By Helen Reddy Katz,
Family Care Advisor (Student Focus)
Welcome to December, a month that brings along with it a lot of emotions. It’s beautiful, it’s cold, it’s complicated, it’s expensive. It’s hard.
I grew up on the east coast of Canada in a small community where my family and most of my social network celebrated Christmas. December meant advent calendars, circling gifts in the Sears catalogue with my siblings, going for walks to see the Christmas lights, going to church, visiting neighbours and friends. I knew December was a financially hard month for many in my blue-collared mining community, but it was still a time that was celebrated by all.
As I got older and moved to increasingly bigger cities and expanded my social circles, I realized that December is, well, for lack of a better word, complicated. I remember the first December I spent with my now husband, who is an Israeli Jew, I was ignorantly shocked that he did not have warm, comforting feelings about Christmas trees and lights. He agreed that they were objectively beautiful, but reminded me that he came from a part of the world where Christmas isn’t a big deal; once arriving in Canada he did join in his friend’s parties and work parties, and while he enjoyed them, it served more of a reminder of being an outsider.
“But Jews have Chanukah!” some might say. And while yes, they do, and it’s a great time, Chanukah is not a major Jewish holiday. It’s not even traditionally a gift giving holiday, although this custom has been adopted by Jews in many places. It’s a beloved holiday, but the only way it relates to Christmas is its timing on the calendar.
Like Jewish people in Canada, many other cultures and religious groups are celebrating holidays that can fall in December – Kwanzaa, Omisoka and Yule, just to name a few. But again, these aren’t other Christmases. Even more importantly, many people aren’t celebrating holidays at this time of year at all, and even those that culturally celebrate holidays might find themselves alone or unable to celebrate financially or mentally. For many, December can feel very dark, cold and isolating, no matter how many bright lights you add.
At the Family Care Office, as a UofT equity office, we stop to ask ourselves, “Who’s not included? Why?”Although not everyone is celebrating holidays during December, and there are a variety of feelings about the lights, trees and holiday music everywhere, there is something that we can globally agree on: the things the world needs right now is more community, connection, empathy and love.
So this December, look around your neighbourhoods, offices and families and ask who is not included; who is missing from the table. Then, think about how you can reach out. Is it inviting a new family in your building for a (non-holiday) meal? Inviting a colleague to join you for a coffee? Donating to a food bank or lending time to an outreach organization? Or is it simply calling someone that you’ve lost touch with to check how they’re doing? Regardless of religion, culture or whether or not someone is celebrating, this dark, wintery season can be a hard one for a variety of reasons. By reaching out in whatever way you can, you can be a light and warmth to your community around you.