Monday, October 30, 2017

Tis the Seasons 


Welcome to the future, where October is the Super-season: all seasons at once.

When did October become a season of seasons? This year was the warmest October on record for Toronto and Northeastern North America, so despite autumn’s official date we enjoyed summer’s reprieve with ice cream, laying supine upon the beach and celebrated it with the portmanteau, “Hotumn” (though we also would have accepted “Hawt-tober”). Even without the unusually pleasant weather this year fall seemed like a cluster of other seasons.

The initial indicator of autumn’s advance was a Starbucks sandwich board announcing “PSL - Pumpkin Spice Latte is back!” A 10-foot tall inflated “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” along with copious amounts of theatrical cobwebs were the first indicator of Halloween. Let’s not forget that it is, in fact, still decorative gourd season. The other day, as I rode down Queen Street, I saw that the Bay was preparing their Christmas display windows. Recently, about two weeks from Remembrance Day, I noticed a “Lest We Forget” wreath in the lobby of the building where I work. We’ve reached a cosmically weird clusterfest of seasonal celebration. In approximate order, Torontonians have or are about to celebrate Sukkoth (Jewish), Diwali (Hindu), Thanksgiving (Christian & secular), Halloween, All Saints Day (Catholic), Day of the Dead (Mexican), Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving (American) and Christmas. Five of those are in November and December. I’ve already received several enticements to book holiday (aka Christmas) events now before all the good dates are taken.

I’m not exactly sure if this is a result of our hyper inclusive, wildly pluralist society or retail’s desperate clawing at our wallets. If the former, I’m all for more holidays, celebrations and opportunities to raise a glass. But if it’s the latter, then that just feels like an industry clinging for all its worth to keep the tills overflowing as if the only measure of our worth is an impossible, unattainable growth in consumer spending. Whatever the reason, the opposite of the desired effect happens. Rather than get so excited for a season that I begin to blindly throw money at it, I find it only adds to my jaded pessimism of the commercialization of all aspects of life, including death.
“Saying “Happy Holidays” is less about secularizing or attacking Christmas than it is a coping mechanism.”
Living in a big city can be exhausting if you try to keep up with everyone’s separate holidays and festivals. The only Asian festivals I know are Chinese New Year which arrives at a perfect time to get you through the February slump and the other is actually just a promotional event at the Mandarin Restaurant. Chinese New Year is perfect because you’ve fully recovered from Christmas week and settled into the drabness of a city winter (Toronto in particular can be famously grey throughout January and February) and need to look forward to some piping hot, enticing food that involves sparklers and moon cakes. Some holidays like Eid or Diwali move around too much to have dependable marketing clout. Though the more reliable Hanukkah lacks the glamour of Thanksgiving, you will still see menorahs and dreidels in shops and its proximity to Christmas certainly validates the use of “Happy Holidays” as a legitimate salutation. In fact, when living in a highly diverse city, saying “Happy Holidays” is less about secularizing or attacking Christmas than it is a coping mechanism. Haven’t you ever met a group of people you were forced to acknowledge but couldn’t be bothered to say or remember everyone’s names, so you simply wave widely saying, “Hello, um, you guys… or whatever?"

More Torontonians than ever identify as “visual minorities” which begs the question, can groups that constitute the majority be referred to as minorities? Welcome to the never-ending fun of semantics. Some would bait you with the term “Political Correctness” but don’t let them. Those people, so chiding over other’s careful use of language are the first to cry foul if you neglect to say “Merry Christmas”. I mean, why should I say “Merry Christmas” when I really want to say “get over yourself”? The idea that the term “Happy Holidays” was a phrase invented by weak-kneed liberals in the 80s to avoid offence would be laughable if those critics weren’t so serious about it. If it insults your delicate sensitivity (note the irony of those decrying political correctness to be so easily offended when it comes to Christmas greetings) so much then I guess I’ll revert to my default of not speaking to you at all. Which suits me fine. As I said before, the greater the marketing and advertising for a seasonal sale or holiday themed consumerism, the more likely I am to recede from it and withdraw to the cabin in the woods in my mind.

The cabin in the woods in my mind is a pretty great place. There’s a decorative wreath on the door and an arrangement of strange colourful squash on the steps. When you enter the foyer you’ll notice the smell of balsalm pine from the Christmas tree in the corner combining with the smell of apple pie from the oven. Can I pour you a glass of brandy as we walk out onto the deck where summer coastal breezes sway the strings of amber patio lights that have just flickered on as the magic hour of dusk light seeps around us. Golden birch leaves bristle all around as big soft snowflakes drift slowly on the tall green grass below. I’ll offer you some of the sweetest local strawberries you’ve ever tasted and you’ll say, “This is impossible.” and I’ll say “No it isn’t, it’s just Juloctember. My favourite time of the year.”

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