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Old time Christmas

Growing up, Christmas truly was a magical time for me. Two weeks off school. A Christmas tree we cut ourselves from a tree lot in the country twinkling in a corner of the living room. Fires in the fireplace every night while my brother and I played games and our cats played and slept around us. My mom decorated the inside of our house with lights and ornaments while my father lit up our eaves and traced the shape of a tree on the outside of our house with Christmas lights. Our house was awesome, inside and out.

My dad also used to get a week or two off for Christmas, so he was around every day to take us tobogganing and just to hang out. As a family we'd go to the Eaton Centre or another shopping centre to visit Santa and browse toy departments, go to holiday movies, listen to Salvation Army bands.

For a few years I even went door-to-door with a few friends singing Christmas songs to raise money to buy toys for underprivileged families. Nobody put us up to it either - we all knew we'd get most of the things we asked for and it just felt like the right thing to do.

A few days before Christmas the stockings would go up beside the fireplace, bowls would be placed around the house with chestnuts and walnuts and decorative nutcrackers. There was eggnog in the fridge and the oven was always churning out special meals and treats like shortbread cookies, gingerbread and sausage rolls. The guest room was readied for whoever was visiting that year - our aunt and uncle from Denver, a grandmother from Australia, our prodigal uncle.

The television in the family room was hardly ever on because we spent most of our time in the living room where the tree and presents were, although we loved to watch Christmas specials. In those days our Saturday newspaper came with a TV guide and my brother and I would go through the listings and circle movies like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas .

It also used to snow in southern Ontario in December and it was a white Christmas more often than not. We would spend a few of our vacation days at a family farm cross-country skiing, then downhill skiing when we got a little older. We also had a killer toboggan hill a block from our house, as well as two outdoor skating ovals and hockey rinks. We made snowmen, snow forts and had massive snowball fights with other kids growing up in the neighbourhood.

If was a paradise for us; the best time of the year to be a kid. Not knowing any different I also thought it was pretty normal - and it probably was for that era. The middle class was huge in Canada in the '70s and '80s, and the offices where all our parents worked actually used to close up shop for the holidays.

Times change. Most people I grew up with are now living in smaller homes and apartments where there's no room for a Christmas tree. We put up a few decorations, but nothing on the scale of our parents who had the luxury of time off work to do it right.

Meanwhile, study after study shows that Canadians are generally working more days and hours than ever before and in times like this - and we're always in some sort of economic crisis (employee shortage one minute, recession and unemployment the next) - we tend to work even more. Few offices close for the entire holidays anymore.

Some Whistler workers do get the holidays off, but if you work in the tourism, food and beverage or hotel industry then chances are you'll be working harder than you normally would over Christmas.

I like to think that all those people get some time off when things slow down (e.g. after the Olympics), but the truth is most of us will only get two or three weeks off in total in 2010 and maybe stat holidays if we're not paid by the hour. Compared to European countries where people get four to six weeks of vacation time a year plus holidays we're way behind.

Now I'm not generally one of those people deluded enough to think that everything was better in the old days or that the world is going to hell (although you could make a good argument for both). But while we're making progress in so many directions we're actually regressing when it comes to quality of life.

So often the dilemma of our shrinking and troubled middle class is framed as an economic one. But while money certainly matters I would argue that the bigger threat to the middle class and family values is time - parents that work more are at home less. That's hard on everybody.

My daughter may never get to have the same Christmas experience I had, but I'm going to do my best. Without a time machine to the past it's the most any of us can hope for. Happy Holidays everyone!



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