What connects Christmas, Les Misérables, and a Wocket in My Pocket


“Sometimes I feel quite certain there’s a jertain in my curtain.” I’ve read that line hundreds of times to our kids before bed. It’s Christmas night. The gifts have been opened, the turkey carved, the wrapping paper tossed away, and I’ve just finished another bedtime story. But this time the reading was different. Tonight, my six-year-old daughter read the story to me, slowly, carefully, word by word.

Unlike other Dr. Suess books like The Grinch or The Lorax, this one doesn’t have a deep moral message. It’s simple: a boy points out eccentric creatures like zamps in the lamps because, “that’s the kind of house we live in, and I hope we never leave it.”

This week our whole family came home for Christmas. Our oldest is just in from BC where she’s teaching. Our son drove home from university. I flew across the country a few days ago. It’s great to hear the teasing and the laughter in the living room again. But there are always jertains hiding in the curtains.

Last night we visited friends. One of their horses wasn’t feeling well, and every 15 minutes or so one of us would go out to the barn to make sure she was OK. Still, it was a wonderful evening. We said our goodbyes, drove home, wrapped last minute gifts, and went to sleep for a couple of hours before getting up to drive to Saint John at 3:00 a.m. to pick up our daughter, who’d spent the entire day travelling across the country. After we’d unwrapped presents and had breakfast, I checked my phone for messages. The sick horse had died.

There’s something about Christmases that seem to go that way. And somehow we know this intuitively. Houses burn. Car accidents happen. Aging relatives pass away in hospital. Life and death march on, with no regard for special occasions.

Despite that, these occasions are often quite special. Today it snowed. The sky swirled with fine white flakes for most of the day, eventually spreading 15 centimetres over the ground. Our neighbours were invited for Christmas dinner, so I drove up the hill in the snow to pick them up. After we ate I fired up the old plow truck, cleared the parking area by the house and pushed the snow all the way down the driveway to the road. The heater wasn’t working in the truck, so I figure the thermostat is rusted shut. So another small repair coming up. The windshield stayed fogged up, which made it hard to see, and I worried about going off the road.

When I got back inside Les Misérables was playing on the TV, and everyone was chilling and watching. Watching Les Mis is a lot like reading Dickens. The gap between the “haves and the “have-nots” is painful. Which is the point of the story.

As I watched I started thinking. The word gratitude came to mind. I was grateful to be living here and now. Grateful for my family. Grateful for a warm house. Grateful for the food and gifts under the tree. Grateful for friends. Grateful to be living here in this country, in this time. I could write a very long list of things for which I’m grateful—as I hope many of us could.

Other things came to mind. Like how the movie represents what’s happening around us in our world, how much more unequal society has become over the past 40 years, and how Les Mis is still a reality for much of the world’s population. And then there was the irony of the story itself, the young heroine, Cossette, being rescued by a young man of great wealth—the great wealth that led to the crushing inequality of the early 1800s in the first place.

Victor Hugo wrote Les Mis in 1862. It was a condemnation of inequality, injustice and punishment without forgiveness. Unfortunately, Hugo didn’t offer solutions. There’s no call for reformation of the economy, or policing, or the courts, or the prison system. But he and others like Dickens raised the issues into public consciousness, though it didn’t end there. Inequality would keep spreading right up until the stock market crash in 1929.

What the snowfall, the dying horse and broken plow truck bring home is the fragility of our present circumstances. Too much more snow and we might join the 10,000 people in Nova Scotia right now who are without electricity. Too much more cold and other animals perish. Too much bad weather and our old truck could break for the last time.

In many cases we survive by mere luck—and the goodness and generosity of the people around us. If nothing else, Christmas should remind us of how important it is to take care of each other. Every day.


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