Tag Archives: Christmas

Be kind to clerks and servers this Christmas and holiday season

My daughter worked on Black Friday at a mall near our home. She came home at the end of the shift shaking her head.

“People didn’t have to be there,” she said. “They chose to go on a day when they knew it would be crowded and there would be line-ups. Why are they snapping at me when things take a little longer?

I could write an entire post about “How is Black Friday even a thing in Canada?” but I’ll save that for another rant someday. For today my topic is “Be kind to clerks and servers.”

They don’t make much money. They don’t get paid more on busy holiday shopping days, even though the stress is far greater. While people are out “enjoying themselves” they work longer hours than usual to accommodate the increased numbers.

For goodness sake—and I mean that literally—be kind. And patient.

That’s what these holidays—Holy Days—are really all about, isn’t it?



Buckwheat, fallow ground and productivity

A few summers ago, a neighbour planted a crop of buckwheat on his front lawn. When it matured, he plowed it under and planted a new crop. When it matured, he plowed it under and planted again. Three times he plowed buckwheat into his front yard.

His house faces the high-traffic main road through a suburban neighbourhood, so his actions caused quite a stir. “What on earth is he doing?” people wondered.

What with earth would have been a better question, I suppose.

At the time, my mother reminded me that her father planted buckwheat in his fields every few years to replenish the soil with vital nutrients. Better even that letting the land go fallow for a year, the buckwheat rejuvenated the depleted cropland. My neighbour’s lawn benefited from three crops worth of buckwheat nutrients.

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell proposed many thought-provoking theories. (The book contains the “10,000 hours of practice theory” that some dispute.) One particular intriguing notion caught my attention: the affect of agriculture on other aspects of society.

In North America, for example, corn and wheat fields need to go fallow every few years (or enjoy an infusion of buckwheat) or they get depleted of nutrients, so we grew to believe that productivity and creativity of all sorts required periods of rest. We adopted the idea that people need fallow periods too, hence our long summer and Christmas school vacations. (These also allowed farm children to help with the crops.) The Asian view evolved from a different agricultural crop: rice. Rice paddies produce two or three crops per year with no need for fallow rest periods. As a result, Asian society and their educational systems took the same shape.

This year, this month, we North Americans maintained the rhythm of the calendar year that agriculture brought us. We recently returned to our jobs, schools, projects after a short holiday period that was either “fallow” or “buckwheat”, or perhaps both. We enjoyed two weeks of restful reading and reflection—fallow replenishment. Or we busied ourselves with activities different from the usual—a buckwheat change for replenishment.

Either way, our productivity benefits from the rhythm of our calendar year. Restored through the rest, or change, or both, we get back to work, creating anew.



birth-masI received the best stocking stuffer ever 19 years ago today.

My daughter fit nicely into this stocking on the day of her birth. She’s much bigger now—old enough to dub this time of year “Birth-mas” for herself.

Not that we ever gave her combined “birthday/Christmas”, or birth-mas gifts. No, never. We always reserved one room in the house for birthday decorations, and she received separate birthday presents wrapped in birthday paper.

We always thought this was an important thing to do, but we had no idea how important until she got old enough to communicate. Then we learned that months after the events had pass she clearly remembered which gifts were for birthday and which were for Christmas. In our minds those gifts were all jumbled up, but she had them carefully categorized.

We’ve made every effort to separate the two events, but the overwhelming entity that is Christmas interferes with the birthdays of those born any time near the event. So, birth-mas it is.

It’s not so bad really. After all, what is Christmas if not a big birthday party?

Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?


1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Charlie Brown reflections

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanut...

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanuts television special. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted 48 years ago in December 1965. Do you remember that?

Do you remember how the television network scheduled the show to run once during the Christmas season?

Do you remember how there weren’t any VCRs or PVRs then, so if you missed it, you missed it?

Do you remember how families gathered together around the one 13″ TV (black and white, maybe) in the household to watch it together?

Do you remember that it was an event that you planned around and looked forward to?

Do you remember how special that was?

I had a conversation recently with two 20-somethings. They grew up in the age of VCRs and internet. They have smart phones and laptops or tablets. They call up A Charlie Brown Christmas any time they want and watch it as many times as they want. They might even watch it by themselves. They might even (gasp) fast-forward through parts.

No event. Not so special. It makes me sad.

When I told these young people about the one-time, see-it-or-miss-it showing of Charlie Brown during my 1960s childhood, I could see myself as Methuselah in their eyes. In this case, I celebrate the greater number of my years because they allowed me to experience that time, and they allow me to cherish the memory now.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, because of its nature, will be appreciated by people for years to come, but the technology that robs it of its singularity also robs it of that elusive specialness it once held.

When anything becomes ubiquitous it also becomes ho-hum, and that makes me sad.


Luke 2:10-14

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


The colours of Friday

Yesterday our American friends celebrated Thanksgiving, and I celebrated—in my heart—with them. Today our American friends have the “day after Thanksgiving,” which has become known as Black Friday, for some reason. I celebrate this day—in my heart—with them again.

But little by little, incrementally, in a way that makes me tilt my head in confusion, Black Friday has been creeping north of the border to live outside of our hearts—in our big box stores and shopping malls. Why? There’s no good reason for Canadians to be doing anything special today. It’s a day like any other. There’s no colour needed here.

I look around me for the colours of my day.

I have a yellow happy face frisbee that hangs on the wall behind my desk because it makes me happy; perhaps it’s a yellow day for me. The frisbee hangs over my modest collection of orange and black tigers (a minor obsession); orange and black would power my day beautifully.


We had a major snowstorm here this week, so outside my window is a white world; maybe white should be my colour of the day.


I baked cookies for our church bazaar tomorrow, and I have plates of blue, green and pink ready to drop off later; are those today’s colours?


Speaking of the bazaar, I’ll find plenty of Christmas red and green there; I could adopt red and green for the day.

But then, I’m wearing purple pajamas as I write this and I love purple; I would be really happy with a purple day.

But I still can’t seem to find any black in my day. Oh, wait a minute. It’s recycling day in my neighbourhood. I put out our black box this morning.

Ah ha! It is Black Friday after all.



I suggest you read Kate Heartfield’s column on Black Friday, from today’s Ottawa Citizen. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/business/Black+Friday+invented/9224792/story.html