Friday, December 19, 2008

My Christmas Quirks

I thoroughly enjoyed my "office party" yesterday. It was my favorite weather, cool, gray and damp. It's very energizing for walking, though you'd get cold and wet if you just sat still in it, and it feels lovely to come indoors after walking in that weather (it reminds me of October in England). I walked to the library, taking a route that went past some houses decorated for Christmas, then had soup and tea at the coffee shop and walked back home to have tea and cookies while reading and listening to Christmas music.

Since it's pretty warm today, tonight I may take a flashlight and do a short walk around the neighborhood to look at the lights. And, for a programming note (since this movie has been mentioned in discussions of Christmas movies), Christmas in Connecticut is on TMC tonight at 9 Central. I will likely be making popcorn and settling down on the couch for that one.

When it comes to the Christmas season, I seem to have more than my fair share of quirks (why should Christmas be any different from the rest of the year?). Here's a list of some of my holiday oddities:

1) I like fruitcake. I even love some fruitcake.
I am picky about it, so I don't necessarily go for all kinds of fruitcake, but in general, I don't join the anti-fruitcake chorus. I was practically an adult before I understood all the jokes about fruitcake in comic strips, sitcoms or comic routines, all that stuff about it being brick-like, the gift no one wants, the one fruitcake that just gets regifted over and over again. To me, fruitcake was a treat, so I didn't see what the joke was supposed to be about. And when I got the joke, I was horrified. When I was little, if I really, really liked a teacher, I'd insist on giving one of my favorite fruitcakes as a holiday gift. The kind we got at the time came in convenient little blocks within the big package, so they made good token/recognition gifts (like teacher gifts). That was a huge sacrifice for me, because it meant there was less for me. I suppose if the thought counts, that made it a big, wonderful gift, but now that I know the rest of the world doesn't see fruitcake the way I do, I cringe at what all those teachers must have thought about getting some nasty fruitcake (but this really was good fruitcake, if you're not categorically anti-fruitcake). I also cringe about the idea that all that fruitcake might have been wasted.

2) I hate, detest, despise, LOATHE that grabby gift exchange game -- the one I've seen called Chinese gift exchange (yeah, that's politically correct), Yankee swap, the white elephant game, etc.
It's the one where everyone draws a number, and each person can either take a wrapped gift from the pile or steal a gift that someone else has already taken and unwrapped. And then if they steal a gift, the person it's stolen from can either take a new gift or steal someone else's. There's much "hilarity" as the popular gifts keep getting stolen. The only time that's ever fun is if everyone follows the guidelines on what to bring. One of my friends used to have an annual party where we played that game, but we all generally just brought back the same things we'd ended up with the year before, so it wasn't so much about what thing you got as it was about seeing the same things come back again and seeing who'd end up with what. But generally there's someone who goes against the guidelines in each direction. If it's supposed to be a humorous white elephant, someone will bring something really nice that's clearly above the specified value, and someone will bring something out of the trash. If it's supposed to be an ornament swap or a nice generic gift, someone will bring something more valuable than the specified limit and someone will bring something that counts more as a gag gift. Then everyone will fight over the good thing, while someone will get stuck with the bad thing.

I suppose, in a sense, this "game" does reflect the secular holiday season in a culture where store employees get trampled to death by people rushing to get a bargain, but where I most often find myself stuck playing it is at church-related parties. And it's the very antithesis of what Christmas is supposed to be about in a religious sense. Yeah, let's celebrate a holiday that's supposed to be about peace, love and sacrificial giving by competing to get the nicest gift and taking things away from other people. This "game" makes the baby Jesus cry. My cynical theory is that it got started because it's easier than drawing names and having to buy something for someone you don't know well, but, you know, if someone doesn't know me well enough to buy me a gift, I'm okay with not getting a gift. I don't have to get something at every party I attend. I have enough clutter in my life without adding random white elephants. Am I being a Scrooge about this, or are there others who don't find this to be particularly fun?

3) Christmas music is largely responsible for the fact that I have the musical tastes of an 80-year-old woman.
When I was about four, we got a Christmas album (called "The Christmas Album") that was a compilation of songs performed by old-time "standards" artists -- people like Jerry Vale, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Perry Como, etc. I loved that album and listened to it non-stop throughout the holiday season. It became the background music for most of my childhood holiday memories. I even made up Moulin Rouge style musicals for my dolls to act out, using these songs (taking the existing songs and weaving them into a story). That meant I was exposed to this kind of music before I was aware of other kinds of popular music, and I liked this stuff and these singers, which meant I wasn't as crazy about the more current music when I heard it. Even today, my car radio tends to stay set on the standards/big band station (music for people who remember World War II). I wish I could find this album on CD so I could have something I could play in my car, but just try searching for "The Christmas Album" on Amazon. I do still have the cassette I dubbed from the LP when I was in college, so I listen to it at home while I put my Christmas decorations up.

4) I have very mixed feelings about Santa Claus.
I remember liking the idea of Santa when I was little. I was sure that if I listened hard enough on Christmas Eve night, I might hear sleigh bells, and I was convinced one year that I saw Rudolph's nose when I looked out the window. I made my parents take me to see the department store Santa -- and then when I got there I was utterly terrified of him and would have nothing to do with him. One year, he tried to get me to go up to him by offering me a candy cane, and I informed him that I wasn't supposed to take candy from strangers. I learned the truth about Santa pretty early, when I was six, courtesy of a classmate with older siblings (since the first thing a kid wants to do when learning the truth about Santa is tell every other kid), and I don't recall feeling all that betrayed or disappointed. I do remember grilling my parents thoroughly on how they'd pulled it off, like "What about the time we were out of town for Christmas and we came home and Santa had been here while we were gone?" (when Dad went in to "turn up the heat and warm up the house" when we got home while Mom and I waited in the warm car, he'd put the presents out). My brother's six years younger, so we kept up the Santa tradition a while longer, and then it still comes in handy for those gifts that are too cumbersome to wrap.

Now, I tend to resent the emphasis Santa gets in popular culture. There was the big "WHAT?" heard 'round the neighborhood last year when they did the Shrek Christmas special, and Shrek sat down to read his children "The Christmas story," and it was "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Sorry, no, that is NOT The Christmas story. It's only A Christmas story. But there's still a part of me that finds myself listening for sleigh bells and hoofbeats on the roof (in this house, that's probably either a loose tile in the wind or Stan the Eighties Bachelor Airline Pilot Ghost getting restless), and I get a little tingly when I see the NORAD Santa tracker. I'm not sure what I'll do in the unlikely event that I have kids. I may go all Northern European and do St. Nicholas Day on December 6 and disconnect the idea of Santa from Christmas.

4) I really don't like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Other than my believed Rudolph sighting as a kid, I've generally been bugged by that story. For one thing, I don't like the idea that Santa let his reindeer be bullies. The version of the song I had a record of was by Perry Como, and that meant I really hated the way kids sang the song, with the echoes and interjections ("like a light bulb!"). As I learned more about it, it bugged me that we've allowed something that was essentially an advertising jingle to take such a prominent place in the holiday. A few weeks ago, I saw a cartoon where someone referred to the fact that Rudolph wasn't canon, and that totally cracked me up. The response was that the idea of the eight other reindeer and their names came from C. Clement Moore's poem, but I would argue that at least that was a poem and not an ad. The stop-motion animation Christmas special is pretty disturbing, if you really think about it, considering that Santa himself seems to be really focused on appearances, criticizes Rudolph's father for apparently having bad genes, and even seems to suggest that Rudolph be "taken care of." Though I do like the Burl Ives "Holly Jolly Christmas" song.

5) My family has a really odd Christmas viewing tradition.
Some families may catch part of the marathon of A Christmas Story or one of the many holiday-related specials and movies shown on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. My family watches Firefly. It started back when they finally showed the pilot as the last episode shown of the series, right before Christmas. I was blown away by the pilot, which was practically a mini movie, so I brought the tape of that with me when I went to my parents' house for Christmas, and we watched that on Christmas Eve. The next year, the DVD set had just come out, so we had a little marathon. And we watched more the next year. Then the following year, the Serenity DVD had just come out, so I brought that with me and we watched it. And then the next year, my dad gave my mom her own copy of Serenity, so we watched it again. And then we realized we had a tradition, so we kept with it. Now, even though there are only a few vague Christmas references in the series (and I'm geek enough that I could list them), Firefly makes me think of Christmas.


Robby Vale said...

I can get you that record

Angie said...

It is so refreshing to someone else admit to enjoying fruitcake. I miss the fruitcakes that my dad would get as presents from his vendors.

I also hate that gift game. I always feel bad taking a gift from someone, so I just choose from what is left and hope that no one takes it from me! I had never thought about it that way, but you are right that it is not very indicative of the spirt of the season.

Carradee said...

I don't think I've ever had fruitcake, but I like the fruitbread that comes out around Easter. My mom makes a really good one.

I don't mind white elephants as long as the group is of the good-humored type. Otherwise, it gets painful.