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Making Merry

As a divorced parent, away from my family of origin, many of my Christmases have been spent mostly alone. That’s not as pathetic as it sounds: I’ve had my children for at least part of the holidays, I’ve never felt deprived. I’ve always managed to have friends over, or be invited for a holiday dinner in return, or just spend Christmas with my dog and Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata. For many years I sang in a church choir, so my primary celebration was to stay up very late Christmas Eve singing at the midnight mass.

I am no longer religious, and although I had a couple of “bah humbug” years, I love the holidays again. Who can’t get behind peace on earth and good will to all? Not to mention presents, rum-based beverages, delicious pastries, and turkey gravy?

Whether alone or with friends and family, I always find time for a Christmas Day walk. I love taking a walk on a day when most businesses are closed. Everything is quiet and peaceful. When I lived in a less populous place with real winter, crunching on some new fallen snow made the day even more special, and the few people I encountered were quick to acknowledge me (and I in return) with a cheery “Merry Christmas!”

Tori and Ken at False Creek

Getting our friendly on during our Christmas Day stroll.

Christmas walks in Vancouver have proved to be a different experience. Last year, my first with Ken, we lived in Marpole, and took our dog out for a walk by the river and didn’t encounter anyone (must have been early in the morning). This year, we live near False Creek, and the seawall was its usual busy place with walkers, runners, cyclists, baby strollers, and dogs. For the first half of our walk, I kept expecting lots of “Merry Christmases,” a shared acknowledgement of this special, quiet, low-key holiday. I smiled at people, ready with my greeting, but nope. No one wanted to meet my gaze. Everyone was in the same urban bubble they always are.

Halfway through our walk, I took it upon myself to break the bubble. I told Ken I was going to say “Merry Christmas” to everyone we encountered.

So I did. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to say it in return – just offering my Christmas cheer. I felt a little embarrassed to be transgressing the urban social etiquette, but I did it anyway.

Some people ignored me, some clearly heard but didn’t acknowledge me, but most people seemed pleased at being startled out of their bubble. It was great to see faces light up with a smile and, sometimes, a “Merry Christmas to you!” Especially the people walking alone.

What I have found living in a city (unlike a smaller place, like Regina or Nanaimo) is that social niceties like greeting strangers is exhausting because of the sheer number of people out and about. Dense population makes for further isolation in the same way that too many choices in a grocery store can paralyse a shopper with indecision. It’s too overwhelming, so we put in our headphones and escape.

On the other hand, making the effort to connect on a human level, giving someone a greeting and possibly making their day brighter, makes the urban experience much less overwhelming. I was energized by our Christmas Day walk, and it felt good to spread some cheer.

I don’t have the energy to greet every single stranger in Vancouver each day, but I bet I can give three-to-five “hellos” most days I’m here, and raise the “merry” quotient a little bit higher.

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