As long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve loved the Christmas holidays but I’ve also always found the season bittersweet. I’ve never been able to ignore the children of war, refugees struggling to stay alive in too many camps in Thailand, the Middle East, and parts of the world that have no meaning for many people in North America. Nor has it ever been possible to overlook, especially at Christmas, the millions of poor and hungry children in the North American and Asian cities and countries in which I’ve lived.
The huge, intolerable distance between the comfort of the Haves and the poverty of the Have Nots, to say nothing of the vulgarity of so many wealthy corporations, can be a real bummer to making merry throughout the holiday season. We can only, after all, drink so much too-sweet eggnog before we have to take a break.
So a holiday that serves as a magnet to draw families together once a year and the joy we all receive when we create personalized gifts for people, particularly children, demands celebration. It’s virtually impossible to not celebrate grandmothers who spend long hours sewing quilts or knitting mittens for their grandchildren or to be less than joyous when a grandchild or niece or daughter-in-law buys a gift that has been chosen specifically for you. And when we see children in or outside the family collecting toys and winter cloths for other children in their neighbourhoods that don’t have toys or warm jackets, when they take such leaps to step outside themselves, our hearts nearly burst with either humility or pride. Add a little Bach and throw in a choir of honey-voiced carollers, and the bittersweet season, at least for a moment in time, transforms into the essence of all that’s sweet.
Years ago, in Long Beach, California, I had a friend named Cynthia Galles. Cynthia was an actress who died much too soon but while she lived, she lived her life as if each day had the capacity to be miraculous. Her talent as an actress, her appetite for friendship, and a voice that had the power to thrill, were without parallel.
She probably never fully realized how truly wonderful she was. But I think of her every Christmas and remember her words, her presence, her wicked sense of humour and the magic she scattered around like fairy dust at a children’s play. Knowing her was, for me, the best kind of Christmas present, enduring and memorable. Like the three Kings (or possibly Princes), she undoubtedly “glittered all the way to Bethlehem”.
The following poem is to her, from her, for her and for all the other miraculous people like the late Duncan Draper, who enable us, once a year, for at least the time it takes to remember love, to set aside the images of children in cages or on the streets begging for food. Perhaps tomorrow I will again be overwhelmed with images of families being tear gassed by a country long known for its compassion and generosity but today, and maybe on Christmas Eve, I will be
Remembering Cynthia Galles
We come from a tribe of survivors.
We face each morning and somedays
endure long hours that grind us down.
Somedays we wake up smiling
although sadness seems to stick around
and we wish we were happy
more often than not.
This year I will think more deliberately
about my favorite Christmas story,
The one about the Kings
with their eyes full of stars.
They packed outrageous gifts, dressed in fancy clothes
And glittered all the way to Bethlehem.
It’s another season for giving and it’s always a season for love.
But don’t forget those shiny Kings
who traveled across a starlit desert
to remind us of the beauty of goodness
and the goodness of beauty.
So let us hang some tinsel by your front door,
String some coloured lights for passers-by
in the front window nearest the street.
Think about the ones who gently touch your life
with outrageous gifts and gaudy decorations.
Perhaps on Christmas,
Say “I love you” in your heart.