We sing them every year, over and over again. We start singing sometime after Remembrance Day, in public and in private, sometimes loud and with confidence, and at other times in tones barely audible. We sing many from memory; for others we need lyric sheets. But admit it, we all sing, though this year with mixed emotions and in different settings.
Imagine singing I’ll be home for Christmas waiting in any number of Canadian airports, from Saskatoon to Sydney, in Vancouver or at Toronto’s Pearson, Canada’s ultimate travel hub. Surrounded by anxious toddlers. standing in long lines of fatigued seniors, hopeful students and all sorts of Canadians — new and longtime residents — all hope that at last, after a long COVID holiday hiatus, this will be the year to travel home to family, friends and to all kinds of frivolity. For many this year, sadly, this has not been the case.
Photo Credit: Devin Heroux
At both BC Ferry terminals and at Via Rail stations in Ontario and Quebec, dare we sing Let It Snow? Snow combined with wind, freezing rain, wind, ice and mist all combine to frustrate even the seasoned holiday traveler. Extreme weather has stripped away comfort, safety and security for many – just north of where I live four persons have died and seven remain in serious, life-altering condition from a Christmas Eve bus crash.
It’s all such a fancy when singing some of the usual songs while watching the fire, while sipping rum toddies and egg nogg. We have such a romantic metaphoric connection with Christmas images of ice, snow, difficult travel, poor accommodation and the like. It’s fun to watch Rick Mercer housebound in a Newfoundland and Labrador cabin storm, making jokes about Environment Canada’s prediction capabilities. Truth be told, shortly after filming, the power likely went out, for days.
Of course we like Christmas to be jolly, ignoring the historical truth that a tyrannical emperor forced a displaced refugee family to travel through dangerous territory only to be refused shelter upon arrival. A later tradition celebrated another monarch, Good King Wenceslas, who looked out on the Feast of Stephen (MARTYR, Dec 26) “when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” It could be a ski resort advertisement, except that he enjoyed warmth and comfort and others not. Sing this jaunty tune with Out of the Cold Shelter residents anywhere and watch them smile. NOT!
On the streets, in the shelters, in countless transit hubs almost everywhere in North America, even the vending machines are running on empty. It’s just not a Jolly old St. Nicholas time though we are told by the inimitable FOX News that Santa did get through to the children (of subscribers) uninhibited. He did however have trouble finding the right persons at the right house — he also found fewer chimneys this year — solar panels do not offer the same access.
Admittedly an airport is not a Ukrainian underground shelter, but it’s not exactly plush accommodation either. And of course, no one really knows what’s going on. Even if you can locate a live person to speak with, “plans” are more dreams than strategies. We all wish he had called the airport, airline, bus station or car rental agency beforehand. Gosh, who knew such commotion could happen here in Canada of all places, and at Christmas. We never have “bleak mid-winters” here, except when we do, and now, with increasing regularity. So “you don’t believe in climate change?” Shucks, because it is simply the best and most accurate explanation for what is happening, all around us. Snow does fall, snow on show, in places where little snow is ever expected. The dream of a White Christmas, the key ingredient of Christmas cards, oil-filled terraria and Jacquie Lawson e-cards becomes a nightmare quickly and relentlessly this year for many.
If we need encouragement possibly we should watch John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. While set on American Thanksgiving the plot is eerily prophetic. How do we get home given the challenges of weather, interruption of service and the seeming incompetence of overworked or absent service providers? In the end, the two unlikely travel companions do arrive home, in different ways. There are a few such stories shared in the past few days. A silver lining to some very blustery storm clouds.
To the many still stranded abroad, to those stuck in places including Mexico, to those who drove for twelve hours on a trip which should have taken two, for those who struggle to get refunds from airlines, bus or rail services, for those who will lose a lot of money on accommodation they required but did not want, well it’s a mess, and my heart goes out to you. I am fortunate to be able to avoid seasonal travel. Many however must work far from home and have families spread across the country if not the globe. Some must travel this time of year. May your dreams come true, next year. May your song be Leaving on a Jet Plane and not a remake of Airport.
If there is one song everyone might sing this year, for its exhilarating rhythmic arrangement and sexy Santa visuals (we see more of Mariah Carey’s leg than Santa’s sleigh) I commend All I want for Christmas is you. I looked for deep meaning in the text, but was distracted by other features. Enjoy, and Happy Christmas to everyone, regardless of circumstance.