This being the big Christmas issue, my mind has been working through ideas for this space all week. Do I share a special holiday memory, or do I “find the true meaning of Christmas” in the style of a made-for-TV movie?
Truth be told, neither seem to cut it right now. And I don’t mean to offend our other contributors in any way, if they chose this route. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or because life is busier than it once was, or because I have a talkative three-year-old, but all I really want for Christmas is a little peace and quiet.
I do have plenty of Christmas memories, but tellingly, one curiously keeps coming to the fore. When I was a kid, Kitchener’s CKCO TV used to air, for lack of a better term, Christmas space fillers. Between commercials and actual programming, a holiday tune would play for about a minute against a static, festive background. My personal favourite was a stained glass window against a dreary green background while What Child is This droned on.
It’s something you don’t see too much these days; air time is such a commodity that credits are pushed aside for previews and commercials run within shows. Not to mention that CKCO dared to use religious carols, and viewers were forced to watch the same image for upwards of a minute. I guess it shows how commercial — the raging need to do it now, hear about it now, and have it now — our culture has become.
Adults were probably complaining about the same thing 30 years ago, when my childhood self was transfixed by haphazard local television programming (those station managers would be amazed to discover that anyone would remember this, I think). Imagine being forced — we didn’t have cable, let alone a remote! — to sit through an entire minute of a song and a boring background! But in hindsight, those festive little spots indicated something other than poor timing between commercials and content.
It’s about stillness, and its sibling, quietude. Our world is a loud place, especially at this time of year. Christmas, or its politically correct cousin, The Holidays, is crammed down our throats at any opportunity with blasting carols, overladen Christmas trees, door-crashing deals and lack of manners that seems to come with the rush to prepare, to be ready.
Aside from those who give in to shopping rage, road rage or otherwise, it seems to have been an amplified year. The massive floods in Alberta, and the railway explosions that leveled Lac Megantic seemed more like movie material than real life. Blowhards like the Ford brothers and Miley Cyrus (and everyone else) who choose to speak long before they think clearly know nothing about volume control.
Recently, a video featuring the foul-mouthed yet shockingly observant comic Louis CK made the rounds online. He was explaining why he would never buy cellphones for his daughters. Aside from the usual complaints — they’d always be on them; texting makes people dumb — he pointed out that, with a cellphone, people are never alone and, more importantly, that they never learn to be solitary. I’m sure that greater thinkers have pointed this out, but the best comedy often reveals the truth in a fresh way.
People who don’t know how to be by themselves never experience silence, and the opportunity it brings with it for true introspection. The lack of silence in our world today is indeed symptomatic of our consumerist culture: when we stop and think, we realize that we don’t need all this stuff, or the self-imposed stress it carries.
Louis CK suggested that this quiet introspection leads to sadness in that we realize what sad individuals we truly are, but I beg to differ. Stillness and quietude can be anticipatory: I will never forget the look in Charlotte’s eyes as she waited for the Santa Claus parade — her first ever — to round from James Street to Queen a few weeks ago. It can be sensory: the crunch of cold snow under the feet, or the first bite of a holiday feast. It can be revelatory: setting foot into your church of choice to see it gloriously decorated for Christmas after a long Advent. It can be comforting: an engulfing hug from a beloved relative, or the decision to relax on the couch and gaze at the lights after a busy day.
Look to the quiet folks who have made just as strong waves as the blowhards. There’s a reason why Nelson Mandela’s passing is so poignant to so many: words and action do more than arms. Pope Francis is quietly making waves in the world with his actions and musings in interviews, not just with proclamations from a pulpit. Think of all the people who quietly ensure that the less fortunate in our community have a better Christmas via the Salvation Army and other charitable groups.
It’s not that I don’t like the frenzy of the holidays; the rush to prepare for the festivities is part of the fun. We’re getting down to crunch time for Christmas, and I hope that you’re as ready as you can be. But I really hope you have a few minutes just to be still, to take in the season, and, as this year winds down, to take stock of yourself, whatever that means to you.
And if you do so via a poignant television commercial, more power to you.
It took being married to an eggnog fanatic for me to warm up to it. That this mixture of cream and eggs (and occasionally alcohol) is so ridiculously indulgent that it only turns up in stores once a year is a good thing for our collective health. But — as usual when it comes to this column — eggnog is pretty easy to make at home. I’m including the cooked version if you’re concerned about consuming raw eggs.
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 egg whites
Beat the egg yolks in a stand mixer until they lighten in colour. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and beat until completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine. Set aside.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer running, gradually add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.
Cooked version: In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the egg yolks until they lighten in colour. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and beat until completely dissolved. Set aside.
In a saucepan over high heat combine the milk, cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160°F. Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a bowl, and chill.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running, gradually add remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture. Makes six to seven cups.