“I love this time of year!”
“I hate this time of year.”
Both perspectives are valid.
Normally, I fall into the camp of people who love the holiday season. The holidays represent a time for loving, giving, and family.
This holiday season, I’ve had a particularly hard time staying positive, which isn’t common for me. The reason? In the words of that famous South Park song: “Blame Canada.”
For those of you who don’t know, I’m working through logistical paperwork issues with Immigration Canada. “Issues” is a kind word for the bureaucratic maze I’ve encountered.
Basically, working on renewing my visitor’s permit has caused me to be stranded in Canada. If I leave Canada, then the process to get me back into Canada will take up to two years.
As most of you know, I now have a large team in Calgary. Leaving them for as long as two years would cause problems for my business — which affects my ability to take care of my family, specifically, my daughter — but also affects my responsibilities to the families of my employees, partners, and clients.
Compared to some of the turmoil and unrest in the world, my being “stuck” in Canada is relatively small potatoes. But, this being the holidays, and me missing my daughter, well – you know what I mean.
And no – my daughter couldn’t visit me here, either. My daughter’s mother was unable to arrange to bring Savannah up to Canada – a country that’s home to white Christmases year after year – for this holiday season.
My daughter is the love of my life, and being without her this holiday season has been heartbreaking.
So, to say this holiday season has been tough, even bleak, is a bit of an understatement.
Andrea Reindl will tell you I’ve been fighting hard to stay positive. And I have. Last week, my mother sent me poinsettias, which remind me of my Christmases growing up in Utah. They represent a special abundance of love for me – you see, I come from a large family – I’m one of eight children – and we had very little material possessions growing up.
At Christmastime, we often ended up making gifts for each other, as we lacked the money to buy Christmas presents.
We never expected to get what we wanted for Christmas — we simply didn’t have the money — but what we had was greater then any present. We had each other, just like Jim and Della, that impoverished couple from O’ Henry’s great story, “The Gift of the Magi.” They sell their most prized possessions (Della’s hair, Jim’s gold watch) to surprise each other for Christmas, only to find that the other has bought a gift that, well – you remember. Jim bought Della combs for her hair, and Della bought Jim a watch chain. But what they learned was – they had each other, and that their love was the greatest gift they could ever receive.
Anyway, my family, like many other families at Christmas, was one that was steeped in traditions. And each year, I looked forward to them.
For us, this meant that each child would make a holiday treat for the family (I always made divinity candy: yum!). We’d all go caroling among our friends and neighbors (bringing our treats to them) and, no matter how poor we were, we always found a way to be a Secret Santa for a family that was even more needy than we were.
In this cynical age, you’d be surprised to hear that our families and friends always eagerly awaited our caroling each season — probably because my mother had a beautiful singing voice. The poinsettias she sent me this year made me think back to those times of joy amid privation, and reminded me of “Christmas Dinner,” a song my mother sang, that was made famous by the trio Peter, Paul & Mary.
I’m not known for being soft and emotional, but my heart has always had a special place for this song. Its last line is, “But in that town the happiest Christmas was held by candlelight”.
When I remembered the song, I myself went to YouTube, watched it, and broke down sobbing. Yes: I’m a holiday sentimentalist like everyone else.
It made me realize that while I am unable to be with my daughter this Christmas, others around the world always have it worse. My daughter is grateful, smart, and loving – and I am so thankful for that. And we live in an age where technology allows video chats – and I’m blessed with the capability to use that technology and chat with my daughter all day Christmas. I can stay connected with her that way this year.
Much of December I’ve been in a state of darkness, and I have understood and even appreciated why many people don’t like the holiday season. But the song “Christmas Dinner” reminded me that it only takes one candle to light up the darkness.
How I made the following connection, I don’t know, but reggae great Bob Marley, also talked about lighting the darkness. His story is truly inspirational. Bob believed that racism and hatred were a virus that could be cured by music and love. But more then that, he really believed that he, one person alone, would be enough to light up the darkness. Check out this powerful scene from I am Legend, where Will Smith’s character gives the more complete story about Bob’s courageous stand to light up the darkness two days after he was shot.
After watching the video, my mind went back once again to my youth and to my mother singing “Christmas Dinner.” We knew that song, and all the others, from Peter, Paul and Mary’s holiday album, which we played constantly during the festive season. One of my favorite songs from it is “Light One Candle,” and after watching the scene from I am Legend, my mind wandered back to this song. It reminds me that it is my responsibility to light one candle this holiday season and to believe that if I can use my light to brighten even one person’s life, then I’ve done my part to light up the darkness. Maybe I do love the holidays, after all. Even this year.
So, this holiday season, make sure that you light one candle. Become the flicker of hope, love, and service that lights up the darkness.
Michael R. Drew