The Better Gift To Give This Holiday Season...

Tis the season!  In light of the Christmas spirit, we thought we’d share in a few gift-giving alternatives that you can mull over while you sit fireside with your cup of hot coco in hand.  Of course, these are not in any way, new ideas or trends.  Here’s the catchphrase: Christmas is not about the gifts.  Yes, we have all heard this little jingle time and time again - in the Christmas hymns and carols we sing, in the films we watch and the books we read.  Yet many of us continue to imbibe the obligations of gift giving rather than rejoice in the delight of its true significance.

The real heart of the season is driven by the generous spirit, a need to assist, to empathize, and to find compassion and care, even for those whom may not deserve it or even appreciate it.  These principles of charitable essence can be found in the small and few, rather than the big and plentiful, and they are what the spirit of Christmas is all about.  Chronicling your family history by collecting and showcasing old photographs, letters and documents is a great way to involve your family in the homespun efforts of the past that make our present.  You can frame meaningful photographs, give away a basket of home-baked goodies, donate to a charity in the name of a loved one, or create a unique experience through a joint family activity or trip.  Then of course there are those kinds of gifts that are slightly more incorporeal.  These gifts are the kind that make us human, the stuff of legend and the fibre of divinity.  Potted flowers or herbs left anonymously on a friend or neighbour’s up the house or bedroom without having been asked to do so; calling an estranged friend or relative or writing a letter to someone you haven’t seen in years, (or just simply writing a real old-fashion, pen-to-paper-to-post letter without texting, emailing or Facebook!)   Why not give away the last great book you enjoyed to someone with like interest, or shovel snow for an elderly neighbour?  Every small yet significant gift of love is the butterfly effect for a greater, universal peace that reverberates and transcends.

As we sit in custody by the giant of Western consumerism, our hands need not be tied behind our backs.  Gift giving does not have to feel like a duty or onus, rather it is a genuine opportunity to love somebody else.   Of course, while most of us are spellbound by commercial capitalism, it's far too easy to lose sight of the giving over the getting.  So instead of asking our children what they want for Christmas this year, why not start by asking them what they want to give?  By giving our children the opportunity to experience the fundamentals of the season, we are in turn, teaching them the essence of giving as a language of love.  So in your quest to find that perfect gift, lest you not forget that the greatest gifts one can give might well be those that do not adorn fancy price-tags or name-tags or shiny red and green gift-wrap.  After all, aren’t those the better gifts to give?  For they are the ones that come directly from us.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

December 21st 2012: The End Of The World?


Based on the ancient Mayan calendar, the world is going to end on December 21, of this year.  At least that is what many cyber-circulating headlines tell us.  Despite prevailing logic, one cannot help but feel a twinge of horror and a flicker of doubt that eclipses the mind’s eye for a brief nanosecond of delirium.  Could it be true?  Is there any possibility…?  That is, until we return to our good sense and then it’s all poppycock and witty humor.  But if there’s one thing that doomsday predictions tells us about ourselves, it is that human beings are unrelentingly naïve in our quest for magic and mystery.  We need transcendence as much as we need air to breath.  A cynic would say that society is simply blinded by this obsession with the unknown, continually compromising reason and logic for a foolhardy notion of sublime possibilities.  A cautious optimistic rather, might consider these foolhardy notions to be a collective expression of faith in a higher existence, or in a well-endowed consciousness of the universe.  Regardless of which spectrum you fall under – the cynic or the optimist – there is no denying that magic and mystery remain the two foremost elemental components of the human experience.

Apocalyptic prophecies are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, failed predictions of doomsday have circulated throughout the ages, casting shadow and doubt amongst the rise and fall of civilizations and their societies.  The Romans, for example, believed that the mystical number revealed to Romulus, (mythical co-founder of Rome) represented the number of days in a year, therefore they had expected Rome to be destroyed around 365 AUC, (389 BCE).  Similarly, Gregory of Tours, (a Gallo-Roman historian) had calculated the End occurring between 799 and 806 AD.   John of Toledo on the other hand, (an English Dean of the College of Cardinals) predicted the end of the world based on the alignment of planets during 1186.  Likewise, many interpreted the black plague, which swept across Europe in the 14th century, as a sign of the end of days.  Predictions like these continue almost every year from the Roman period through to present day.  Deductive logic therefore tells us that modernity has, in no way, any bearing on the mystical tendencies of human nature, which are as perennial and prevailing as the stars and moon and revolutions of our planet around the sun.  Our pursuit of the enigmatic is our true distinction – much like the universe examining its hands and feet – we live for wonderment of the world, without which, we might as well be as boring and predictable as a B-rated romance flick.  However, the question is: how far do we allow ourselves to take it?
Believing in something, or entertaining the idea of something that goes against our intuitive knowledge and experience simply because it is dramatically enthralling, is what psychologists like to call, “cognitive dissonance”; that is, the feeling of discomfort whilst simultaneously holding two or more conflicting beliefs, ideas, values or emotional reactions.  Most of us know that the mechanism of our mass extinction will not be from a collision with a rogue planet called Nibiru, or a super black hole at the centre of the universe, or a sudden world-wide flash flood, yet we allow ourselves from time to time, to be drawn into the drama of it all, excited by the conspiracy of the unknown.  So before you go ahead with the building plans of your prospective arks, take note of a few, tiny, minute considerations.  Many believe that our year is not in fact 2012, but, due to miscalculation, is rather a different date entirely.  Similarly, according to the phantom time hypothesis, (a theory developed by Heribert Illig in 1991), periods of history, precisely that of Europe during the Early Middle Ages, may not have actually existed, which would make our current date grossly outdated.  On the other hand, Wakatel Utiw, leader of the National Council of Elders Mayas, has been quoted saying that the end of the Maya calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world; rather it is the beginning of a new cycle and the ushering in of a fresh calendric era that supposes certain changes in human consciousness.

Of course Western commercialism has done little in the way of kyboshing apocalyptic conspiracy theories.  Consider the 2009 disaster film, 2012 for example, or the more recent movie, Take Shelter.  Not to mention foreboding TV documentaries and alarmist websites that have gone “viral,” sparking worldwide activity by way of doomsday kits, exoduses, and government action.  Regardless, the end of days seems synonymous with man’s eternal quest for mortal meaning and purpose, which is the reason prophecies like those of Nostradamus are still widely circulated, having rarely been out of print since initial publication some 550 years ago.  Prophecy is like a beacon in the abyss of which we exist, a light that orientates and familiarizes.  So for the same reasons we tell our children that Santa Clause is the real deal, so too do we indulge in the irrational, quixotic aspect of our nature, drawing conclusions for anchorage amidst an endless thrashing sea of unknowns.  Rather than reacting negatively to the hoopla of this current doomsday prediction, let us rejoice that we, as human beings, continue to be inspired by the mysticism of life, and that we have not yet grown dull and weary of its exploits.

-Elizabeth Cucnik




So What's All This Fuss About Christmas Anyway?

So what’s all the fuss about Christmas anyway?  For some, the holidays simply mean an over-indulgence in decadent foods, the giving and receiving of presents, and a twinkling of lights red and green. To others it connotes a laborious session of cooking and cleanup, maxed out credit cards and several blown fuses.  But whether you empathize a Cratchit or plot cynically as a Scrooge, one thing is certain: the kind of Christmas Dickens’ would doth protest, is not in fact a kind of Christmas at all!  It is rather a carnal reuse, or in other words, a joke that invokes gluttony and/or involves toil - a prank we have shamelessly played on ourselves all these years passed.

Truth be told, true Noel escaped the perils of industrial capitalism and the cynicisms of our modern making long ago.  Having taken refuge in the intangible realm of spirited thought, transcendental surrender, unconditional benevolence and love, Christmas remains beyond the grip of our social anxieties.  Yonder commercial hills, it is made whole by the images we loved as children: the kitsch and the common, the festive display of garland and the twinkling merriment of homespun goodies, a moonlit melee upon the snow, the warm glow of an open fire, and the majesty of Madonna with child.  In this regard, Christmas isn’t the thing or the display; it’s the festiveness itself, just as Christmas is the twinkle, the sparkle, the glow and the holy revelation of all that is joyful and true.

Despite having drifted so far from the thrust of its original intent and purpose, the spirit of the season continues to reside within us all, churning our charities, tweaking our philanthropic twinges, and breathing benevolence into our angers and annoyances.  Tis’ a gift we should truly be grateful for! Have you not wondered why the sight of a cold wintery landscape can invoke a swell of amorousness? Or why the ringing of silver bells and the sound of holiday hymns fills you with a desire for hugs and kisses and handholding and shoulder squeezing?  These are the incorporeal deities of the Christmas spirit, a movement that moves through us all, bounding like a westerly wind, to remind us of what and who we are.

So this year, let us take pause to reflect on what makes Christmas, Christmas.  Admit the movement of the season to refurbish our thoughts and replenish our spirits by way of winter walks, wafts of spices, chimes and rhymes and hymns and hums, merriment making and buttery baking.  In the words of Charles Dickens, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik