With Boughs of Holly | JIM FURLONG

It is the beginning of that long stretch to Christmas. For the box stores it starts the day after Halloween. There is some outrage over that, but, personally, I don’t mind it at all because I love Christmas so much. To tell you the truth the Christmas lights that were stowed away in the attic are down already for testing. I always tell people, and I tell you now, that whatever age you are you have to WORK at Christmas to enjoy it. You get out of it more than you put in and part of that is made possible because it comes arm in arm with the ghosts of Christmas past – where you get to revisit the things of youth that made Christmas so special.

The spiritual side of Christmas remains very much alive but a bit less intense. It was drilled into us when we were students. In Catholic school part of Christmas preparation was the Advent wreath. You don’t see them anymore because they came from a period when the Church, it seemed, controlled everything in the world. We did have an Advent wreath in our home. It was a wreath made of fir boughs and was adorned with four candles. One candle was lit on the first Sunday of Advent, and it progressed from there on through December. The oldest child in the family lit the first candle on the wreath and it went on from there up until Christmas. We had one Advent wreath in school as well. That school was St. Bonaventure’s and I’ll bet they have an Advent wreath this year and it is probably the last school in the province to have one.

School in those days was all about religion. We prayed in the morning and again at noon with The Angelus. “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Ghost” … etc. etc. The bell of the Basilica and St. Patrick’s in the west end, and other churches, tolled softly at six in the morning … again at noon, then 6 p.m.

Religion was everywhere. Now somewhere in my attic today there is a little homemade Christmas card made in school when I was seven or eight years old. It was called a spiritual bouquet. The card I have was given to my aunt and in it that Christmas I promised to say a series of prayers for her as a Christmas gift. It was along the lines of 10 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys and 10 Glory Be to the Fathers as well as “a decade of the beads” (Rosary). It seems very far away now, and it was 70 years or so ago when I made the card. My aunt, the recipient, is now long gone to glory. I doubt if anyone gives spiritual bouquets.

Now that historical intro leads me to advice from me to you about what to get me for Christmas. While I appreciate the intention and your interest in my soul don’t give me a spiritual bouquet! Get me a real gift that costs money because the world has changed a bit. No poems written in my honour, please, and no bits of driftwood you got down by the water’s edge. Also don’t donate to a charity on my behalf. I want a present! Get me a nice bottle of Jameson’s whiskey if you can’t think of anything else.

That is my Christmas message. We will gift to one another and wish the best of the season to all our friends. It is hoped we will go to church and bring out “the better angels” in ourselves. I don’t understand it all but I know people are nicer at Christmas and I know that, as always, I love it.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]