I am not a Grinch!
I didn’t buy and give presents to anyone this year, and I spent Christmas Eve, and now Christmas morning, alone – for the first time in my life. Even the year I lived in Toronto, 2003-2004, I spent Christmas Eve with my sister. But this is only the second time I have wakened on Christmas morning and not been celebrating the day with any family, cats, at all.
Truth is, I haven’t given many presents for a very long time. Our trips to Bequia every year were our Christmas present to each other. I stopped sending Christmas cards when the expense of mailing from Bequia was too high and I couldn’t buy any decent cards (read here: not religious) to send out. It all became so much easier, not to mention no expense at all, to send out group emails to friends and colleagues. No one seemed to mind.
Besides, I have never celebrated the religious aspect of the Christmas season, so it felt rather hypocritical to be tagging on to that just for the sake of enjoying a holiday. I know – Christmas began as a pagan holiday that was hi-jacked by Christians as their own, but try arguing that point with the very religious. Better to just smile along with everyone, wish them all Happy Holidays so as not to insult anyone, and enjoy getting together with friends and family and have a good time.
After I moved back to Canada in 2008, I still managed to spend Christmas on Bequia every year. Quite frankly, it was a way of escaping the crass commercialism that Christmas has become in North America. This year, however, I wasn’t able to make a flight reservation early enough, because I didn’t know whether I would be able to be away from Calgary at this time. When I did know I could have actually left the city, I’d missed all the seat sales and could not afford to fly south.
It’s been a lean year here at Alberta Books Canada, and my life has been filled with extreme highs and lows. But making money has not been one of those highs, so not only have I not been able to afford to go to Bequia this year, I’ve barely been able to keep myself housed, clothed and fed at times. I’ve been fortunate in receiving just the help I needed at the exact moment, a couple of times now, and for that I am very grateful. But due to a lack of funds I can’t be as generous as I’d like to be – would normally have been, were my circumstances different. I can’t give to charities, even though I’m told, constantly, about all those needy people out there, and how important it is that the children receive presents, mainly toys, for Christmas. I’ve fought off feeling guilty about my own circumstances causing me to help anyone else, but do you know how difficult this can be when we’re bombarded, day and night, by well-meaning folk who tell us we must give to the needy to brighten up their Christmas? I don’t know about others, but it certainly makes me feel like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
One thing I did have, however, was books – print books, and lots of them. I am in possession of someone’s extensive library and I also have my own books that I’ve accumulated over the years. I decided I could give these books to others this Christmas. Two things prompted me to donate them specifically to the homeless and those living in shelters: First, I saw a man in a lane way sitting next to a grocery cart filled with his possessions. He was reading a paperback. Was engrossed in it. I realized that these men and women I pass every day on the street, who are begging, collecting bottles, or living rough, are there because of circumstances beyond their control, poor life choices or just plain bad luck. A book might be just as necessary to them as it is to me in my life. And, second, I read an article about a man who made it through almost two years of unemployment, maintaining his sanity by reading all the work of Shakespeare. If I could offer someone solace through a book then that’s what I would donate.
So I made arrangements with several Calgary shelters to give them each several boxes of books. These are not toys or foodstuffs or the usual socks and other warm clothing the sheltered or homeless will likely receive, but I hope the recipients will see the books for what they have always been to me – food for the soul. A necessity in life just as important, as vital, as food and drink – as breath. If you have a book to read, you always have a friend. My books, my writing, and the association I’ve had with other authors have certainly been a solace for the lean times I’ve come through recently. (I’m talking here as though I’m about to turn the corner in my life, and I certainly hope this is the case.)
What I’ve realized through the build-up to the Christmas season this year is that there’s far too much emphasis on the material, on giving and receiving, and that takes a lot of the enjoyment out of it for me. So please pardon me that I may not have seemed engaged or involved at all. This blog post is my attempt to assuage any remaining guilt I still have over my lack of enthusiasm and involvement.
But, trust me – I am not a Grinch! I do not wish to steal Christmas away from anyone else. Just please don’t think any the less of me, or of others who are unable to celebrate to the same extent you do, and remember that there are many out there who you may not realize cannot afford to be generous, due to circumstances beyond their control. Let’s all wish each other the gift of peace in this world and the hope for a better future for everyone. I’m happy with receiving that as a gift! And it’s also something I can afford to wish to all my friends.
Happy Holidays, Everyone!