It's the little things in life. The little consistencies that provide comfort, security and belonging to a person, their family, and greater culture. I have daily rituals, such as my brisk 5km walk. It is not just for exercise but also human observation which is, perhaps, the real motivating factor behind it. I enjoy people watching. Almost daily I run into the same familiar strangers. I have become protective over some of them including the couple in which the wife aids her visually impaired husband around puddles and sidewalk cracks, or the elderly woman strolling around the block with her walker and faithful bichon frise. I always slow a bit when I see them, wanting to make sure they encounter no hazards and require no assistance. Part of me wishes there was someone else doing the same for me.
I also have weekly rituals. My Saturday has become rather predictable but is also my favourite day of the week for that very reason. I sleep in. Eat a light breakfast, perhaps a homemade raspberry smoothie and cinnamon toast. Turn on my PBS affiliate and watch Antiques Roadshow which offers soothing background noise as I read increasingly infuriating news updates online. I then meet up with my partner and we manage to find some mindless but entertaining afternoon activity. Returning home, I cook dinner, he does dishes (honestly!) and then we watch documentaries and deliberate science, politics and everything in between until returning to slumber. It is my perfect day. No pressure. No expectation. Just the simple enjoyment of slowing down time with someone you love.
The upcoming holiday season, of course, has a slew of rituals associated with it. And thus, this past Saturday the mindless but entertaining activity we undertook was decorating a Christmas tree. It's been ages since I put one up in my own home and had to haul the one my dad bought me years ago out of my storage locker. It's not entirely Charlie Brown-esque ... but it is far from the lush, perfectly frosted artificial trees I've seen in stores. I've always known Christmas to be a commercial holiday but it just seems especially crass now. I haven't seen a fake tree available for less than two hundred dollars. There is a market being underserved by perceived flaw.
When I was a child, we mostly put up a real tree which was purchased a week or two prior to the twenty-fifth from someone selling them out of a Canadian Tire parking lot. My father made the selection. Looking decent was a factor but of prime importance was cost. My father was a frugal man and so we did the best with whatever fifteen dollars (or preferably less) would buy. After adopting a puppy, we transitioned over to an artificial tree. The evergreen scent wafting through our home was greatly missed but constantly cleaning up pine needles was not. Artificial just seemed to suit our suburban life better.
I'm not sure where all of the ornaments accrued from. I know I made some at school but others just seemed to appear out of thin air; child me assumed it was the magic of the season. They were a mishmash of style and quality but the end result of my decorating – even though I didn't get to choose the tree, I was in charge of decorating it – was special for that human touch. It was our tree and looked like no other. Nowadays, it seems all stores want to box consumers into categories of "contemporary", "glamorous" or the boring "traditional" which is the closest to what we had going on in my youth. Everything looks the same. It is all overpriced and inauthentic or cheap and wasteful, which is perhaps the perfect commentary on what Christmas has become.
It shouldn't match. It's not about appearance or impressing others. It's about feeling. About memories. Which is why I was so happy to put my tree up this year. Some of the greatest moments of my life might be behind me but for the first time in years I feel the future holds the promise of more to come.