Santa Claus Parade
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Today is the annual Santa Claus parade. In the small town where I live, this gesture of holiday cheer is met with enthusiasm by children wishing to see the 'Big Man" himself. The streets are lined with kids, parents and the odd adult who I can only assume is trying to relive some glory day long gone by.
Personally, I don't understand fireworks or parades. These spectacles have no effect on me. When I was a child I wanted to go to the Toronto Santa Claus parade and begged my parents to take me, but they would always cite a litany of practicalities that could not be overcome; parking, dog sitting, travel, crowds. None of which meant anything to a five-year old. Fortunately for them, the parade was always televised and they managed to convince me that I had the best seat in the house watching from the living room floor. Sitting cross-legged, hugging a pillow, still in my pyjamas, I couldn't wait to see the magic of Christmas unfold before me. But when it was all over, and the television was off, I felt let down. Where, I thought, was the big balloons and dancing girls? And the sudden silence felt jarring and unreal.
Recently at a Christmas event (a sit down dinner that felt like a wedding reception for people I didn't know), the man next to me began to expound on his theory that Christmas was really just for children. Not having any of my own, I found myself disagreeing. I love a tree and decorating it. Our house looks like a page from Christmas Quarterly. But maybe what he really meant was that there is an aspect of Christmas that is just for children. That part of the season that depends on a child believing that a cheap elf made from a real world elf in a sweat shop somewhere far away can infiltrate you home, spy on your behaviour and report whether you are naughty or nice to Santa. Maybe Christmas isn't just for kids after all. This sounds suspiciously like a well thought up parental ploy.
It's true, parades are traditions. "A belief or behavior passed down within a group with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past." And there must be magic in these traditions because a mere hour later those in attendance seem to have forgotten all about their frozen feet and fingers. Later in Starbucks, sipping their hot mocha peppermint salted carmel chocolate macchiato, they laugh about what a great time they had in spite of the weather and they have the iPhoto to prove it. I marvel at a crowd's enthusiasm, while I stand outside of the merriment like a stranger in a strange land.
Christmas parades in general are, in Canada, often slated for days when the temperature is well below zero or, like today, hovering at the freezing point and rainy. I've noticed that twenty-three days out of the year, most women going out for dinner or even heading to a shopping mall wouldn't cross a parking lot in the rain if their life depended on it. But during the Santa Claus parade they will huddle beneath a parka or underneath an umbrella for two hours straight and watch tired old floats go by advertising used car lots or pest extermination. More often than not, the floats are exactly the same as the year before; the bands are exactly the same playing the same songs they learned in music class from the same teacher who, frankly, probably can't be bothered teaching them something from the Nutcracker Suite or Huron Christmas Carol. The only real surprise is how authentic Santa looks. On a day like today, wet and blustery, Santa is probably wishing he was in the North Pole where, if climate change is to be believed, the weather is likely better than it is here.
The house that I live in, ironically given my lack of interest in these traditional gestures of celebration, has windows from which I can see both fireworks and parades. I feel a little guilty sitting warm and dry while those traditionalists brave the elements. It's a testimony to parenthood, mothers and fathers who, by now, are soaked to the skin, clutching at rain gear so their child's wish of seeing Santa can be fulfilled. My parents would never have done this.
One Christmas, when I was four, my Mother took me on a sleigh ride with my best friend, Mary Lou, and her mom. As I recall, my friend got cold and her mother removed her coat to wrap around her child. I waited to see if my own Mother would follow suit. She did not. Later the next day my Mother remarked rather off-handedly that Mary Lou's mother's act of selflessness really showed how much she loved her child. It was the first time I questioned my own Mother's feelings for me. It was obvious at four, that my mother would have never given up her coat. Maybe she fell under the category of, “In the unlikely event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above your head… Secure your own mask before helping others..." But as my mother had never been on a plane, it's not likely she would have been savvy enough to use this to her defence. Though it has nothing to do with parades, it might be worth noting that my mother liked white plastic Christmas trees with red bows and fake cardinals. The kind of thing you might see in a fancy department store, but which looked oddly out of place in our living room.
The traditionalists in my family were my paternal grandparents who lived hours away. Straight from England they were all about fires in the hearth and noise in the kitchen. Their tree was real and from the moment we arrived on Christmas Eve until the day we left after Boxing Day, it was just one party after another. Still, I never heard them go on about a parade, though they did love fireworks.
Maybe Christmas parades just remind me too much of family events where I was let down. The real rift in my relationship with my mother came when I was twelve. That was the year she and my dad promised to take my brother and me to the Royal Winter Fair. They parked the two of us at my Dad's office while they attended a Christmas party where children were not allowed. Armed with colouring books they said they'd be back in two hours to collect us. When you're a kid, time seems elusive. It's easy to get sidetracked and forget about it, but at a certain point, even I knew that two hours had long ago come and gone. When they finally arrived, my mother was obviously inebriated and by the time we got to the fair, the kiosks were closing, the security guards were ushering people towards the exit signs and the animals were being packed up. I didn't talk to my mother for two days after that. It was the first time in my life that I used her tactic of sulking back on her and she didn't like it. She accused me of being "mean" and "horrid". I finally confronted her a la Greta Thunberg, and told her that her behaviour was unacceptable; that she'd ruined something I was looking forward to; that she had been selfish. She sulked. Two hours later she apologized for the first time in her life. At least for the first time in her life, she apologized to me.
So maybe I don't understand parades because they remind me of something I never had. Or maybe, because I never experienced that sense of familial camaraderie, I just don't understand the joy that comes from a shared experience that requires a certain amount of sacrifice. I do, however, like observing those who partake in such things and find a kind of vicarious satisfaction in knowing that, even if I don't understand the appeal of a parade, there are children and families who do.