Unwanted Christmas Presence

“I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

(Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, OST The Big Lebowski)

“May you live in interesting times.”

(Ancient Chinese curse)

Landschlacht: Christmas Day 2015

I realize that it has been some time since my last blog post, but, in my defence, it has been a time of great activity and emotional turmoil over the past two weeks.

I worked at Starbucks from 10 to 20 December with only one day off and that day I spent in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, for a job interview, followed by attending the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in St. Gallen.

On Monday 21 December, I visited a doctor in Kreuzlingen, whose prognosis means a complete overhaul of my eating lifestyle and habits.

What I have is an uncommon autoimmune gluten sensitivity called DH, a cousin to celiac disease and a far distant relative to the dreaded C disease.

DH is not fatal and is treatable with a drug called Dapsone, but it does require a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

There is an old tired joke where a doctor recites a long list of forbidden foods and drinks that his patient is not allowed to consume.

Growing impatient with the sheer length and complexity of the list, the patient asks the doctor to simplify the list.

He responds:

“If you like it, you can´t have it.”

There is much in my dietary habits that will have to change:

No pizza, no pasta, no bread, no beer, no iodinized salt, nothing that contains gluten.

My regular diet, especially now that my wife lives most of the week in distant Zürich, has not been the healthiest one.

At home, muesli and toast for breakfast, pizza and pasta for lunch and supper, with fruit and vegetables occasionally thrown in for variety.

Away, it is “catch as catch can”, meaning I am a fast food junkie and Ronald McDonald has been a lifelong friend.

And I love the taste of beer.

Though I rarely drink more than one or two glasses of alcohol at one sitting, in every place I have visited I have made it a point to sample the local beer.

Now, no more Labatt’s Blue, no more Leffe Blonde, no more Rochefort. (The first is Canadian, the latter two Belgian)

Still things could be a lot worse.

I have lost a mother to cancer when I was very young and in my 20s both my foster parents succumbed to this fatal merciless disease.

A few members of my high school graduating class are no longer among us due to cancer.

I have known colleagues who are still fighting this plague upon their houses.

So, yes, my life could be far far worse.

Fortunately, here in Switzerland and across the Lake in Germany, eating gluten-free has become, in some circles, almost trendy, with people choosing to eat gluten-free by choice rather than by obligation.

I have already discovered that it is possible to buy gluten-free pasta, gluten-free pizza, gluten-free bread and even gluten-free beer.

I tried a GF beer last night as a Christmas Eve treat to myself.

It is no Labatt´s Blue, but I am consoled with the thought I can pretend it is and maybe my mind will convince my taste buds that it is.

Last night, before the beer, I worked at Starbucks.

Today, I work at Starbucks.

(Apparently, CEO Howard Schulz is a direct descendant of Ebenezer Scrooge.)

My wife, a doctor, worked yesterday and will work today and tomorrow.

So, there is not much of a Christmas spirit in Casa Kerr this year.

We have no Christmas tree, no decorations, no carols played on the stereo.

(At Starbucks, all I hear are the same carols repeated at least thrice every shift.)

We have received Christmas cards and Internet greetings, but we have not iniatated many of our own.

We do have an Advents table centrepiece and we have visited Christmas markets together.

We exchanged Christmas presents last night in the German tradition, as opposed to waiting til this morning in the Canadian tradition.

But as anti-Christmas as our working lives have become, we still see colleagues and friends and families still “rockin´around the Christmas tree” and “simply havin´a wonderful Christmas time”.

Even my Hindu and Muslim friends living abroad in Christian lands seem to have been infected by the Christmas spirit.

I won´t deny that the impulse to watch It´s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch, The Sound of Music, or even Skipping Christmas lies within this Canadian like an itch longing to be scratched.

And everything and everyone seem to shout at us:

Be festive, damn it.

But soon Christmas Present will become as spectral as Christmases Past.

There is no White Christmas in Landschlacht.

Skies are blue and there isn´t a snowflake on the ground.

We are far from our families and friends, but we wish them well nonetheless.

I know that for many people Christmas is a difficult time.

It is said that incidents of depression and suicide in the West are at their highest during the holiday season.

Somewhere there are people dying of disease or war.

Somewhere there are people struggling to survive.

For many, it is indeed a blue Christmas.

All I can offer as minor consolation is the thought that consoles Ute and myself:

And this too shall pass.

So, as my wife tries to bring holiday joy to sick children and their saddened parents…

So, as I serve impatient customers, who either gather at Starbucks with family and friends, or come to Starbucks simply to find human contact on this loneliest of days…

We pretend to be festive, for their sakes.

As for me and my house…

Bah, humbug.







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