Category Archives: Holidays

Nov – Dec 2004

Ah yes. Once again ’tis the season for copious consumption, conspicuous overindulgence, capacious extremity in all things. We are, after all, a consumer society. We live to spend money, exist to make enough to pay off the post-celebratory bills.

In seasons past, I’ve presented a book list at this time of obligatory gift-giving. If one is to give a gift, I believe a book is a valuable gift to give. A book comments on the commitment the giver has to the givee, shows a genuine interest in the givee’s passions, activities, growth and entertainment. A book creates a lasting bond between the giver and the givee. Both my parents have books they have lovingly cherished for decades, remembering not only a favoured poem or passage, but also that the book was given by Granny or bought for school at some sacrifice. Books have an intrinsic value. If you must buy gifts, buy books.

But this year, I’m heading in a different direction. I live in a city where consumers seem to discard usable furniture, clothing, objects and food with ease. I live on a continent where mass consumerism shouts from billboards, televisions, the Internet, magazines. I live in a place where we are valued for what we consume, where overconsumption keeps the economy rolling, where frugality is viewed with distain as some kind of peasant suffering.

When I review my Christmas list, no one on it is particularly suffering. They all have roofs over their heads and food in their bellies. They have clothes on their backs and books on their shelves. And generally, they have much, much more besides. Most of their wishes, their desires for specific objects have also already been fulfilled. Really, what do they need that I could give them?

So this year, I’m changing strategies. Money I would normally spend on gifts for people who don’t really need them, whose homes are already cluttered with stuff, is instead going to charity. I’m looking for worthy causes in their neighbourhoods or in Canada or around the world so I can give a little money to something worthwhile, to someone who will genuinely appreciate it because they have so little, to something that will help make the world a better place. I’ll send cards telling people on my list who I’ve donated to in their name and I hope they’ll understand.

I urge you to do something similar. Just think, if all the money we’re expected to spend at Christmas was streamed into something of genuine value, something that really mattered, what a difference we could make. Happy Holidays to all and loving wishes for a peaceful New Year.

© Catherine Jenkins 2004

Jan – Feb 2004

A few days after Christmas, I made the trudge to the grocery store to restock essentials. Halfway there, I heard a man shout, “Somebody call the police!” As I continued down the block, I saw four men beside the church, two standing, arms crossed, while two others scuffled on the sidewalk. Again, the cry, “Somebody call the police!” came from one of the men on the ground. I quickened my pace, mentally locating the closest pay phone. As I came closer, that I realized the two large men watching wore badges on their vests and were store security, that of the two on the ground, the one on top, the one using excessive force, was plainclothes security, and that the man I couldn’t see clearly, the one whose face was being pushed into the concrete, the one yelling for the police, was presumably a shoplifter.

I continued into the grocery store, not sure what to do. Should I ask the store to call the police? Surely they’d already heard the man’s cries. Then it dawned on me that, given the proximity, the security crew was probably from the grocery store.

One of the cashiers loudly bragged that she’d alerted security. Apparently this rather rough-looking individual had come in, looked suspicious, picked up a box of crackers, considered paying for them, than bolted out the door. The cashier laughed and self-righteously stated, “Theft is theft.”

And me, I’m thinking, this doesn’t sound like the act of a career shoplifter. I said to the cashier, “He must’ve been pretty desperate.” My reaction caught her off guard. She hadn’t considered need. I added, “It’s a shame, because there’s a food bank a block away,” which she turned into, “So, there’s really no excuse.” And all I can think is that she’s never gone hungry. Motivation for the crime? Desperation, possibly mental imbalance, possibly desire to be caught to get in out of the cold (remember that short story?).

As I leave the store, I notice six police cars have arrived to arrest the fugitive. They’re parked at odd angles in every direction, like something out of a Hollywood movie. Good to know that if you holler for the cops in this city, they’ll come. But all this because a street person stole a box of crackers?

In the commercial extravagance of the season, we shouldn’t forget that it’s also a time of charity. And just because Christmas has passed, doesn’t mean we should forget. People less fortunate than ourselves exist year-round, even when we don’t want to acknowledge them. I was raised to believe that our society takes care of those who, for whatever reason, aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. But when I see the numbers of people on the street, many with mental or physical illnesses, I know it’s not true, because it takes so much money.

I check the weather and see that for another night, the temperature’s dropping below –20C. Any morning I expect the first news report of the homeless freezing to death in the night. And yet, I’m inside my warm apartment, and from my balcony, I can see the lights glowing through the dark in the empty, heated buildings of the financial district. Surely we can all do a little better, help a little more, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004

Nov – Dec 2003

I’m writing this as the Santa Claus Parade is going by a block away. I can hear Mums and Dads hooting their horns as they jockey for parking positions. It would seem the holiday season is almost upon us. Not sure how that happened. This year seems to have passed exceedingly quickly. Yet, at the same time, it’s been a year of major upheavals and catastrophes, so in some respects, it’ll be a good year to have over and done with. Time to start making holiday plans, baking and perhaps buying gifts for friends and family. Looking for a good book? Here are some of my recent finds.

The most exiting writer I stumbled upon this year, was British author Kate Atkinson. As so often happens, someone else found her first. My friend Peter bought me a copy of Emotionally Weird and told me I had to read it. It’s the wittiest, most intelligent, most intriguing, most closely observed book I’ve read in a very long time. I’ve since read Human Croquet, which I didn’t think was quite as good. I have yet to read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, her Whitbread Award winning first novel. The “Wonderful Unofficial Kate Atkinson Website” is available at: Click on Texts to find blurbs on all her books or get a taste of her work by following the links to Not the End of the World, her new short story collection, and read “Tunnel of Fish.” Even her titles give you some sense of what she’s playing with.

Of course I also read the new Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito, with great pleasure. Although I think it’s his strongest work to date in many ways, this book got mixed reviews. Notably, Canadian critics loved it, while some American critics were really harsh. Mr. Robbins has always been one to speak his mind in his work and here, the gloves are definitely off. He’s pushed a lot of buttons in the American consciousness and I’m sure made a lot of people very uncomfortable. As I said to someone after reading it, he’s probably got the CIA or FBI or somebody camped on his doorstep. But we figured he’s probably used to that by now. Authentic writers say what they need to say, what they feel compelled to say, and damn the consequences (which is why we need organizations like PEN). Mr. Robbins is completely authentic, gutsy and incredible fun! He gets my deepest respect and loudest laughs every time.

I recently had the pleasure of being selected to do a reading along with Andrew Pyper. I was taken with the whole idea of The Trade Mission (cyber-nerds meet harsh reality in the Amazon jungle). It’s near the top of my reading pile and I’m hoping to get to it during the holiday lull.

In poetry, I highly recommend sub rosa, the new collection by Stan Rogal, with full colour graphics by Jacquie Jacobs. A multi-layered marriage of word and image, this book is a creative, evocative hybrid, which washes over the reader. A very successful experiment!

On the children’s book front, I recently picked up Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, a book about a little girl who enters an alternative universe with an alternative Mum and Dad. How to find her way back to her own reality when this set of parents wants to keep her in their universe? I have a feeling it’s going to have very interesting psychological overtones. Neil Gaiman, of Sandman comic fame, has been writing novels for the past few years, some more successful than others. My favourite is still Bad Omens, the project he undertook with Terry Pratchet (of Discworld fame). It’s a cheery little book about the end of the world. I first read it when I was feeling somewhat depressed and found it utterly uplifting. It’s one of those rare books that can radically adjust one’s perspective.

I’m also looking forward to The Morning Star, the third installment of Nick Bantock’s Gryphon & Sabine trilogy. His work never fails to intrigue me. It’s such an amazing synthesis of imagination, visual invention and compilation of artifacts from around the world. Transporting in a way that most picture books don’t manage.

With the plethora of books that are written and published each year, I’m sure there are many more out there that I’d really enjoy, that I’ve missed. They’ll find their way to me if and when they’re meant to and I’ll get to them as time allows. Please support your local independent bookstore throughout the year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Bodhi Gaya, Eid ul-Fitr, Lux Mundi, Saturnalia, Mother Night, Winter Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, (sorry if I missed your holiday of choice) or quiet day off in your jammies and fuzzy slippers to read a good book. Wishing you safe travel, much joy and peace. I think we’ve earned it this year.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2003


Oct – Nov 2002

Thanksgiving. The unmerciful lineup at the bus terminal to go home. The line for tickets snakes back and forth between red ribbons seven times before heading straight through the terminal toward the far windows. Of the ten wickets, only five are open. For twenty minutes I wait, shifting forward at irregular intervals, finally purchasing my ticket with two minutes to spare before departure. The lineup for the bus extends past the lineup area, across the bus lane, along the far wall and almost out of the terminal altogether.

It’s the first major holiday of the fall season, a long weekend, the first visit home for students away from home for the first time and the traffic is insane. The driver of this bus (the second put on the route) tries to make up for lost time by steering in and out and around slower traffic. I’ve chosen a seat next to a reader because I don’t feel like talking to a stranger today, pull out my own book and continue from where I left off, occasionally looking up to notice the leaves outside have begun to turn orange.

Before the bus pulls in, I see my Dad waiting for me, looking slightly confused that I haven’t been on any of the buses which have arrived so far, spewing passengers and diesel fumes. We return to Mum and Dad’s to find my sister and family have arrived now too. Not everyone could make it this year, but a good showing nevertheless.

Several of us continue out to the cottage to close it up for the season – a very southern Ontario thing to do. And as I’m looking across to the island, its trees in full autumn colours, my sister informs me that it’s been sold to developers. Other developers have tried to encroach on this quiet place before and none of their projects have actually come to fruition, but one of these days they will. Already this place is not the place it was when I was a child; the lake, the cottage, the trees, are not the same. People have died, cottages have changed hands and, inevitably, they will continue to do so.

Back in town, we watch a movie, a comedy we all enjoy (a pretty amazing feat considering a range in ages from eight to eighty-seven) – If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. My sister tries to get the kids to settle down for the night. She turns on the stern mother act to get their attention; funny how her words sound so familiar. Then she turns away, smiling at me, at the joke we both tacitly understand.

In the morning, we begin preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a communal affair, several of us pitching in to make the meal. I was the one who suggested 2 p.m. for dinnertime. Why? Because that’s when Mum has always served holiday dinners. And now that the kids are passed hungry, I remember being passed hungry too and never understanding why 2 p.m. was imposed for these big family meals. The kids get a snack and dinner keeps roasting.

Mum, my sister and I go through tablecloths and china, the suggestion being that the history of each item should be documented on paper while there’s still someone to recall it. Dad suggests that Mum could give some of the items to the children now, my Mother reticent to part with them, my sister and I agreeing. Things happen in their own time.

With a final flurry of activity, the meal is served. The kids clean their plates before we’ve said grace (something I wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with). I’ve always considered us to be a pretty non-religious family (in the formal sense); consider myself strictly non-denominational. But it seems appropriate to say grace when we’re together, especially at Thanksgiving. It’s a “May the Circle Be Unbroken” moment.

Thanksgiving is one of the few (if not the only) holiday that I find myself drawn to, that I feel disappointed if I don’t acknowledge. Maybe it’s the pagan in me, but it seems so appropriate to acknowledge and celebrate the bounty of the growing season. I try to explain this to my niece, but she doesn’t get it; I didn’t at her age either.

Mum used to tell me to count my blessings and I always thought it was a daft thing to do. Despite a pretty privileged upbringing, I always had a knack for seeing the negatives (although for some reason many people seem to think I’m a very optimistic person