived in Poland during the run-up to the first world war, were exiled to Siberia and were forced to stay there until after the war was over. They were sent, in the middle of winter, via cattle cars in a train, in a journey that took a stop-and-go six weeks. They were dumped and left to fend for themselves. Mennonites nearby took pity on them, helped them through the first winter, and allowed them to build sod huts to live in during the next summer.

  7. I perpetrated the too much at Christmas with my kids. We were so poor when I was little, that my brother and I received few gifts. But, we celebrated with the much more wealthy family next door. So, I tried to make up for what I thought was my loss, with my kids. I now wish I had done it differently. I think there is far to many adverse emotional expectations involved in the holiday.