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After this edition, Morning Update is taking a two-day break and will be back on Dec. 27. Thanks for being a subscriber, and happy holidays.

Every year, on Dec. 24, The Globe publishes its annual Christmas painting on the front page of the paper. This time around it’s Ice Cutting, Quebec City by Maurice Cullen, from 1906.

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(The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario)

The ice harvest would have been a familiar sight for the Montreal landscape painter. Before mechanical refrigeration, blocks of ice were hacked from frozen rivers and ponds, and preserved in straw, providing all-season deliveries to the zinc-lined kitchen icebox where perishables were kept fresh – or the tavern storeroom where beer was cooled. The practice provided a rich subject Cullen returned to several times in the early 20th century. In this version, Ice Cutting, Quebec City, he shows workers framed by the high banks of the St. Lawrence at Quebec City; in another, in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the city of Montreal shimmers in the distance.

Cullen, who once said that the most common subject would look beautiful at some hour of the day, was impressed by the plein-air painting of the French Impressionists during a six-year stint in Paris. You can see their influence here in the artist’s attention to the sky, magnificently detailed with billowing banks of light grey clouds counterbalancing the bluish forms of the ice below. At the centre, a worker’s long spear draws the eye down into the black depths of the St. Lawrence.

On the eve of the holidays, this landscape feels appropriately wintry, but it also offers the promise of the changing seasons: In spring, the whole river will open and the iceman’s delivery will soon become a necessity.Kate Taylor

This is the daily Morning Update newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for Morning Update and more than 20 more Globe newsletters on our newsletter signup page.

Here are a few reads for the holidays, plus some of our favourite Globe long reads from 2018. (Our regular “top stories” summaries can be found a little further down.)

Why were these legendary pot brownies so much harder to make than we thought? A half-baked holiday mystery

Ian Brown’s plan was to team up with a top pastry chef to recreate the famous ‘Haschich Fudge’ popularized by Gertrude Stein’s lover. Then it turned out it wasn’t a recipe for brownies at all. So they got creative. (for subscribers)

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28 shows to binge watch on Netflix and Amazon over the holidays

Maniac is humane, surreal and highly recommended; Sacred Games is a brilliant thriller series from India; Michelle Wolf’s new comedy show is low-key, absurdist – and wickedly entertaining; Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is lovely, pure, unfussy nourishment. Those are just a handful of critic John Doyle’s suggestions as you kick back and relax this holiday season. (for subscribers)

Your last-minute guide to getting through the holidays unscathed

The most wonderful time of the year? We get it. The holidays are stressful. The bickering relatives, endless to-do lists and lineups galore. Not to mention toys that are sold out, tape that has run out and nowhere to hide (the presents). We’re here to help with solutions to common holiday problems, so as the too-short days of December fly by, you can keep your sanity – and sense of humour – intact. (for subscribers)


Smartphone refuseniks are a rare but happy breed

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In a country where most of us own smartphones but are ambivalent about digital dependence, a few are deliberately logging off – and they say it’s done wonders for their imaginations and peace of mind.

I wanted an abortion in Nova Scotia, but all around, barriers still remained

At 36 and a married mother of two, The Globe’s Atlantic bureau chief Jessica Leeder needed to end a pregnancy – which is still a battle in some pockets of the country. Trying to get an abortion left her brimming with feelings of powerlessness, shame and disbelief.

Inside China’s campaign against the Uyghurs

Thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslims have been detained in a growing network of indoctrination centres as Beijing pushes to erase centuries of religious tradition. Nathan VanderKlippe reports from China’s Xinjiang region.


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Canada is mounting a global campaign to free Canadians detained in China

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada’s ambassadors around the world are now talking with their host countries about the “worrying precedent” China has set with its “arbitrary detention” of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said people around the globe are “extremely disturbed” by the detentions, which are being viewed as a tit-for-tat response to the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver earlier this month. Freeland’s call for the “immediate release” of Kovrig and Spavor is the kind of blunt diplomatic language reserved for when one country believes another state has absolutely no grounds to arrest its citizens.

The U.S. is in the midst of a partial government shutdown

The Senate wasn’t able to reach an agreement over the weekend to fund the public service as U.S. President Donald Trump demands more funds for a border wall with Mexico – a condition Democrats aren’t willing to accept. More than 400,000 employees will be forced to work without pay until the dispute is resolved.

David Shribman writes that there will be blowback for the shutdown: “It’s the Democrats’ fault. No, it’s the Republicans’. It’s the President and his fanatical right-wing base who caused this. No, it’s the liberals and their leftist zealots who are to blame. These imprecations are all correct, and they are all incorrect. But there’s something – a very big thing – that’s not right in the country’s politics, and it’s the American political class that has foisted a great wrong on the American people.” (for subscribers)

A tsunami set off by volcanic eruption has killed at least 281 in Indonesia

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Hundreds were also injured, with homes and other buildings suffering major damage on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. Residents reported not seeing or feeling any warning signs, such as receding water or an earthquake, before waves of 2 to 3 metres washed ashore. Residents and tourists forced to evacuate are being told to remain away from beaches as high-tide warnings remain in place.

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Trudeau surprised Canadian peacekeepers in Mali, thanking the troops over a Christmas dinner

Upon landing at the remote Camp Castor, the Prime Minister was greeted by the 30 C-plus heat the 250 Canadian peacekeepers work in on a daily basis. Canada is providing state-of-the-art medical-evacuation capability, transportation and logistical support to the United Nations mission, though the troops rarely interact with the local Malian population in what’s seen as a risk-averse operation.

The one-year mission is part of the Trudeau government’s vow to restore Canada’s commitment to UN peace operations (Canada’s last major peacekeeping foray in Africa came in the 1990s). Ottawa is hoping it will result in a strong show of support from African nations as Canada vies for a UN Security Council seat in 2021-22.

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World stocks extend losses into seventh day

World stocks were set for their seventh straight day of losses on Monday, as investors nervy about the possibility of a prolonged U.S. government shutdown and a worsening global economy opted for the safety of bonds and gold. MSCI’s world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was 0.15 per cent lower on the day and down almost 7 per cent in the past seven sessions. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was down 0.49 per cent just after 6 a.m. (ET). France’s CAC 40 was off 1.12 per cent. In Asia, markets were mostly mixed ahead of the Christmas holiday. On Wall Street, futures pointed to modest gains at the open. Markets in New York and Toronto will close early on Monday. The Canadian dollar was trading at 73.71 US cents.


A holly, jolly Christmas – while the planet burns

“Christmas is a complicated time of year. There’s the Yuletide carol and gay apparel, the peace on earth and goodwill toward man. There are wonderful acts of charity and more acts of shopping. There’s food, music, and for some, religion. And then there’s the end-of-year, off-the-treadmill downtime for reflection. And the fact that the planet is going to hell in a handbag.” – Naomi Buck, Toronto-based freelance writer

I’m Muslim, and the Christmas spirit moves me

“Beyond the merriment of families and the happiness of children – good enough reasons for any celebration – what Christmas represents for me is a spiritual renewal, a reawakening of my class consciousness, which has been eroded through the labours of the year and the focus on the self that these labours entail. Because at the heart of Christmas as I see it is a concern for those less fortunate – not as a political project, but as a moral one, caring for ‘the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,’ as the Bible puts it. This is the Christian idea embodied, as it is the Islamic one – as it is the idea of what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being.” – Omer Aziz, writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic and elsewhere

Cold comfort: In defence of winter, the most widely reviled season

“As an introvert, it’s with this gratifying lethargy that I still embrace the cold and dark, perhaps more than ever. It’s never just a bitter season to endure. I do less in winter. I go out less. I devote more time to solitude. I don’t feel remorse for sitting inside, for (essentially) hiding. Winter has become my annual antidote to abundance and revelry. Expectations are adjusted to value long, substantial dinners and early bed times. A walk on a cold night becomes suitable exercise.” – Iain Reid, author of Foe and I’m Thinking of Ending Things


The 200th anniversary of Silent Night

(Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)


Dec. 24, 1818: One of the world’s most beloved carols had its humble premiere on Christmas Eve, 1818, in tiny St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, about 31 kilometres from Salzburg, Austria. A collaboration between a young parish priest named Joseph Mohr (who wrote the lyrics) and organist Franz Gruber (the music), the duo sang Stille Nacht to a small group of parishioners who braved the winter weather for midnight mass. Legend has it that the church organ was broken that Christmas Eve, so Mohr asked his friend to quickly write a melody to go along with a religious poem he’d written many months before. Gruber grabbed a guitar, and the two sang the healing message of Stille Nacht, or Silent Night. Over the ensuing years, the song was shared among small parishes in Austria, but it didn’t break beyond its borders until 1831, when the Duke of Leipzig heard a rendition at a local fair. The Christmas carol soon reached the ears of the Prussian king and Silent Night, well, has not been silent since. It’s a favourite soundtrack of the holidays, sung by the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Bing Crosby and even Jimi Hendrix. – Gayle MacDonald

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