Sunday, December 24, 2017



My sisters and I have many reasons to have dark thoughts in December but our nostalgia about the ghosts of Christmas past have always warmed our appreciation of Christmas present(s).
I was orphaned at 5 and the comfortable private school life as children of a prosperous doctor and future MP disappeared as we left the big city for a small town and religious grandparents who were Dutch stiff in their old age when they felt they had to look after us.
So we literally went to school in rags while the trust fund supported a missionary aunt in Nigeria since the watchdog over such money, Ontario's Official Guardian, was as incompetent as it was corrupt.
But the three Js, as we called ourselves, survived out of that mess because such is the power of the basic Christmas message that our humble family Christmas, where the turkey was actually the weakest Leghorn from the backyard pen, a very modest celebration aided by old-fashioned schooling and a tiny Baptist church on the hill, was something we remember with fondness mixed with only a little regret.
There have been many great Christmas days for me, even the one when I was an editor trapped in the office during a hostage taking and triple murder where I urged the police reporter on the scene to tell the police to hurry up and shoot the guy so I could get home to enjoy a little bit of the day with my sons.
Along the way, my evangelical roots vanished and I only darken a church door for carol sings, which I still love even as an unbeliever. Oh yes, I got trapped several Christmases ago when I took Mary to early mass and it was awkward to leave, even though I wanted to heckle the priest during his inept homily.
One of the joys of the early Sun was Doug Creighton's staff Christmas party because Doug was one of the great hosts (now a heavenly host) whether the guests were only few or 400.
John Cosway refers to this in a Facebook posting about his life in one of the great newsrooms of Canada.
(Cosway does a wonderful service for the Sunbeams who have moved on from that tabloid world in fertilizing our memories. I started work at a time when many jobs were for life and there were bowling and curling leagues to unite employees into a large and perhaps cantankerous family. There was no need for the Cosways to be the Boswells of the plants. That chapter in my life closed when the Telegram closed and 1,200 employees lost their jobs. Many never saw the guy at the next desk again. I went to the funeral of a critic who had been a Tely stalwart for 30 years and I was the only one there from that past.)
One of the features of Doug's Christmas parties was we all bellowed our carols as if our future at the paper depended on it. There was no excuse for atheists, drunks, Moslems or waiters. We all sang.
One afternoon at the Old Mill (yes Doug picked some great spots) we were singing Silent Night. Everybody knew the first verse, of course. But then only Bernie Gosevitz and me sang on with the other verses.
I said to Bernie that I knew the verses because I had sung in a choir but how did he, the respected Jewish doctor for the Sun, know the words? "I have a photographic memory," he said.
Ah, the joys of Christmas when even those from other religions, and great doubters like me, see nothing wrong or even remarkable about singing along in the queen of carols.
In an insightful piece in the Dec. 23 National Post, Robert Fulford writes about this nice social phenomena, that people like him, and he calls himself an unbeliever rather than card-carrying atheist, still can enjoy Christmas. He appreciates the value of Christianity even as he refuses to believe its dogma. "Our society has been given its moral principles by Christianity." He argues that Judeo-Christian traditions have provided the energy, intelligence and will to evolve democracy.
I have argued for years in many columns and blogs that I have no patience for any assault on Christmas because I realize it is Christ Mass, a religious celebration, but its basic message of peace on earth good will to all is one that surely every thinking person supports.
And if you don't, Merry Christmas anyway!

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