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The blessing of slowing things down

The Rev. Matthew Brown is pictured here in Thurso, QC, circa 1988
By on December 2, 2022
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Christmas in the Valley

Sleighbells ringing in the snow,

Kissing ‘neath the mistletoe,

Out in the barn the cattle low,

It’s Christmas in the Valley.”

“Christmas in the Valley,” by Wayne Rostad.

Growing up as a child in West Quebec – back in the bygone days before emails and texting, when the telephone was still attached to the wall next to the fridge in our family kitchen – I have fond memories of watching my mother telephone my grandmother each week to remind her to tune her TV to channel 4 (CBC Ottawa) to watch Wayne Rostad’s, On the Road Again. The program was a folksy half-hour featuring portraits of quirky Canadians from across the country, hosted by Rostad, and my grandmother loved it! And, in the days before VCRs, let alone PVRs or streaming services, she would get very annoyed if we didn’t call her to remind her to change the channel to “watch Wayne” after she had finished watching Jeopardy!

I hadn’t thought about Wayne Rostad or that 1980s childhood memory of my mother standing in the kitchen telephoning my grandmother for years, until I arrived in Pembroke in 2018. Driving to my office one day that November, I noticed a sign: “Christmas in the Valley, with Wayne Rostad and Friends.” As it turns out, Wayne still comes up to Pembroke almost every year and plays to a sold-out Christmas concert at Festival Hall, raising thousands of dollars to support CHEO along the way. During the pandemic, the concert went virtual, proving that not even plague and pestilence can stop Ottawa Valley folks from singing about sleighbells, cattle barns, and mistletoe around the holidays. Rostad’s twangy Christmas anthem, which I’ve now sung with great affection more times than I can count, holds it all together.

The passage of time, at least for me, somehow seems to move just a little bit more slowly in the Ottawa Valley or perhaps in rural Canada in general. Either way, I’m ok with that, especially around the holidays. In fact, I’m more than ok with it; I need it. My soul needs life to slow down.

As a child I also remember the “rush” of going Christmas shopping at various malls in Ottawa, scurrying about from store to store with my mother, father, and sister as we tried to purchase gifts to put around the tree. This year, if I’m not careful, most of my Christmas shopping will be done from my iPhone and delivered straight to my door. Of course, as someone who lives two hours away from a major urban centre, it’s nice to now have access to products that I potentially can’t purchase locally, without the cost of having to burn fossil fuels to get to a department store. 

But I wonder: when my two children grow up, what will their memories of Christmas shopping look like? Will they remember intentionally taking time to get ready for Christmas with their family? Will they remember their parents taking time away from their paid work to buy a tree, some presents, and a turkey? Or will they remember their parents buying all those things on their smartphones and laptops, and setting up the traditional Christmas decorations in a hurry, in between sending the latest email and text message? 

Many a sermon has been preached on the need to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Perhaps we need a sermon or two more to encourage us to, “Leave time for Christmas.” Amidst the hyperconnectivity of this postmodern world, where productivity has become an unholy idol, and wherein we are more tied to screens and devices in our pockets than ever before, we need to allow time and space to experience the beauty and mystery of the incarnation in all its grace and wonder. We need to intentionally allow time to connect with those whom we love and to hold them close, as Mary and Joseph hold the newborn Christ child close to their hearts. We need to experience the blessing of life slowing down.

Our very first Christmas in the Valley, my parents gave me the plastic illuminated Santa that sat on my family’s front porch when I was a boy. They had saved it in their basement for almost thirty years: a treasured memory of family Christmases gone by. This December, Santa will again greet me each night at my front door, reminding me as I enter to slow down and to cherish what lies within. May you too be blessed with moments that remind you to slow down and just enjoy. 

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