Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hot Holiday Opinions

. . . because I KNOW that you want to hear them.

At the risk of alienating a great many people, I find the following holiday concepts largely underwhelming:

Outdoor Christmas light displays. Admittedly, my opinion is colored by the whole "spouse falling off of the roof and breaking an arm and two ribs" debacle of 2008, but truth be told I wasn't that keen on the tradition before then. I enjoy looking at other folks' displays, but I could take or leave the concept of setting up our own. And I only enjoy looking at other people's lights in moderation. Except that we never look at lights in moderation - we're talking two hours of driving around, minimum. Arguing usually is involved, both about the route, the duration of our excursion and my husband's driving. Meh.

Poinsettias. I never knew what to do with these: allegedly, they were poisonous to animals, so keeping them indoors was out, but they are tropical plants and can't survive frost and cold temperatures outdoors. So, ultimately, I crossed them off of my list of holiday decor options. Recently, I learned that they aren't poisonous at all - but this did not motivate me to restore them to the list. If I had a bigger house . . . or wasn't driven crazy by shriveled leaves dropping to the floor . . . .

Yeah - next.

"It's a Wonderful Life". Please don't stone me. I appreciate the idea behind the movie - it's a very nice sentiment - but the movie itself does nothing for me. On the other hand, I could - and do - watch "Christmas Story" on a continuous loop. Also "Scrooged." And "Polar Express." I will even sit through "Die Hard" (it's a Christmas movie, people - just ask my husband and my coworker, Aaron). So, call me a modern classicist, I guess.

The first act of the Nutcracker. The battle with the Mouse King - meh. Bunch of male dancers leaping up and awkwardly jacknifing at the waist. The snowflakes - double meh. Most. Repetitive. Choreography. Ever. And one of the circles ends up bigger than the other circles, which offends both my former dancer and OCD sensibilities. It's usually the circle on the right. Hmm - didn't really pick up on that until now. But it doesn't seem to matter which company is performing - there's just something a little wockyjaw about the dancers on the right.

The first time I took Connor to the Nutcracker, he was five, Parker was five weeks, and I thought that an evening at Bass Hall was just what the doctor might order for both post C-section mom and somewhat-lost-in-the-shuffle big brother. We had great (orchestra) seats, and everything started out gangbusters. Connor found the battle scene mildly amusing. Then - cue the snowflakes.

"Um, Mom? How long are they going to do THAT?"

"For awhile, sweetie."

"Does it get any better?"

"This part? Honestly? Not really. But it gets better in the second act. You'll like the Russian dance."

"Can we go to Barnes & Noble at halftime? For REAL concessions?"

(Connor judges special events by the quality of their concessions. Always has. Thus, he was tremendously disappointed to learn that Bass Hall concessions are, basically, limited to beverages - only a few of them non-alcoholic. Fortunately, there is a Barnes & Noble across the street from Bass Hall. And, yes, he really did call it halftime.)

So halftime arrived, we went to Barnes & Noble, he got a cookie, Mom got a hot chocolate, and then we went upstairs to the kids' section. As we perused the Batman easy readers, he said, almost as an aside, "Mom? You DO know that we aren't going back, right?"

Yeah, I figured.

But, lest you think that I am a total Scrooge, I do find a great many things about the holidays utterly delightful:

The second act of the Nutcracker. Like I said - it gets better.

The last fifteen minutes of "Love Actually." Olivia Olson's rendition of "All I Want for Christmas is You"! The little boy evading airport security! Colin Firth proposing to his (improbably hot) cleaning lady in God-awful Portuguese! The octopus and lobster ("HEAD lobster!") in the Christmas pageant! And the wise man with the Spider-Man makeup! We can't let the kids see all of the movie, but we do let them see the conclusion. And they ask for it to be played OVER and OVER. Such a feel-good flick.

Buddy the Elf. I would pass through the seven layers of the candy cane forest, through the sea of twirly, swirly gumdrops, and then walk through the Lincoln Tunnel for the opportunity to frolic in a revolving door and indulge in the four elf food groups with Buddy. My youngest child reminds me of him. In Parker's eyes, everything about the holidays is ginormous - and awesome. Just like Buddy.

Linus reciting from the Book of Luke in the Peanuts special. So. Unbelievably. Sweet.

"I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage. I'd feed him there, and wash him there, and give him his massage. Seriously, people: I totally want a hippopotamus for Christmas.

"Silent Night." We end the Christmas Eve services at our church with an unplugged version - no lights, and no organ during the last verse. Just thousands of white candles. It almost makes me want to join the choir - so that I could witness how beautiful the whole thing must be from their choir loft vantage point.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The Pretenders' version tops my list, followed by James Taylor, followed by the original movie version, then followed by all of the other versions. I'm not terribly picky - but The Pretenders, definitely numero uno.

Sugar cookies. The elaborately decorated kind, coated with gobs of royal icing. And sprinkles - for crunch.

Holiday beverages. Starbucks gingerbread latte! Eggnog! Limited edition eggnog flavored creamer! Wassail! And my very own bus punch . . . the recipe for which I will have to dig up, as it occurs to me that it's the 14th of December, and I haven't made it yet.

Wrapping presents. I do not consider this a chore - far from it. I am a wrap-aholic. No six-inch ribbon curls for this girl.

Watching the Pope. I was raised Catholic, converted to Protestantism as an adult, but I still watch the Pope every Christmas Eve. And, growing up, it was a running joke that the other person in the house who participated in this tradition was my Presbyterian father. My Catholic mother was either getting things ready for the next day or was passed out asleep on the couch.

At the end of the day, it's the quirky, family-specific traditions that get to me. Three from my childhood particularly stand out:

1. My dad inserting just the top of the artificial tree into the artificial trunk and declaring, "Tree's up." (Does anyone remember these old-school trees? You had a pole, the pole had wholes in it, you inserted individual branches into the holes, and a little mini-tree went into the pole up top. If memory serves, none of the branches were labeled by the manufacturer- so the first year I got to witness my parents coming unglued as they struggled to figure out which branches went on the bottom row, which ones went above that, etc. Once they got it worked out, my mother got smart and painted the insertion ends of each branch with a distinctive color - purple for the bottom row, and so on - which meant that going forward my job was to sort branches according to color.)

2. Putting out cheese for Santa Mouse. Loved this book growing up, and for awhile I was convinced that he was real. Thus: cookies for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, and a wedge of Swiss or Cheddar for the mouse.

3. My dad waiting until Christmas morning to set up the video camera. Mom's job was to restrain me at the top of the stairs, while Dad cursed as he wrestled with the tripod. I have no idea why he didn't do this the night before. I suspect that a good bit of it was to annoy me.

Like my mom, I typically gift the boys with new pajamas and books on Christmas Eve, and if they find it hard to go to sleep they are allowed to stay up and read. But a few traditions are 100% our own: Santa never wraps his gifts, and he leaves them on the hearth, along with the filled stockings. (The boys' rooms open up on the tree, sooooooooooooo . . . .) And, at the end of the season, we wrap the boys' Christmas books and DVDs - twenty four of them in all - and store them that way until the following December 1st. Starting on 12/1, they get to open a "gift" per day. It was a way to satisfy toddler Connor's impulse to unwrap things, and it made the old books new again. Now, it's just a fun family tradition.

Ooh, speaking of - my spouse just informed me that "Scrooged" is on! "Seven o'clock. Psychos seize Santa's workshop, and only Lee Majors can stop them. 'THE NIGHT THE REINDEER DIED."

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