It is late December and, as one looks around, the usual sights and sounds are in evidence. The parking lots of shopping malls are full. The postman’s bag is swollen with cards, flyers, and appeals from charitable organizations. Stacks of Amazon boxes pile up beside doorways. “The Little Drummer Boy” is inescapable — holiday music plays from loudspeakers, radios, and ear-pods. Streets and houses are festooned with coloured lights; front yards sport giant inflatable snowmen, reindeer, and fat bearded figures in red. In church basements adults are making the final adjustments to the costumes of children dressed as shepherds and angels. On the Hallmark movie channel, a 30-something disenchanted career woman is returning to her home town where she will reconnect with her old single-parent boyfriend, learn the real meaning of the holidays, and save the village’s beloved cookie factory.
It all looks like Christmas, but something is missing. There is a sourness to this holiday season unlike any other for a long time.
Maybe it’s the books we’re reading. I just finished Barbara H. Walter’s How Civil Wars Start. She has studied armed internecine conflict around the globe and is distressed to find that democracy is increasingly less popular these days. Not only are whole nations becoming more repressive but her own country, the United States, is slipping into a condition she calls “anocracy”, a sort of pseudo-democracy. Factionalism, armed militias, a discredited electoral process, and the shrieking voices of social media lead her to fear for the future. If we look at what book tops the Amazon Canada bestseller list we find but How the Prime Minister Stole Freedom, a satire about Justin Trudeau’s handling of the Freedom Convoy and vaccination mandates.
Maybe it’s the news programmes we’re watching. Mass strikes in Britain shutting down the U.K. War in Ukraine. Civil unrest in China. Hunter Biden’s laptop. Alberta and Quebec writhing against constitutional bonds. Gun control legislation and internet regulation roiling Parliament. Fuel rationing in Europe and the elderly poor freezing in the dark. Canadian military veterans being offered assisted death instead of the medical care they need. Certainly, social media isn’t helping. For every cute kitten video there is an article listing 50 things to hate about Christmas, starting with “having to be around other people.” There is no end of voices telling us that saying “Merry Christmas” is enacting white supremacy.
Maybe it’s a look at our shrinking bank balance. “Cancel Christmas? Inflation has some Canadians changing how they celebrate”, says the CBC, “With prices soaring, some people are choosing to skip the holidays entirely.” Demand for necessities from food banks is rising. Merchants who relied on Christmas spending are cringing.
Even the animal kingdom is reeling – Toronto racoons have been hit by an outbreak of distemper.
What is missing in late 2022 is the Christmas spirit – the sense that this time of the year is unique: no other month requires us to be more decent human beings, to trust that magic is possible. Whether or not you believe in the stories of angels, baby gods in mangers, flying sleighs, and red-nosed ruminants, Christmas still calls you to behave differently, to be of good cheer, and to lay aside that grudge or anxiety. So, pick up that eggnog, shovel your neighbour’s walk, hum a carol, call your Mother and believe – for a little while, at least – in peace on earth and goodwill.
Even for those jerks.
Gerry Bowler, historian, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy