Among the less-celebrated joys of living in the Great White North is the predictability of the yearly calendar. Humid lazy summers lull you into sipping white wine while enjoying long barbecues with friends. Likewise, the frigid, desolate, hibernating winters make you seek the pleasures of hot cocoa while curled up with a good book or, better still, the company of good friends.
Yet in between these weather extremes of sun and snow, lie the two truly magical seasons. Spring fires the spirit with the experience of miracle and re-birth as blossoms, quite literally, break icy sheets to emerge in full vibrancy and splendour. As heavy coats, tuques, mitts and boots are tossed to be exchanged for shorts, tshirts and sneakers, one feels truly alive again as limbs are kissed once more by the sun in the great outdoors. Spring, however gives way to summer; and as summer starts cooling off again, the hard work of preparing for winter begins once more. In fall, trees are touched with the beauty of rainbows taking on their myriad colours, while crops bless the land with bounty. Farmers’ markets sprout in every local park to feast the senses with the gifts of the earth,the mother and sustainer of us all.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the season of autumn is marked by celebrations of the mystical power of natural cycles that are almost liturgical. Ancient wisdom and modern consumerism marry in festivities that form in communal virtues.
It starts off with the first Monday of September—a sharp wake-up call from the slumber of summer to return to work and school with a puritanical zeal. “Labour Day” is not a celebration per se, but rather the reminder that one needs to fulfill life’s responsibilities if one is to continue enjoying its blessings. Indeed, merely a few weeks later, two festivities mark starkly these two sides of the same human reality: toil and consolation. “Halloween,” the wild festivity for children and those young at heart, transforms the landscape into symbols of terror that torment the heart. Ghouls, monsters, and worst of all, death, are everywhere as blatant reminder of our mortality.
Yet the wise acceptance of the poverty of our mortality is a necessary stance to learn to be grateful. Life and its bounties are never to be taken for granted, for our condition remains one of intrinsic frailty and insufficiency. “Thanksgiving,” perhaps the most sacred North American holiday, where families gather to express gratitude for land, food, health and family, bridges the differences among ethnic groups and religious persuasions
to bring men and women together around the true centre that makes us human: the wonder at all that is, because we have the intelligence to recognize that it could, after all, not be there at all.
It is this stance of gratitude, nurtured in the communal ritual of Thanksgiving, that prepares the heart to tend to the virtue of generosity. One cannot be generous unless one is truly grateful first, and recognizes that all we are, all we think we possess, has been gifted to us first. Without gifts bestowed on us generously, we would be nothing. Yet the acknowledgment of our nothingness, and the gratitude for being given the grace to be something—indeed, a someone—encourage us, perhaps even obliges us, (though generosity can never be simply commanded but rather, it is always freely bestowed) to be generous in turn. The third celebration that marks the end of the fall season and the beginning of yet another harsh winter is the “Holiday Season” par excellence. The Great White North is too diverse and politically correct to celebrate Christmas only. Instead a truly multi-cultural “Holiday Season” is marked by the contagious desire to “be generous.”
Of course, in a capitalistic society, “being generous” can be corrupted to the civic “duty” of fuelling the economy with excessive spending. Yet there is also a less cynical, more honest and human side to the “Holiday Season.” Being generous, a counterpart to being grateful, returns families together right before the beginning of another wintry “death.” City cores are emptied, restaurants are closed, even stores shut their doors tight before the bargain hunters hit the malls with a vengeance on Boxing Day. On Christmas Day, the spirit is not of mere cheering, but of truly being together, exchanging each other’s presence as the most important gift of all. Stories are shared, memories exchanged of another year gone by. And the gifts bestowed—material and spiritual—are merely the fruits reaped of the spirit of gratitude nurtured throughout the year and celebrated every time we are truly Thankful.
Only gratitude can nourish a spirit of generosity. May we celebrate Christmas with generosity, confident yet humbled by gratitude for the many gifts we have already received!
Happy Holidays to One and All!