Friday, December 24, 2010
Christmas Eve Surprise
Tonight, as I sat sipping some hot chocolate and watching the evening news, I heard sirens and yelling, and saw flashing lights through the living room blinds. Rushing outside, fearing a neighbour’s house on fire or a bad accident down the block, I was surprised to see a rather impromptu parade of fire engines, and a flatdeck truck decorated in lights and loaded with happy children, touring the town.
We already held our village Santa Claus parade a few weeks back - with emergency service providers and private businesses and community groups flashing lights and playing music and singing songs and handing out candy canes. It was followed by a community sing-a-long in a small parking lot, and it was fun.
So tonight's parade was a bonus - a fun, noisy, joyous occasion that drew all the neighbours out from their houses and afforded the opportunity to shout "Merry Christmas" to the children of Crofton.
I expect it was arranged by the only church group in town, a group whose Christmas Eve service begins at the local community centre shortly, and whose community spirit is remarkable. And though I do not subscribe to their religious beliefs, I do subscribe to their spirit and I thank them for bringing smiles to many faces, including mine.
It is funny how a little thing like an impromptu parade weaving its way up and down the streets of town can make the evening seem "just perfect". It helped clarify for me something I had been struggling to put into words.
A few years ago, I began to feel annoyance in the days leading up to Christmas. So many people getting so stressed out, spending so much money, on so many gifts that were not needed, not wanted, or just not right. So much chaos and strife as families tried to juggle all the responsibilities of every day life with the added burden of shopping, mailing, wrapping, cleaning, cooking, partying, and meeting all those yuletide obligations.
I watched as my own family had Christmas morning “paper explosions” from the abundance of gifts that took all morning to open. I watched as the children of friends and relatives received so many gifts that they had to be parceled out over the day and on into the next day, children accumulating “thing” after “thing” after “thing”, children tossing aside gifts they didn’t want and screaming in joy at those they did.
I watched as commercials on TV urged buyers to get that perfect $1000 stocking stuffer or $10,000 gift. I watched as frustrated travelers fought lineups and lost luggage and battled traffic. I watched as the stress took its toll on friends, family and coworkers. And I decided to follow my own path at Christmastime, one of calm and simplicity, of peace and joy.
And so my Christmases now are simple. I put up few decorations, selecting just a handful each year from my box of Christmas treasures. I seldom mail out cards and I buy very few gifts – just one small simple gift for each of my immediate family members, nothing much more than a symbol of caring, for the four most important people in my life – my mom, my brother, my sister and my daughter.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas this year, I received the only gifts I need, gifts of infinite value - gifts of companionship and laughter, storytelling and reminiscing, breaking bread and singing songs. A trip on the Carol Boat, singing carols in the pouring rain without a miserable face among us; dinner with one old friend at the local pup; the community parade and sing-a-long; a Christmas dinner with several of my dogwalking friends, served at a highschool and prepared by culinary arts students; high tea at a little café with members of my book club; an afternoon potluck with my writers’ group; a finger-food dinner and drink with a friend at my home – all simple, all with little fuss, all stress free. And all wonderful. All priceless.
And now, tonight, an unexpected parade in this, my adopted community. It is people, not presents, not food, not traditions, that make the season special. It is the laughter, the smiles, the sense of belonging, a sharing of joy, a sharing of Christmas. It is an impromptu parade on a dark rainy Christmas Eve in a small island community.
It is the perfect Christmas Eve, a wonderful gift from neighbours to neighbours.