Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District
Actually, it’s not. Looking anything like Xmas. At all.
It’s 9 degrees at the moment. NINE degrees. Going up to a high of 11. On Xmas Adam (I call it that since Adam came before Eve. Little biblical studies joke…). My City by the Lake isn’t looking all that traditionally-Canadian-Xmasy, to be honest.
I’m okay with it. Really I am. After the years of the ‘Polar Vortices‘, I’m pretty much done with ridiculous cold and snow, so the unseasonable warmth isn’t to blame for the spirit of the season taking more than its usual sweet time to arrive on my doorstep.
There are any number of factors contributing to my lack of festive feeling – as evinced by most of what I’ve written ’round these parts lately (when I’ve written anything at all) – but it’s hard to lay full blame on the existential ennui caused by our world leaders and the (in)actions that they’re taking, when we, here in Canada, have seen such a positive shift in attitudes in such a short period of time.
We are welcoming new Canadians, driven from their former homes by the conflict in Syria, as other places stand steadfast in their faulty reasoning and seek to prohibit such humanitarian outreach. My hometown is getting back on its feet after the initial hangover period since that idiot was ousted from the mayor’s office a little over a year ago. There’s good stuff happening. As often as not, lately, I find myself in tears while watching the evening news – not because of the crimes we commit against one another, but due to demonstrations of kindness, for a change.
The bad is still there – all over the world, certainly, but all-too-significantly in evidence south of the border as moronic, xenophobic fear mongers seek the leadership of that country (and as credulous, fearful people support their inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric) – and the uncertainty I feel as to how to understand and work to change that badness continues to hang over me like a Damoclean sword.
So there is that. Distracting, for sure. But I think the real struggle to find my merry lies in the merciless commercialization of the season that I’m feeling around me this year. Is it worse than in years past? Perhaps not, but, for whatever reason, the in-your-face grab-and-greed of the season has me disconcerted more than usual.
My emotional links to the time of year are all sentimental – it has nothing to do with religion/belief (obv), it isn’t about giving gifts for the sake of getting gifts (the exchange of lists of stuff is something that I will never truly comprehend), and the corporate push to make us buy stuff according to economic schedules and forecasts makes every fibre of my being rebel. It should be all about family and friends, taking a few days here and there to relax and hang out and spend the one thing that matters – time – with those I love best.
I’ve been feeling pulled toward too much of the former and nowhere near enough of the latter this year. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done, yet the things needing doing aren’t really those things I want to be doing, if you get me. There have been a whole lot of feelings of obligation floating around for the past few months. I’m okay with obligation- provided it’s to a person/cause/idea that is important. Fighting crowds out buying stuff and running like a headless chicken to cross things off lists? Yeah. I can do without that sort of obligation.
Still. To paraphrase a wise, baseball-playing ghost (as opposed to one of those spooky, judgemental-if-helpful ghosts of past, present or future), ‘if you build it, it will come’. The spirit of the season, that is. It will come to be housed in a place built with things like tradition and quality time with important peeps.
I got a start on that last Friday night. I know I mention the Skydiggers Xmas show at The Horseshoe Tavern every year. There’s a reason for that. It’s something we’ve done for years and years and years – since the very first year, in fact. My presence was sporadic in the years I spent in exile in Ottawa, but I have perfect attendance since being back where I belong. 8-years running, as of last Friday.
We were a small group this year; three of us, compared with last year’s turnout of 17 (getting those tickets was fun- I had to go to TWO locations to pick them up, since the 20-something-year-old hipster at Rotate This wouldn’t sell me more than 8. I get that there’s a policy to prevent scalping… but seriously. While I’m not sure I know what a scalper looks like, I’m pretty sure it ain’t me. Plus it was a show at the HORSESHOE. A SKYDIGGERS show at the HORSESHOE… but I digress…), and 15 the year before that.
Which might have made the evening’s importance that much more pronounced, when I think about it. Will (the originator of the tradition) and I have been there – more or less, as I mentioned – since the beginning, and I can’t imagine a Skydiggers Xmas without him. Shawn is a relative newcomer (he’s only been coming for the last decade or so), but he finds as much importance and meaning in the get-together as any of us oldtimers.
It’s a big deal, but a big deal that, as is generally the case with these guys of mine, isn’t often articulated. There’s an underlying understanding of the importance of the night, and how, for many of us, Xmas isn’t Xmas until we’ve seen those guys take the stage on that dive bar on Queen Street.
And oh, those guys (and lady- can’t leave out Jessy). It was fullest complement this year – Peter Cash seems to have remembered how much he loves hanging with them and playing those tunes since he joined them on their 25th anniversary tour last year, so he spent the whole show up on that stage where he belongs, singing songs that never sound quite right without his voice.
We three agreed that the set list was the best it’s ever been. Ever. The whole playlist (minus ’80 Odd Hours’- but even mentioning its absence seems petty in the face of all that was included) from 25+ years of being the band that represents a good chunk of my favourite associations with my hometown.
I’m rediscovering Toronto lately. Looking for a house means that I’m spending a lot of time visiting neighbourhoods I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s cool to find myself on a street that is so familiar-yet-different, and realizing that I haven’t been down that way in many a moon.
But the memories are there. My grandfather, in particular, and then my parents after him, made sure that we saw a lot of the city when we were kids. They ensured that we visited its neighbourhoods and landmarks. When I first moved back, I led walking tours as part of my volunteer gig at the ROM.
I know this town pretty well. I love this town a whole lot.
The band is as much a part of that love and that history as is the tavern in which they entertain us every year (the Horseshoe will have its 70th anniversary next year…).
Perhaps because we were a smaller designation – and perhaps because we consumed fewer 50s than is the norm (Will was getting over a bout of food poisoning, Shawn had to work in the morning, and I had houses to go see) – I paid closer attention to the band, and the tunes, than is usual. As much as we love to see them, the night is about spending time together and, to be honest, the music can sometimes be a bit of a backdrop to catching up with the peeps.
Andrew Cash made his usual appearance – with a great version of Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump it Up’, and some good-humoured jokes about having a fair bit of time on his hands since October 19 (Andrew lost his seat as the NDP MP for Davenport in the Liberal shake-up that was the last federal election) – but it was Jessy and Andy singing a Andrew-penned tune (co-written by Charlie Angus- another NDP MP) that, in retrospect, had the biggest impact on me this year.
Odd, that a bittersweetly plaintive song about someone who feels far from home while in the city is so resonant with me. This city is my home.
Still, as I walk down Dundas Street every night after work, I can feel some of the disconnection that they’re talking about. It’s inescapable in a place this big and this diverse.
I also know that Xmas Eve snow (though it’s unlikely that we’ll see it this year), and wandering the streets – all alone, thinking about yesterday, and regrets – as it falls, and hearing the bells – from St. James’, from St. Patrick’s, from St. Andrew’s – when the lights are lit, the roads are quiet and this city of over 6 million people feels like a small town.
Even when there’s an edge of sadness to the wanderings and the thoughts, my town grounds me and reminds me of the people who came before me and helped to shape the person I am now. I am Toronto – even when I’m disconnected and a little dysfunctional.
Hear the church bells ringing down Dundas Street
Calling the lost, and calling the weak
And the angels singing ‘come home’
I’m so very happy that I did. Come home. Finally.
My thanks to my Skydiggers for helping me to recapture a seasonal awareness of that which is best about the world and my life. You’ve been doing it for decades. I hope you’re around to do so for decades to come. To my two guys: love and thanks for your company at the show and the opportunity to, once again, get the season started in our own, traditional, manner. May it continue. Always.
And I hope that all of you, my friends, my family, are in a place – or with the people – that you call ‘home’ as we celebrate the ending of another year on this planet of ours. Whatever your traditions or definition of quality time, best wishes for the holiday season and for the year to come. 2016 will be a year of positive change and progress – I can feel it. And I look forward to sharing it with you all.