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Archive for the ‘Observances’ Category

Wishing you all the best for 2011. May all of your Christmas dreams come true.

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A couple of years ago I was helping my mum move all of her decorations from her tattered cardboard boxes to some of the nicer Tupperware kinds. As I’ve hinted, Christmas is a big deal in my home, and the work was exhausting. As we approached the bottom of the second box, and we could see the untouched third box sitting in the corner of the room, I looked down and saw that there were just a few scarps of paper sitting. I sighed and put the box down. Then, and I have no idea why, I picked the box up again, and took a good look at the paper. It was mostly receipts so old and worn that they were illegible, but mixed in with them was a tiny newspaper clipping. It was my first letter to Santa Clause, and at the risk of great embarrassment, I am sharing it with you today.

 

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Dear Santa,

Do you have enough candy canes and gingermans made for all the kids? I would like to have a gingerman, oranges; grapes, starfish and a big, big new dolly. I want the biggest candy cane in the whole world.

How are the reindeer and Mrs. Santa. Can you bring a little Bert and Ernie doll for my little brother Matthew. He’s too little to write a letter. I want everything big. Give him everything little. I can’t wait to see you Santa at our party with all the kids. My Mommy helped me write this letter.

Love and kisses
Circe, age 4.

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Montreal massacre memorial at McMaster University

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I think I may have launched into the Christmas spirit a little too early this year, and I’m starting to spin out of control. I’m looking at my calendar and figuring that I will need…oh…about 3 half day vacations, plus I wanted to take the end of the week before Christmas so that I could bake and wrap and just relax. But the days are starting to add up, and I think I’m just going to have to be a grown up and push through, I only get so many vacation days. Also, if I sit at home I know I’ll just start to worry that I haven’t bought enough, and end up shopping for more gifts…with no idea of who will receive them.

In the midst of this chaotic train of thought I came in to work today and was reminded that yesterday was a very sad day in the history of Canadian women, as it was the 21st anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. On that day, 21 years ago, Marc Lépine walked into an engineering class at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, ordered the men out of the classroom and then proceeded to kill 14 women. Reports indicate that Lépine blamed women for all of his life problems, while he systematically killed many of the women in that room, as well as injuring many other women and several men.

I remember this event very clearly; I remember watching the news coverage on the television, not really understanding what was going on. I think it’s safe to say that this is the worst single incident of violence against women in Canadian history, and God willing, this will always be the case. I remember too that when I was in highschool this was a day to remember that abuse is a regular part of life for many women. While I don’t pretend to have an answer for how to stop violence against women I think it’s important to have a day where we are reminded that problem is very much a current problem, that affects many of the people we love and value.

While this week’s observances frame a debate about gun control, and violence against women, and women’s rights to life, to education and to physical safety, these debates overshadow the loss of the families whose daughters went to class one morning and never came home. The women who did survive have had to struggle with these memories.

I would like to take a break from my holiday planning, and my normally self-indulgent blog where I focus on what I ate, and how much I exercised, and if I’ve lost any weight, to remember the women of the École Polytechnique, and every other woman who has ever suffered abuse.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Confederati...

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While I was studying World War 1 in highschool, my grandmother told me the story of her uncle. He was sitting in a tent with a number of other men, when a shell went off, destroying the tent and killing everyone in it except my great-uncle. Family legend has it that he sat up, gave his head a shake, figured out what was going on, and got out of there as quickly as possible.
 
“Wow!” I said, “is he still alive?” (This was around about the mid 90s, just to give you some context.) “Yeah,” my grandmother answered, “he’s not doing well. Occasionally he breathes.” (Yes, that’s what passed for good-natured humour in my family, though I can tell you my grandmother was very proud of her uncle, and enjoyed passing this tale along to me.)
 
We spent a lot of time studying the First World War, and we watched a lot of movies, like All Quiet on the Western Front, but the thing that has stayed with me about war was this story. Partly because it involved my family, but partly because it is the kind of personal story that, short though it is, is able to give a really accurate picture of life on the front lines. Does this mean I believe it exactly as my grandmother told it? While WWI was full of weird stories like this, I’m inclined, like you, to believe that this story is somewhat embellished. In spite of these embellishments, it remains historically accurate, and the literature abounds with stories of two or three people walking together or sitting together when a shell hit, or machine gun fire started, and only one of those people would make it out.
 
My grandmother and her uncle have both died, and with them goes, if not this story, then many others that they did not tell me. I am not the only person to notice this loss. Yesterday Penelope sent me this link:
 
 
(The above image was taken from the site.) I bring it to you today, partly because I think that it’s really cool, but also because I think it does something that text books and films can’t do. Like my grandmother’s story, this website brings the war close to home. Now Toronto’s residents can open the link and see the multitude of poppies that dot its streets, and behind each poppy is the name and address of each of the more than 3,200 Toronto residents who died during the Second World War. These poppies also connect to the Commonwealth Graves Commission, which provides a more in-depth record of their service history. Have a look; it’s an amazing tool, which is the culmination of amazing historical, as well as geographical work–I promise it is more impressive when you open it on screen.
 
So today, as I commemorate Remembrance Day, and give thanks for all my gifts, made possible by all of our veterans, I will also give thanks for our historians who are creating unique, interactive tools that will help us remember.

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