Three boys are playing an impromptu game of hockey in front of the bus stop at the corner, using a crushed old Coke can as a puck. No goalie, not even much interest in the sport, as far as I can tell, except for the one who’s struck that classic hockey pose: bent at the hips and leaning ready to the right, the boy corrals the puck with his cheap, plywood stick and his head sits at that intent angle as he considers his foe: the goalie, clothed in the peculiar armour of his kind, standing tall against the coming attack.
But there isn’t actually either a goalie or a net; the other two boys aren’t, in fact, really playing: one is tying the laces of a skate that seems far too large for him while the other is glancing listlessly around in the early evening gloam. The boy with the hockey stick and willing imagination is almost as invisible to his friends as are the other passersby, such as: a pale young man in muted browns and blacks stuttering, “I do that–I used to do that–when I was a kid;” two almost elderly men intent on a bingo scratch and win ticket, one leaning on his grocery-laden e-bike and his eyebrows raised in unconscious memorial to lost bifocals, the other hunching over the card like a teen huddling around his smartphone; a 30-something man, striding past in festive red t-shirt and 80s-style gold chain, his matching red cotton jacket slung with only a little defiance over his left arm, for it is unnaturally warm for late December; a very young girl in rain boots and too many layers transfixed by the multi-coloured flashing star placed at knee level in the convenience store; and a middle-aged woman with curling hair and bright white sneakers for her sore feet, on her way to get cat food.
Three days before Christmas and in my neighbourhood, there’s almost no sense that this is so. Never much of a place for either spontaneous or seasonal displays of joy or camaraderie, my street seems this year to have almost entirely forgotten that it, even nominally, exists in a time and space shared by others. On my way to get the cat food and then back, I kept my eye out for houses boasting decorations, such as lights or wilting pine boughs, and counted exactly two.
I’m sure the weather is part of this absence of gesture; it’s been delightfully warm lately; snow and cold seem like memories of another place, or something seen in a TV movie watched years ago with people whose faces have already been forgotten. My, and apparently many others’, consciousness of what is apparently still North America’s biggest holiday seems to have been reduced to half-noted news reports about the busiest shopping day of the year (tomorrow) and the busiest day at the airport (last Friday).
I haven’t even seen one of those “Jesus is the reason for the season” signs this year; there are usually at least a few out to remind one that, for good or ill, things haven’t become entirely dislocated from the Christmases of my youth. I’m beginning to think that the real reason for the season, now, is this: statutory holidays. Paid days off this year have so arranged themselves with the work week as to create two long weekends in a row; this seems like an entirely legitimate reason to celebrate with tryptophan, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.
Come hell, high water or hypertension, our culture seems determined to win at winning, faster and better than ever before. This makes it difficult, I suspect, for people to even consider the time and patience required to do things outside the normal daily catastrophe. Things like decorating one’s porch or going shopping without a pre-written list or not having a meltdown in the airport because the lineup is so long or remembering the basic meaning of “holiday,” the secular or religious alike are bound to be sacrificed to success, whatever that means.
If I knew how to do anything crafty at all, I would take it upon myself to create a very labour- and time-intensive banner, to be strung up outside my house, for this, the most wound-up time of the year; it would say, in fancy cursive and bright but soothing lights, “Slow it down. It’s alright. Yes, really.”