We celebrated a wonderful event in my family recently. It was the wedding of my nephew, Aidan and his now bride, Paan-Mei, or Penny, as she is known. Penny is originally from Thailand and met Aidan when they were both studying in Toronto. He proposed to her this fall while on a trip to visit her parents in Thailand, and they intend to have an official Thai ceremony in 2019 when they can save up the money to return to Thailand once more, this time with our entire family in tow. But not wanting to wait two more years to officially be wed, they got married at City Hall on December 1st in the sweetest (and fastest) ceremony I have ever attended. Watching Penny and Aidan begin to blend the best of their diverse upbringings is a joy to see, and it’s given me much to reflect upon as I spend time thinking about our increasingly diverse community at the Castle.
You see, I’ve been pondering what it means to be inclusive, particularly around this time of the year. I think it’s important that we reflect on this, especially as we consider the sometimes-heated conversations that have taken place in communities across Canada and also with our neighbours to the south. We hear of people vehemently and sometimes angrily claiming that their religion or their language or their manner of dress or their holiday celebration is the right one – sometimes even the only one, in fact. It’s disturbing. Now I know this isn’t part of our school culture at Trafalgar, but these tensions don’t happen in a vacuum, and I believe that small feelings of exclusion or misunderstanding or frustration can foment and become bigger challenges in any community that does not pay attention to the well-being of all its members.
I sometimes worry that we might shy away from engaging in these challenging types of conversations because I think we have a tendency, as “polite” Canadians, to stay away from topics that may create tension. Add to that our school culture that’s been influenced by decades, centuries in fact, of female norms that taught ladies not to make waves, and I fear that one day we may end up celebrating nothing at all at this time of the year if we aren’t open enough to dialogue.
So let me go back to Aidan and Penny because they’re central to this story. It was because of them that I had an epiphany last Saturday. For those students who don’t know, an epiphany is a moment of sudden understanding or insight. The epiphany also refers to the 12th day after Christmas when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus. But here I mean it as a moment of understanding. So here is my epiphany story.
Last weekend, my husband and I spent the afternoon with Aidan and Penny. We had tea and watched the homemade video my husband had filmed of their wedding ceremony. Afterwards, Penny and Aidan asked if we could all go and buy a Christmas tree together, so off we went to a Christmas tree farm. Dan and I shared a good laugh watching Penny and Aidan carefully pick out and chop down their very first Christmas tree. It was truly the smallest Christmas tree I’d ever seen (a necessity because their apartment is so small), but they thought it was perfect. Green. Straight. Beautifully shaped. But most of all, it was their tree. And so, it truly was perfect.
I realized something as I watched them cut down the tree and put it into the trunk of their tiny car. (Yes, the tree was small enough to fit in the trunk.) I realized that the beauty of this season was in the joy they shared creating something new that was uniquely theirs. Not just Aidan’s, and not just Penny’s, but theirs together.
Penny is a practicing Buddhist. Her religion is important to her, as is her fierce pride for her home country of Thailand, and she is introducing Aidan to the things she values. They both attended a production of The Nutcracker ballet last week with a group of Penny’s friends who are originally from Thailand. To mark this special evening on the town, each and every one of them, including Aidan, were gorgeously adorned in traditional Thai formal dress. In the photo they showed me, Penny looked exquisite, and Aidan was beaming. He looked both comfortable and proud in this newly adopted style of dress.
Because it’s important to Penny, I know they’ll celebrate Vesak, a holy day that marks the birth, the enlightenment and the death of Buddha. It is the most important festival in Buddhism, and it will surely become a tradition in the family they are creating together.
This month, they will celebrate Christmas. Penny will learn all about carol singing, the nativity story, Santa Claus, shortbread cookies and mincemeat tarts. (I’m not sure what she’ll make of that last one).
In reflecting on how Penny and Aidan are building their life together, I see a beautiful blend of family and faith traditions. What they are creating together is a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s what I hope for our community. It’s not about being apologetic because we celebrate Christmas. The Carol Service is our school’s longest standing tradition. Instead of taking things away, I believe we should enhance what we have, and create new traditions that add to the splendours we enjoy. Let’s open ourselves to the many different celebrations that are important to members of our Trafalgar Castle community. Let’s proudly and authentically represent who we are as a school community and who we are as part of the beautiful and colourful fabric of Canadian society.
So to everyone in our community both near and afar, I want to wish you Chag Urim Sameach on this, the eighth and final evening of Hannukkah. And of course, I wish a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.