Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday cheer!

And I don't mean spiked eggnog! (Although I'm not knocking it; it's just not available virtually). No, today we sample some of the coping mechanisms people use deal with forced proximity to relatives, nonstop merchandising, cheesy tv specials, and the umpteenth rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy." All the samples below, and more, are available for your delectation (and surreptitious reading while the chestnuts are roasting on the open fire) in The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays. First up, Roy Blount, Jr.
Let us not shrink from taking a look at the word Christmas. It’s a fine old word and I for one would be loath to suggest that it has lost its edge entirely. But it doesn’t exactly sing. The only thing it rhymes with is isthmus, and that but loosely. How do you like the sound of Jingle Day? Says bells and sunshine, says catchy marketing, says plenty of change. The rhymes sell themselves: mingle, tingle, Kringle, Pringles, bling’ll, and hey, sleigh, pray, pay, hooray. We might even go a little more on-the-nose: Ka-chingleday.
Deck the house with piles of plastic, fa la la la la la la la la
A wickedly funny individual who should not be taken out into polite society (admittedly, part of his allure), is Baltimore's most colorful native son, filmmaker John Waters. Here are some clips from "Why I Love Christmas."
By December I'm deep in Xmas psychosis, and only then do I allow myself the luxury of daydreaming my favourite childhood memory: dashing through the snow, laughing all the way (ha-ha-ha) to Grandma's house to find the fully decorated tree has fallen over and pinned her underneath. My candy-coloured memories have run through the projector of my mind so many times that they are almost in 3-D. That awful pause before my parents rushed to free her, my own stunned silence as I dared not ask if Granny's gifts to us had been damaged, and the wondrous, glories sight of the snow semi-crooked tree, with balls broken, being begrudgingly hoisted back to its proper position of adoration. "O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!" I started shrieking at the top of my lungs in an insane fit of childhood hyperventilation before being silenced by a glare from my parents that could have stopped a train. This tableau was never mentioned again, and my family pretended it never happened. But I remember—boy, do I remember!
Outside Macy's at Christmas, 1930s
Of course, You-know-who was supposed to have been born on Christmas, but the real Holy Trinity is God the Father, the Son and the Holy Santa Claus. You don't see fake Josephs and Marys in department stores asking kids what they want, do you? Face it, mangers are downwardly mobile. True, swiping a sheep or a wise man for your apartment from a local church is always good for a cheap thrill and invariably gets you in the paper the next day. And Madalyn Murray O'Hair (the publicity-crazed atheist saint) always gets a rise by successfully demanding in court the removal of Nativity scenes from her state capital on Christmas Eve. But we all know who the real God is, don't we? That's right, the Supreme One, Santa Claus..... You could even get fancy about it. Why hasn't Bloomingdale's or Tiffany's tried a fancy Santa. Deathly pale, this never-too-thin-or-too-rich Kris Kringle, dressed in head-to-toe unstructured, over-size Armani, could pose on a throne, bored and elegant, and every so often deign to let a rich little brat sit near his lap before dismissing his wishes with a condescending "Oh, darling, you don't really want that, do you?"
Preholiday activities are the foreplay of Christmas. Naturally, Christmas cards are your first duty and you must send one (with a personal, handwritten message) to every single person you ever met, no matter how briefly. If this common courtesy is not reciprocated, never speak to the person again. Keep computerized records of violators and hold the grudge forever; don't even attend their funeral…. If your Christmas comes and goes without declaring bankruptcy, I feel sorry for you—you are a person with not enough love inside.
"Santa Claus Is a Black Man" is my favourite Christmas carol, but I also like The Chipmunks' Christmas Album, the Barking Dogs' "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman" by the Ronettes. If you're so filled with holiday cheer you can't stand it, try calling your friends and going caroling yourself. Especially if you're old, a drug addict, an alcoholic or obviously homosexual and have a lot of effeminate friends. Go In packs. If you are black, go to a prissy white neighbourhood. Ring doorbells, and when the Father Knows Best-type family answers, start screeching hostilely your favourite carol. Watch their faces. There's nothing they can do. It's not illegal. Maybe they'll give you a present.
Next: who better to turn torturous childhood memories into hilarious humor? Augustin Burroughs!

[From Running With Scissors] I was ten and all winter my mother and father had been screaming at each other. My brother had moved out of the house to live with members of his rock band, so I was trapped alone with my parents. There was a Christmas calender on the refrigerator, the kind with little doors that you open one day at a time until the big day, December twenty-fifth. I would sit on the floor in front of the refrigerator opening the doors and wishing I could crawl inside one of those warm, glittering rooms.
"You goddam son of a bitch," my mother screamed at the top of her lungs. "You want me to be your damn mother? Well, I'm not your damn mother. You are in love with that woman, you sick bastard."
"Jesus Christ, Deirdre. Would you please calm down. You're hysterical."
"I most certainly am not hysterical," my mother screamed, utterly hysterical.
It went on like this all winter. Snow piled on the deck railings outside and the house grew darker as the bows of the pine trees leaned against the windows, heavy with snow.
My father spent as much time as he could downstairs in their bedroom drinking. And my mother channeled her energy into manic holiday frenzy.
She played one song on one album again and again: "We Need A Little Christmas" from Mame. When the song could end, my mother would set down the bowl of cranberries she was threading for the tree and place the needle back at the beginning.
She set red and green candles out on the teak dining table, and placed the Norwegian nutcracker in the center of a bowl of pecans from her father's orchard in Georgia. She dragged her Singer sewing machine out of the basement and began making Christmas stockings, angels, and reindeer ornaments for the tree.
When I suggested cookies, she baked fourteen batches.
She read me Christmas stories, sketched a Christmas card with pen and ink and had it printed to send to family and friends, and she even let the dog sleep on the sofa during the day.
Her sudden and feverish intensity of cheer transformed onto me. And I became obsessed with decorating my room in the spirit of Christmas. Specifically, I wanted my room to look like one of the displays at the mall. While my mother was tasteful and restrained, I filled my room with multiple strands of cheap blinking lights. They hung from the ceiling and dripped from my window and walls. I wrapped thick ropes of gaudy garland around my desk lamp, my bookshelf and around my mirror. I spent my allowance on two blinking stars that I hung on either side of my closet door. It was as if I had become infected with a virus of bad taste.
My mother insisted on the largest tree we could find at the Christmas tree farm. It had to be removed from the ground with a chain saw and then carried to the car by two burly men. When they roped it to the top of the Aspen, the car sank.
At home, the tree reached nearly the top of our seventeen foot ceiling. And it was nearly as wide as the sofa.
My mother had it completely decorated in a matter of hours. There were balls nestled deep in the branches, silver bells placed above gold ribbons. It had everything, including popcorn and cranberry garlands she had hand strung while watching the Jeffersons.
"Isn't this festive?" she asked, sweating profusely.
I nodded.
"We're going to make this a special Christmas. Even if your goddam sonofabitch father can't bring himself to do anything but raise a glass to his lips."
[pause for sound effects]
She began to sing along with Angela Lansbury's warbling about dragging out the holly and throwing up the tree before my mood crashes and I want to kill myself, or however it went.
Two days before Christmas my brother came home. He was his usual, sullen self and when my mother asked him if he planned on staying for Christmas, he grunted and replied, "I don't know."
I, myself had my doubts about the coming holiday. Although there already dozens of presents beneath the tree, I had not noticed a single one in the shape of the gift I most wanted: Tony Orlando and Dawns "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree." If I did not get this album, I had no reason to live. And yet there was nothing flat and square under the tree. There were plenty of puffy things-sweaters, shirts with built-in vests, the bell bottom polyester slacks I loved, maybe a pair of platform shoes - but without that record, there might as well be no Christmas.
My mother must have sensed my feelings. Because that evening, when my father came upstairs and made a comment about all the pine needles stuck in the carpet, my mother's brain chemistry mutated.
"Well, if that's the way everybody feels," she screamed, running into the living room, her blue Marimekko caftan flowing behind her, "then we'll just call the whole damn thing off."
I was astonished by her physical strength. What had taken two large men many minutes of concentrated effort to hoist on top of our brown station wagon, my mother was able to topple in a matter of seconds.
Tinsel, shattered Christmas ball and lights were smeared across the floor as she dragged the thing through the living room, out the deck and straight over the edge.
I'd never seen such a display of physical strength from her before and I was impressed.
My brother snickered. "What's the matter with her?"
My father was angry. "Your damn mother's crazy is what's the matter."
My mother stormed back inside the house and swiped the needle off the record. She leaned over and began rummaging through the wooden captain's trunk where she kept her albums. When she found the record she was looking for, she placed it on the stereo, turned up the volume full blast and set the needle down.
I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore..............


  1. I once checked out The Chipmunks Christmas album out of the library in July, it was a great summer.

  2. That story from Running with Scissors is funny! But so sad at the same time...poor mom! Christmas is the one time of year when even if you aren't in the spirit, you should at least PRETEND to be for the sake of other's jolly spirit.

    1. O Marie!
      We've got to think of something to cheer you up. Nothing's more stressful than a case of the Bah Humbug fa-la-las.
      How 'bout a reindeer rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock"?

    2. Jingle Bell Rock is my favorite pop xmas song!

  3. The foreplay of Christmas starts here!
    Thanks for the amusing stories. They're the perfect antidote to the too-long-at-the-mall blues.
    Everyone should toss a Christmas tree out the window at least once in her life! (Check for passers-by first).

  4. I love Waters' idea of a skinny, rich Santa in Bloomingdales. Hey, if Barneys New York can do it to Disney characters (just this past year), than I'm actually surprised it hasn't been done to Santa.

    'tis the season!