Year End Rituals

            Once again, we’re moving into the season where schools close, year-end reviews permeate the airwaves and print media, the weather turns nasty and the many coloured lights come on lighting up neighbourhoods, trees and even construction cranes in the city. It’s supposed to be a time for reflection, taking account of the past year, and making personal resolutions for the year to come. Or not. 

This is also the time of year where families gather despite the difficult travel and weather conditions, presents are exchanged – or not – and foodbanks need all the donations they can gather. To be homeless at this time of year is multiplied by the fact that those unfortunate enough to have no home, most likely have no family and few friends they can count on. In other words, this time of year exacerbates their predicament. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Glamorous parties are the counterpoint to long lineups at the foodbank and the soup kitchens. 

Children at this time of year are excited with all the lights, the feverish shopping of the parents, being out of school, the cookies and the anticipation of presents. Of course, there are the religious celebrations, the enactment of romantic stories about a poor, homeless couple with a new born fleeing persecution and finding shelter in a stable full of animals. This of course has no resemblance to the homeless down on their luck in our inner cities, living in tents and makeshift shelters.  No temples and cathedrals are going to be built in their honour. 

We’re in Mexico where the decorations and religious rituals are taken to another level and town squares are turned into magical fantasy sets replete with over life sized straw animals. Aztek warriors with splendid plumage on their heads and fisher folk casting imaginary nets are joined by indigenous dancers and of course, always eclipsed by a large and splendidly decorated tree. Church-bells are ringing at the oddest times and fireworks go off most every night. 

Many Mexicans still live in extended family households where everybody joins in keeping the family unit functioning and together. Old people are cared for within the household, babies and toddlers are looked after within the family and those who work and earn, share and participate. This includes those who have to go afar, to the US or Canada, to make a meagre living in order to send some money home. We don’t see many homeless here. Yes, there are street people but most of them have something to sell, a few fruits or vegetables or some other products like honey or simple weavings or a small basket made of pine needles. Yes, the weather is warmer here than in Vancouver at this time of year and nobody freezes to death. Yesterday there was an event in the decorated plaza that advertised itself as ‘Nobody goes cold’ with various musicians playing for donations of blankets and warm clothes. By the end of the day a large pile of ponchos, blankets, hoodies, jackets and sweaters was collected to be distributed to those in need. A sense of communality is evident by the crowds gathering every day to just walk and look at the lights and sights whereas at home we are mostly enclosed in our homes or the malls. Not much outdoor life at this time of year.

To end the year and start a new one is part of the cyclic nature of our lives and closing rituals are an essential part and they help us release and let go of the past, good or bad; it’s a time to think about the future and what’s yet to come. We all have the three ghosts of Dickens tale, the past, the present and the future and all together they make up who we are and the things we’ve done and have yet to do. 

Do we have a reason to celebrate and make merry? I suppose it depends on your situation. Personally, I don’t really care about the rituals of this season – bah-humbug – but I enjoy the lights, the food and the gatherings. I‘m thinking of my friend who is dying; I’m  thinking of my niece and her fragile, new baby; I’m thinking of our neighbours and friends who enrich our lives and how fortunate we are to have each other.

Feliz Navidad


            I first heard about the virus – it was then called Corona like the Mexican beer – when we were in the Caribbean enjoying a winter get away. It was the beginning of March 2020, when a world-wide panic took hold of governments, the media and most annoying the airlines. Flights were cancelled, frantically rebooked just to be cancelled again; protocols were rolled out, mandates proclaimed and rescinded, leaving everyone in a state of suspended disbelieve and confusion. Is it Ebola or SARS, is it deadly and where is it? Contagion, respiratory failure and lonely, horrific death outcomes were all in the cards. Who has it, where does it come from, how do we safeguard against it?

            We were stranded on a small island and suddenly we had to figure out how to get back to Canada. Trudeau told everyone to get back home asap but when Air Canada cancelled all its flights it wasn’t so easy. We made it back on the last flight out. The airport in Grenada was pandemonium with people literally falling over each other to get on their respective flights out. I have never seen anything like it. Nobody had a clue what was going on and a sense of panic, mixed with fear and confusion permeated everything. Finally, flying at cruising altitude towards Toronto we relaxed. ‘It’s going to be okay. Everything will be fine.’ Nobody wore masks and a few rows behind us somebody was hacking and coughing. 

            At Pearson we found a place on the 3rd floor, right at the end of the terminal, where we could bed down for the night. We were not alone and lucky to find a bench that wasn’t occupied. Never mind a hotel. We were going to camp right here, in the terminal, ready to catch the first flight home, to Vancouver, at 7AM. A taxi from the airport to Horseshoe Bay, a ferry ride, and we were home again. Still, we had no idea what was going on and all we knew was that some nasty virus was infecting the world, putting people in hospital and even into the grave and travellers like us into quarantine for two weeks. We hunkered down and isolated as best we could. 

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Good News

I walked briskly along the waterfront just when the light was fading and only the sugar-coated north shore mountains where still lit by the dipping sun. I was early and waited for Camp who showed up in an unusual good mood. ‘What’s up? I asked.

            ‘I had a record day of sales today. Maybe people got wound up with all this Black Friday and Cyber Monday hype, making them feel like they missed something. Also, more people are reading books this time of year when it gets dark so soon and they’re stuck inside.

 ‘Did you have any black Friday sales?’

 ‘You’re kidding right. How about ‘Free Books Tomorrow’ or ‘Buy two Books for only one Bill.’

            ‘Talking about books; I’m reading ‘Human Kind’ by Rutger Bregman, I’m sure you know it. It’s a hopeful history of our species and full of positive stories about how disaster and wars bring out the best in us, not the worst as so many want us to believe, from old philosophers like Hobbes to anthropologists like Chagnon, to today’s tabloids and news outlets.’

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