Even before Halloween was happening I started to see commercials on television advertising Christmas shopping, I was bitter. “It’s not even Halloween!” I yelled at the television. Really, I did, you can ask Patrick, he saw me do it and raised his eyebrow at me, probably wondering if I was already starting to put on my bitter face for Christmas. You see, I’m Jewish – a label I’ve used my whole life, and it’s true, born to a Jewish mother, a Jewish father, both of whom have Jewish mothers, who also have Jewish parents, and so on and so on. I come from a long line of Jews – of course what this means to me is incredibly different to what it probably meant to my grandmother, or to my grandmother’s next-door neighbour who lived out her final years in downtown Toronto, but wore a daily reminder of the Holocaust tattooed on her arm – lucky to survive, but forever branded with a number.
For those of you who might be following us from outside Canada, let me begin by pointing out that Monday is Thanksgiving (or, as you might prefer to call it, ‘Canadian Thanksgiving’). This means that I will be spending the weekend back in Montreal – I’m writing this from the train, homeward bound – hanging with family, cooking, and watching the Habs open their new season. So you’ll forgive me if the mood of this post is a bit lighter than usual. I’m far too content right now to play the serious academic.
During my stay in Amsterdam a few years ago, I saw many strange things. The red light districts, the coffee shops (not the ones in Canada), the Sex Museum, the Hash Museum and the Torture Museum were exceptionally outré. But the most bizarre experience I had was on the fifth of December when I attended the Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) parade for the first time. It was a cold and gloomy morning in downtown Amsterdam. A friend asked me to join them to watch the Santa Claus parade and so I did. We headed to the Koninklijk Paleis (the Royal Palace) and waited on Dam Street for about 20 minutes. Santa finally appeared in his usual silky red cloak and sharp white beard. He was riding a glorious white horse and accompanied by Dutch adults who had blackened their faces and wore afro wigs and thick red lipstick. As the caravan was approaching, the kids were yelling with great enthusiasm: Kijk, zwarte Piet! (Look, Black Peter!). I quickly scanned the crowd looking for any black people and there were few with their children. I glanced at my African-American friend and saw confusion in her eyes.