Tag Archives: holidays

Too Many Days of Our Lives

By Jason Menard

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. And while that may be true, who decided that we needed to have a special designation for each and every grain?

I’m all for a good celebration, but perhaps we’ve gone a little too far. I know, in our modern culture, everyone is special and everyone should be recognized – but aren’t we setting the bar a little low in terms of what counts as a holiday, festival, or celebration? Continue reading

A Holiday How-To Guide to Avoid Becoming a Ho-Ho-Hosebag

By Jason Menard,

Too much of a good thing can ruin any experience. The celebration of the Christmas holidays can be saccharine enough by its very nature, but our more-is-better mentality can leave you feeling like you’re in a diabetic coma before the first gift gets unwrapped.

Today, at work, the cafeteria was decorated for the Christmas season. There’s a tree in the corner, garland abounds, and it’s a pre-winter wonderland. Now there is a reason, as we’re starting a charitable holiday drive, but regardless of the motivation, Nov. 15th is a little early to start getting in the festive mood.

So, without further ado, here are my rules so that you don’t become a Ho-Ho-Hosebag! Continue reading

Delusion Key to Surviving Kids’ Concerts

By Jason Menard

The true sign that the holiday season is in full swing? The fact that many of us willingly subject ourselves to the ear-splitting phenomenon known as The School Concert. And the greatest gift of all during these holiday concerts is the gift of self-delusion.

Well, perhaps I should amend that. It wouldn’t be ear-splitting if it were just my child performing. Your kids are terrible. Honestly.

My son, playing the clarinet, hits all the right notes, has the right tone and pacing, and displays a musical ability that obviously wasn’t passed down by his parents – or shared by many of his fellow band members. And my daughter sang with the voice of an angel, rising above the pedestrian voices from the rest of the school to shine like the star she is.

Of course, I may be biased.

And it’s that bias that makes these concerts tolerable. If I didn’t believe – like all parents – that my own kids were great, then the only plausible explanation for attending some of these events would be a penchant for self-mutilation. Seriously. The caterwauling at some of these events would have even the most ardent PETA activist clamouring to put down that injured cat.

Just as love is blind, so too can it be deaf – at least conveniently deaf. When we get together to watch a group of young children perform, we concern ourselves less with the quality of the performance than the quantity of the cuteness. A group of kindergarten-aged children can elicit oohs and aws just by appearing on stage in a collection of cute dresses.

But next time you have the opportunity to watch one of these performances, truly watch them. They are spectacularly bad, but enjoyable all the same. From stilted, shuffling dances to choirs singing what appears to be four or five different songs all at the same time, they can be entertaining in a sort of “watching a disaster unfold” manner.

Nowhere is this more evident than in musical performances. In any choral group you’ll have a collection of kids singing in time with the music, some who figure they can simply race through the song regardless of the beat, and others who just lip synch their way through the performance. And the same holds true for the band. Squeaks and squonks aside, some players play like they’ve never heard the song before – off key and off beat!

Of course, my kids are in the group who are on key and on time.

And that’s what we, as parents, all believe. That’s why a person can watch their kids up on stage, facing the wrong direction, with a finger up his or her nose, and still convince themselves that their child put on a virtuoso performance. And it’s that shared experiences that make these performances a joy for parents across the board.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all shared in how bad these things are. But we do so together, understanding that our children have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into these performances. It’s at times like this that we’re truly able to share in our kids’ imagination. When they get on stage they’re the prima ballerina, the concert pianist, or the award-winning actor. What to us appears as uncoordinated dancing to them is a routine worthy of Much Music.

That’s the greatest gift that these Christmas pageants can provide. They allow our kids to dream. To believe that they’re performing at the same level as the stars and professionals with whom they may be familiar. They don’t see the obvious flaws in their performances – they simply revel in the joy of performing. And when they think back upon those experiences their memories will be filtered through that combination of enthusiasm and fantasy.

To them, they’ll have all performed on time, on cue, synchronized, and in perfect harmony. And while they may, in truth, have sounded like wounded antelopes in heat, to them they’ll believe that they sang with the voices of angels, danced with the feet of prima ballerinas, and played with the grace and skill of the Philharmonic.

Well, at least that’s the case for your kids. Because it’s plain to see that mine performed perfectly. Of course.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Get Your Christ Out of My Christmas

By Jason Menard

OK, that’s it. I’m normally a pretty tolerant guy. I figure you’re welcome to believe whatever you want to believe (or not believe) as long as you’re not hurting or bothering anyone. But when a simple well-meant Merry Christmas has the same effect as hurling a racial epithet, then it’s time that we take a stand.

My stand? Get your Christ out of my Christmas!

There. I said it. Let’s celebrate Christmas for what it actually is – a celebration of joy, love, family, and giving at best. And an orgy of materialism, financial mismanagement, and stress at worst.

Personally, I’d rather focus on the former, but nothing turns me into a Scrooge more than some supercilious Christian looking down on me and chastising me for forgetting the true meaning of Christmas!

Apparently my view of truth differs than others. I thought the timing Christmas celebration was incorporated into the Christian religion was more tied into the pre-existing Saturnalia celebrations (a time when Romans would give gifts to their slaves – you know, to make up for a whole year of abuse, labour, and general flogging) than any sort of commemoration of labour pains!

In fact, let’s just deal with the idea that – despite what the song says – Christ was not born on Christmas Day. But don’t take my word for it – let’s hear what some experts have to say on the subject. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, it refers to the blessed event taking place during the Roman census, when Joseph and Mary visited Bethlehem.

“It has the shepherds tending their sheep in the fields at night. That doesn’t sound like December in the Holy Land,” said Father John A. Leies, professor of theology at St. Mary’s University, deep in the heart of Texas. “They wouldn’t be tending sheep in the winter.”

Certainly makes sense to me. But what else? Well, just do a little searching on the Internet – or even better, in books – and you’ll see that there are a wide range of beliefs regarding the actual timing of Christ’s birth ranging from Oct. 1 – the Day of Atonement, to some point in April or May. Most scholars, in fact, dismiss the idea that Christ was born on Christmas Day.

So, what then is the true meaning of Christmas? Because it seems that many are missing the boat both historically and philosophically.

Is it people grumbling under their breath, chastising those of us who enjoy the less-religious aspects of the holiday season? Perhaps my definition of Christian charity is a little wonky, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the intent behind that concept.

Unfortunately, we’re so afraid to say anything to anyone that this season becomes a veritable vortex of hurt feelings, aspersions cast, and hypersensitivity. In fact, just this week some misguided, but well-intentioned, judge ordered the removal of a Christmas tree from a downtown Toronto courthouse due to the fact that it may offend non-Christians.

Let’s forget, for a moment, that the Yuletide tree itself is an icon conscripted by the Christians from Pagan religions – you know, just to make the heathens feel more at home once they finally convert. The modern idea of a Christmas tree is something that Santa comes to put presents under.

Ideally, let’s get the Christ out of Christmas. Let’s make it a wonderful celebration for each and every one of us! Let’s commemorate the holiday season by celebrating this wonderful confluence of all race, cultures, and creeds that grace this planet. Let’s make it a celebration of peace, joy, and love – one that crosses all ethnic and spiritual barriers.

In no way should the alleged son of some people’s God be the focus – especially not when his good deeds and life are taken in vain by those who allege to follow his lead. It’s hard to follow the tenets of “Love Thy Neighbour” and “Do Unto Others” when you’re looking down on those who don’t share your interpretation of the holidays.

Hey, I’m sure we can all come to a compromise! You get the Christ out of Christmas, and we’ll drop the name from the celebration. Some people already use Xmas, so we can go that route. Or, we can come up with an entirely new name for the celebration! Whatever. I don’t care. All I want is for us to celebrate life – not chastise each other.

So, to paraphrase Clement Clarke Moore: Now Athiests, now Agnostics, now Muslims and Christians; On Jewish, on Buddhists, on Taoists and Diwalians; Happy Xmas to all, and to all a good night!

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

National Patriotism Only at Half-Mast

By Jason Menard

It’s fitting that Canadians, frequently referred to as quiet, shy, and unassuming, would let the anniversary of the birth of our flag with nary but a whisper. But the time has come to raise the Maple Leaf and celebrate our heritage.

And, hell, an extra statutory holiday in February wouldn’t be bad either, would it?

At the stroke of midnight on Feb. 15 th our flag flew for the first time. And while the design and the process created quite the ruckus 41 years ago, for many of us – my generation included – the Maple Leaf has always been a source of pride and distinction that helps to set us apart from the rest of the world.

The reveal of this flag, with its heraldic description reading gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first, did more than just sever the visual bonds to our colonial forebears, it – almost as much as Confederation itself – announced to the world that Canada was its own country.

And while people may have mocked its design over 40 years ago, one would be hard-pressed to find a Canadian today who doesn’t look in appreciation at the flag that represents us all. It is instantly identifiable amongst the world’s emblems and carries with it generations of goodwill around the world.

Yet our national day of recognition for this fine flag comes and goes with a majority of people paying scant – if any – attention to its significance. We have made Canada Day our de facto celebration of the flag, yet its mid-February official celebration passes in relative obscurity.

As a rule, Canadians bear their pride in their hearts, they don’t wear it on their sleeve like our neighbours to the south. We have an intrinsic appreciation of what it means to be Canadian and a pride in the quality of life we have and our general appreciation for those around us. However, we don’t often feel the need to shout from the rooftops and proclaim our love for our great nation. We either don’t possess, or choose not to show, the fervent passion that defines not just our American neighbours, but citizens of countries around the world.

Perhaps it’s Canada’s Commonwealth Heritage that impedes our expression of pride. We retain a bit of the stiff-upper-lip mentality that is so stereotypical of the British and their colonies. Compare that with the rampant passion for the Fleur de Lys in Quebec. Is it the Gallic blood that boils hotter? Is there a reason why I’ve experienced more excitement and dynamism at a Fete Nationale parade (formerly known as St-Jean-Baptiste Day) than I ever have at any Canada Day celebration?

That shouldn’t be. We should cast off the shackles of our reservations and proclaim our pride for our country for all to see. Yes, we can still be frustrated with our government. Yes, we can continue to find things to improve within the country. Yes, we can ascribe to the philosophy that good enough just isn’t! But what we need to do is be appreciative not only for what we have, but for who we are.

Without sounding like a beer commercial, Canada truly is a great place to live. We have a great respect for life and for each other – despite our differences in politics, religion, and lifestyle. We have a respect for personal freedom combined with the need to ensure the best interests of society as a whole. We display a level of compassion and a capacity for understanding that’s world-class.

So why not celebrate all that we have? Why not raise the flag and let it fly high for all to see. Why not take pride in this visual representation of who we are.

The world looks at Canada’s flag and appreciates its unique nature – why can’t we do the same for ourselves. Why is it so hard to be a proud Canadian when we have so much to be proud of?

Maybe, just maybe, if we dedicate a day to recognizing how special our flag is, we’ll start to understand how special we all are.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Happy Holidays the Perfect Way to Say Merry Christmas

By Jason Menard

To some the phrase Happy Holidays has turned into an epithet insulting of those who celebrate the “true” meaning of Christmas. Yet, what they’re missing is that this sentiment, expressed in two words, ideally reflects what the Christian ideal actually is – a celebration of love, acceptance, and joy.

We live in a multi-cultural society. And we are increasingly exposed to a wide variety of faiths, belief systems, and religions. To respect their existence and appreciate their lives isn’t succumbing to political correctness, but rather embracing the best of our humanity.

The utterance of Happy Holidays does not diminish the meaning of the season. In fact, by showing respect, love, and appreciation for all the peoples in this world, one could argue that we are finally following those Christian edicts of loving thy neighbour and doing unto others as you would want done to you.

We need to get over the Christian-centric hand-wringing and lamenting about the commercialization of Christmas and the need to be all-inclusive. Despite what the song says, there is ample evidence to suggest that Christ wasn’t born on Christmas Day.

Early Christian leaders were smart and decided to roll a number of existing festivals into one. Roman Saturnalia, Celtic Yule, and pagan solstice celebrations were all smushed together to make Christmas accessible to all! For followers of a religion that adapted existing celebrations to make its own more palatable, there seems to be a bit of irony in how they’re lamenting the change and evolution of the current notion of Christmas.

Each of us celebrates the holidays in our own way, regardless of what faith we have. And not one religion or belief holds more capital than others. Nor can wide-sweeping generalizations be made. Some Church-going Christians are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Jolly St. Nick, while some of the harshest of Atheists lament the commercialization of the season.

Yet, the great thing about life is that no one can force you to believe in something you don’t want to. If you hate the commercialization of the Christmas season and it offends your Christian sensibilities, you are more than welcome to look away. Embrace and celebrate the season as it means to you. The last time I checked, Wal-Mart wasn’t opening up outlets in Churches, so you have refuge from the retail! Conversely, those who don’t ascribe to the Christian beliefs should also be free to enjoy this season free from guilt or preaching.

One can choose to focus on the negative of the season, or one can embrace all the good that the holiday season has to offer. It all depends on the point of view you choose to take. If you are going to only focus on the negative, then your enjoyment and appreciation of the situation will be diminished. And once you start noticing the bad, that’s all you’ll be able to see. Instead, wouldn’t it be nice if we could start noticing the good, regardless of our faith.

No matter what God you choose – or chose not – to pray to, what this holiday season does is bring out the best in people. Families and friends who have spent the year apart come together to celebrate each other. Acquaintances are renewed, gifts of appreciation are given, and the warmth of the soul heats up this rugged Canadian winter. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to us all if we could look past our own individual prejudices and see that, overall, the world is filled with a little more love, a little more happiness, and a little more warmth at this time of year.

If one takes a look at the religions of the world, there are themes that are common to all belief systems. And the biggest may be the idea of love. Whether it’s loving your family or those around you, most people will agree that this world would be a better place if we embraced this concept of love.

So as my Catholic wife and my non-denominational self prepare to celebrate the holidays, we’ll appreciate and answer our son’s questions about the nativity and share in our daughter’s reading of a Hannukah story. The greatest gift we can give to them – and the world – is the gift of tolerance, love, and appreciation of everyone’s beliefs and uniqueness.

Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or any other religion – peace, love, happiness, and acceptance are truly things that we can all celebrate at this time of year.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

‘Tis the Season to be…?

By Jason Menard

I give up. I can’t keep up the façade any longer. It’s barely mid-month and the Christmas spirit has been beaten out of me.

The culprit – Christmas songs.

It all started so innocently. Back in November, I’d walk through a store and off in the distance I’d hear the faint strains of something holly and jolly. At the time, it struck me as odd, but I shrugged it off. After all, I love the holiday season, and these first few melodies were akin to seeing the first robin of spring – a pleasant harbinger of things to come. Little did I know that first metaphorical robin would turn into a Hitchcockian nightmare.

Little by little, the songs crept up on me: in the malls, on the radio in my car, on the canned music at work. At first, they were pleasant distractions from the everyday, but slowly, surreptitiously, they grew in number and frequency to the point where I can’t move without being exposed to another Christmas song.

And then it finally dawned on me. There are too many Christmas songs!

As a society, we need to declare a moratorium on any new holiday songs. Maybe we can set up an independent tribunal that determines whether a new submission can be added to the canon of Holiday classics.

In fact, new Christmas songs wouldn’t bother me – what drives me around the bend is the fact that every artist enjoying their 15 minutes of fame feels the need to add their distinctive stamp to holiday classics – and not so classics – of the past. And instead of having some fun, they take themselves too seriously, ululating their way through these songs as if to show that their particular vocal gymnastics have created the definitive rendition of a particular song.

Head out to the discount racks of your local music store and you’ll be able to sift through the wreckage of failed careers – consider it a seasonal cultural anthropology project! They say that every snowflake is unique – well, maybe the same concept should be extended to the music of the season. That way, we won’t be buried in an avalanche of barely distinguishable music.

Now, I’m really not old enough to state that the holidays begin and end with Bing Crosby! Or, maybe we’ll let that Burl Ives fellow slip through. But I am old enough to be confident in saying that we didn’t need Celine Dion to cover Feliz Navidad – Mr. Feliciano handled that quite nicely the first time around.

And just because people feel the need to churn out this holiday drivel, it doesn’t mean we have to listen to it! Just because our Canadian or American Idol of the moment chooses to stave off the inevitable descent into obscurity by issuing a collection of holiday “classics,” doesn’t mean that our radio DJs need to come salivating like Pavlovian reindeer to the trough!

There are just not enough hours in the day to play the overwhelming catalogue of Christmas songs. Yet, in an attempt as futile as my attempts to fasten my belt after Christmas dinner, our various music outlets continue to try and squeeze more and more bad music into the day!

We lament the lack of Christmas spirit these days. And one of the first places we point to is the mall – where angry customers clash with frustrated vendors. We are quick to blame the beleaguered sales staff without realizing that they are working in an environment where this music rotates incessantly! That’s got to have an effect on your psyche.

Christmas is a special time of year. But for more and more of us, hearing a Christmas song results less in a smile and more in an audible groan. We have CanCon regulations that strictly restrict the allowable content on our radio stations – why can we not put the CRTC to an effective use and restrict the number of holiday songs we hear in a given year.

Let’s say no Christmas carols until Dec. 15 th or after the first snowfall that sticks! No more than one song per 10 on rotation in retail and commercial environments. And no Celine Dion – but that’s more of a personal preference, nothing else.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved