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The Christmas Creep

Terry Watada and Chisato Watada, Christmas in Toronto, circa 1960.

I like Christmas. I’m not Christian but I like the holiday. I have many warm childhood memories of the season. My dad and I would always walk down to the Dairy Queen (a good mile from home) about a week before the holy day to pick out a tree, a good sturdy six-foot balsam fir. We’d carry it back; whether I held up the trunk or the top, either end had its disadvantages. The top was prickly and it took awhile for me to figure out I needed gloves, and the trunk was sticky with sap so my hands became black. But we always got it home. My dad cut the bottom, and we wrestled it into the front living room, where Mom and I trimmed it with glass ornaments, strings of light, and a star atop. The bubble lights were my favourites.

Thereafter and every day, my dad would come home covered in construction-site dust and snow, take a bath, have dinner, and then lie on the couch beside the tree. He loved the peace of it and soon fell asleep.

Meanwhile, my mom was in the kitchen making or cleaning up after dinner and preparing for the morning, while I sat under the tree, counting the presents to me, shaking one or two, fantasizing about what was inside. Everything was ideal especially if there was a blizzard outside.

People, family friends, would come by with more presents and a few words of season’s greetings. I was often disappointed that a courtesy cousin or two didn’t accompany them. But I was always happy to see Uncle Eizo or Kawai-san or “Harry” (his last name was Takahashi but I never called him Mr. or Uncle; in fact, I never called him anything). I enjoyed the convivial conversation among “adults”.

Christmas morning was filled with activity. I woke my parents at five o’clock only to be told to go back to bed. So I waited patiently for the sun to rise. My parents and I went downstairs, dad to the kitchen to brew coffee (he then made breakfast for us), while mom and I went to the tree. I opened the presents in an orderly manner with Mom recording every gift and giver. Had to reciprocate when the time was right. I didn’t touch my parents’ presents but they were opened in time. I must say I never saw their gifts again until I discovered them neatly piled and stored in the basement when I cleaned the space out after their passing. Mom kept them all in pristine condition, never using them. I think she gave some as gifts, but never to the original giver (hence the recordkeeping). Today, it’s called “regifting”; back then it was frugality.

Christmas dinner was actually lunch. Golden crispy turkey with my mom’s stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, a celery and pickle tray, salad, gravy, and rice. We sometimes had maki zushi, provided by Mrs. Miyamoto, a caterer and neighbour, who dropped off a platter full after breakfast. My favourite was turkey with gravy touched with shoyu. Couldn’t get any better than that.

A word about my brother: when he was home, he opened his presents by himself the night before, after everyone was asleep, he seldom ate lunch with us, eating after we had finished, and was all about going out with his friends. Thus there were only the three of us to celebrate the holy day.

These days, there are still only the three of us, but we make the most of it. I insist we go as a family to the local church to buy a tree from the Boy Scouts. By car now. We open presents together (my son is too old to wake us at the crack of dawn) on Christmas morning and we have a simple brunch. The meal of the day is dinner: golden crispy chicken with my wife’s stuffing and the rest of the trimmings (including cranberry sauce from a can). No sushi but that’s okay. I then like to lie beside the tree, drift off to sleep, and dream about my father, perhaps.

The traditions continue, but one thing that upsets me is the Christmas Creep. When I was in Vancouver the second last week of October, the television screen assaulted me with an ad about a “Holiday Sale”—not Halloween, but Christmas or should I say Xmas. With “Jingle Bells” chiming in the background and behind plastic green (or blue and pink) boughs and signs proclaiming massive savings, the narrator exhorted shoppers to come on out to get ahead of “your Christmas gift giving.” It was rather nauseating.

And it wasn’t the only ad. They were peppered throughout the broadcast day. Then there are the festive displays in various stores in Toronto: Home Depot, Sears (glad it’s dying), gas stations, and other places. It’s October for Christmas’ sake!

Christmas is no longer contained within December. Nor is it such a sacred time. The holiday is a time for commerce, a time for businesses to go into the black. The secular is now unseemly. And is obsessed by the BIG SELL.

While watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s series Parts Unknown, I discovered that the Christmas season in the Philippines begins September 1st. Facebook explodes with greetings on that day. They spend the next 100 days in drink and song, all in celebration of the coming of the Lord. I suppose I can understand it since it is a huge Catholic population, but it would drive me crazy hearing Xmas music playing constantly from September to December.

In North America, Christmas has now crept into October. Are we becoming Filipino?


*This article was originally published by The Bulletin: a Journal of Japanese Canaidan Community, History + Culture in the December 2017 issue.


© 2017 Terry Watada

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