Theology student and activist Margaret Robinson says that although she’s not religious she loves the trappings of Christmas.
“I collect CDs of Christmas music,” she says. “I play all the holiday movies like Die Hard and Trading Places. I love the lights. I make a lot of the holiday decorations for the store where I work and it’s one of my favourite responsibilities.”
One of her happiest memories is of making tree decorations out of pipe cleaners with her mother. “At the time it seemed cool and creative,” she says. “Later I found out it was because we were too broke to afford decorations but it’s still a happy memory.”
As an adult Robinson shares her holidays with friends. “We have what we call an orphans’ Christmas. A bunch of us without plans get together for a potluck dinner. It’s usually a motley collection of Wiccan, Jewish and atheist queers, but it feels in keeping with the spirit of the holiday.”
No matter how you celebrate, a winter holiday is key to social survival. “Since Canada gets so cold for so long we really need a winter feast holiday,” says Robinson. “It helps break up the winter and it vitalizes people. Plus a goodwill holiday is useful when we’re going to be spending so much time together indoors. ‘I can’t get away from these people; I’d better be pleasant toward them!'”
Publisher Salah Bachir prefers to spread the joy over the whole year rather than try to cram it into a few short weeks.
“It could sound like a Miss America answer but whatever you look forward to doing in the holidays you should be doing all year round,” he says. “I try to get away from all these forced get-togethers — when you have party after party where there’s no meaning to them anymore.”
Certainly Bachir, chair of the 519 Community Centre’s Capital Campaign and a well-known philanthropist, has got the charitable aspect of the holidays integrated into his whole year.
He admits that, from time to time, he enjoys playing Santa. “Years ago I had given a couple of friends’ mothers mink coats and somebody said, ‘Why would you do that?’ and before I could say anything another friend said, ‘Who else would do it if he didn’t?'”
Bachir also looks forward to a couple New Year’s traditions picked up from friend and artist Jamelie Hassan. “We make a big bonfire and we throw Monopoly money in it so we’ll have money to burn all year long. And, depending how drunk we get, we take pots and pans and clang them and go around the house three times to drive out all the evil spirits — but he [Harper] still got elected! Maybe everybody should do it this year and see what happens.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Justine Apple found her Hanukkah traditions shifted after she came to Canada, where Hanukkah is often celebrated through an exchange of gifts.
“When I moved here 15 years ago it was really interesting because new friends, Jewish friends, would come up to me and say, ‘Here you go Justine, this gift is for you,’ and I’d look at it and be like, ‘What’s this for? It’s not my birthday today.’ I had no idea what they were doing…. It was like a cultural shock.”
For Apple the best part of Hanukkah is the music that is sung as the lights of the menorah are lit. “One of the most beautiful ones is called ‘Maoz Tsur.’ What I like about singing that song is that everyone in my family, we’re kind of like a choir, some of us sing the melody, some of us harmonize on top of that. It feels very spiritual, very moving.”
A member of the local queer Jewish group Kulanu Toronto, Apple’s Hanukkah tradition includes the annual Kulanu party. Unlike traditional celebrations, which Apple says aren’t an ideal time for introducing a new sweetie to the family, the Kulanu party makes a great date.
“Hanukkah is not one of those Jewish holidays where you sit down and have a meal, like Passover… but the Kulanu Hanukkah party would be perfect for a couple.”
This year Kulanu’s Hanukkah party will be held Wed, Dec 17 at 7pm at the International Student Centre (33 St George St). For more information check out Kulanu-toronto.ca.