Monday, November 29, 2010

WINTER IS COMING ... So is Christmas

Winter is coming in Niagara.

We haven't had much of the "white stuff" (or snow) yet, although other parts of Ontario have already had their first snowfall or maybe their second or third by now.

At this time of the year in my region, Out of the Cold revs up its engines and our Public Health Department issues weather warnings when the mercury is dipping too low to bear. Stores have been chiming in for Christmas since the first of July, but are really chiming it in now ... in mid-November, the annual Tree of Lights celebration takes place with the Mayor pressing the button to light up City Hall like a flame. I always wondered what would happen if the Mayor ever pressed that button and nothing happened.

Television begins to show recurrent seasonal movies and holiday themed episodes of regular series' like House, Boston Legal, etc. All day Sunday, movies showed Santa here, Santa there, and commercial jingles everywhere. In the papers, at least one or two writers beg for people to put Christ back into Christmas. I am always puzzled when people say this.

That only makes me laugh as it is known fact that Christmas does not originate from the Bible or even Christianity itself. It actually has Pagan roots. Early Christians compromised with the Pagan leaders of the day to accommodate their celebration of "Saturnalia" with the timing of "Christmas", or as determined, the birth of Christ, which has been never specified or dated anywhere in any Bible.

To prove my point, if Christmas was a Christian holiday, how come virtually everybody, including representatives of the Kitchen Sink, celebrate it - Christian or not? Holiday decorations are wrapped around public buildings, seasonal ornaments are brought out to adorn reception areas and Christmas lights light up the sky by our City Hall. In recognition that Canada is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, at least the powers that be have included signs that represent Eid for the Muslims, Diwali for the Hindu, Hanukkah for the Jewish community, as well as Christmas for everybody else, it seems.

A couple years ago, somebody created a major media flap about a Christmas tree that was on display in a courthouse and later removed by the allegedly "politically correct" administration. The reason for its removal was that some Muslims might be offended. Personally, I have yet to meet a Muslim that even cares about where Christmas trees are displayed. However, this whole perception of who will and will not get offended by the ubiquitous Christmas symbols is a moot point ... I am not terribly religious myself, but if people want to celebrate Christmas as a religious rite or use it as excuse to get drunk, I could care less.

I enjoy Christmas only because it gives me a much needed break. In my family, we do decorate our home, enjoy some eggnog and exchange some gifts, but that is not the highlight of what we do during the holidays. Holidays for me is family time. Or for those who are not fortunate to have family, a time to spend with friends or to share with others. I have spent some Christmases in the past serving the homeless and lonely a Christmas meal, or joining a group of people for drinks and relaxation. A few times, all I did was eat and sleep.

Unfortunately, however, Christmas has become an occasion to further divide the social classes between the "haves" and "have nots". A friend of mine once stated this is when all the hypocrisy comes alive. Indeed, many people suddenly seem so damned caring at Christmas time, while they turn their noses down at the same people on the other 364 days of the year.

This year I wanted to give the incoming regional council something special, a new mascot of sorts. I met with an artist and educator that specialized in prehistoric creatures. He not only provides artwork, but will soon be planning workshops to students and small groups on this enigmatic period of our planet. In admiring the names of many of these prehistoric creatures, I asked if he could create a "Niagarasaurus Rex" for me, based on the Tyrannosaurus variety. I wanted it placed on a large plaque with a caption that is timeless and can be hung right in the region's chambers - in a location that the TV cameras filming regional council meetings can't miss when they cover council sessions. He told me that he probably wouldn't do something like this. (He never said why, but I assume doing this would insult the dinosaurs - I would somewhat agree).

As Christmas passes in Niagara, we go through a very depressing period of time in January and February where nothing really happens, unless Valentine's Day is a big thing for you. The days get busier for me, as I am usually dealing with crisis after crisis among those that come through my doors. There is not a lot of mental health support for people in Niagara, although we have lots of people seeking it or needing it, or both. One cannot take a relaxing stroll down certain downtown streets in Niagara without encountering people engaged in drug deals, involved in the sex trade or getting drunk. Downtown can be an awful place after dark. In the spring, I get a flurry of new auto accident cases, as many people here still don't know how to drive in the winter and get struck. It is not necessarily the victim's fault; usually, it is the other drivers, many of whom still use cell phones as they drive or even drive while drunk.

After Christmas is over in Niagara, we don't hear about the homeless, the poor and the less fortunate anymore, because as my friend said about hypocrisy, most people only believe they exist once a year and even daring to question the political priorities and economic policies that led to them being here in the first place for us to garnish our guilty hearts with over the holiday season is even more politically incorrect than removing a few Christmas trees from the courthouse lobby.

I can only hope for a Christmas gift that I will never receive and that is the experience of boundless diversity and human tolerance and acceptance of people as they are in Niagara (as well as everywhere else),where anybody can be who they are without judgment, without criticism and without exclusion, and no person will ever have to rely on the periodic and irregular goodwill of others for their basic survival.

As somebody who has worked in the legal profession too long and before this, in social work, I have seen too much abuse of those by the so-called goodwill of others.

Your thoughts?

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