we need (a little) christmas

 

I’ve come to the realization that the so-called war on Christmas is real. But contrary to what you may have heard on the right-wing radio stations or from the right-wing pulpit, this war is not being waged by atheists or ISIS or even the good people at Starbucks.

The war on Christmas has been bought and paid for by the haters. You know who I’m talking about, that loud minority of people who are offended by and hate everything that makes the rest of us happy.

You smile and say, “Happy holidays!” They grimace and declare, “It’s Christmas, you Jesus-hating asshole! Christmas. Not Kwanzaa or Chanukah or solstice, whatever the fuck that even is. It’s Christmas. Merry Christmas.”

You walk into Target shortly after Labor Day and your eyes light up when you spot the first signs of Christmas. No sooner do you bust out a few bars of Deck the Halls and they scream, “What the fuck?! It’s not even Halloween.”

At 12:01 a.m. on the first of November you curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and a Hallmark Christmas movie while Irving Berlin’s White Christmas plays softly in the background. Out of nowhere they appear, “What about Thanksgiving?! #thanksgivingmatters. Those pilgrims gave their lives so we could have Thanksgiving.[1]

And then there are those people who scream about the “commercialization of Christmas” and complain when the obviously anti-Christian town council decides to display a Christmas tree in lieu of a crèche. They rail about putting “the Christ back in Christmas”, never mind that they are often the least Christ-like people among us.

These haters hate tradition, old and new. The day after Thanksgiving they renounce Christmas cookies by announcing plans for a new diet. They declare children to be spoiled and admonish any parent who gives their child more than four gifts. They compose lengthy anti-Elf on the Shelf diatribes, mocking parents for posting photos on social media and claiming the elf is “a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and reify hegemonic power.”[2]

Huh.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand the hate. I don’t understand why people pretend to care because that’s all it is, pretend. Does it really matter what day your local lite FM station stops playing Maroon 5 on an endless loop and starts playing Johnny Mathis on an endless loop?  Does it affect your life if my kids get 437 Christmas presents? Are your sensibilities truly offended by the sight of a Christmas tree in October?

Oh please.

The truth is we need Christmas. We need Christmas because it makes us better people.

Christmas gives us hope. It offers us the promise of the person we could be rather than the person we are. Its one day in the whole of the calendar where we are good and kind and anything seems possible.

Is it any wonder then that we would try and stretch out that day (and feeling) for as long as we could?

So please, let us have our Christmas music in November and our holiday store displays in October and our predictable Hallmark movies all the season long. And let us flood social media with photos of that stupid elf and eat too many cookies and give way too many presents.

But most of all let us have whatever it is we choose to believe, whether it be the impossible story of a baby in a manger or a benevolent fat guy in a red suit. Don’t take it from us because we need it.

We need Christmas. It makes us better people.

___________________________________________

[1] This is not true.

[2] Technology Professor and part-time Grinch Laura Pinto, Washington Post (December 16, 2014)

the week that was 6

This week all roads continued to lead to Christmas. The closer we get to the arrival of Sinterklaas the more I eat sugar cookies and binge-watch holiday movies.  My ass is getting bigger by the minute.

Last night while working my way up a size in jeans, I indulged in my annual viewing of Scrooged. My favorite of all the Christmas Carol variations, everything about this movie is perfection: from Bill Murray’s cynical modern-day Scrooge to Carol Kane’s abusive Ghost of Christmas Present  to Alfre Woodard’s wig as a post-racial latter-day feminist Bob Cratchit.  It even has the Solid Gold Dancers as the Solid Gold Dancers and a gym-tastic Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim.

The Dickensian tale is moved from 19th century London and dropped into 20th century New York City with Murray playing the heartless president of a TV network.  He scares a mute child, threatens to staple reindeer antlers to a helpless mouse, and delights in the death of an old woman.  Of course by the movie’s end he sees the error of his ways and reunites with his true love, the delightful where-is-she-now Karen Allen.  When the cast gathers during the end credits to sing Put a Little Love in Your Heart, my heart grows three sizes.

Earlier in the week I scarfed down an appetizer of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Is there anything better than the timeless chemistry of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo?  Yes, a young Juliette Lewis, in arguably her best performance, as surly teen Audrey Griswold, and an even younger Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, in what is undoubtedly her best performance, as yuppie scum Margo. If Scrooged touches my heart, Christmas Vacation tickles my funny bone.  I used to watch it for Doris Robert’s wig, but over the years it has really grown on me.  And now, it just aint Christmas without the Griswolds.


Santa paid an early visit to Defoe Street when Chris received his yearly video message from my less-portly doppelganger (seriously, I need to lay off the cookies).  You can view the heartwarming video here (just ignore the disturbing baby-like elves who grunt and coo approval at their dark overlord Santa):

https://www.portablenorthpole.com/app/video/watch/547cacf7d45da-547cacf7d4682?utm_medium=vidch14001_conf&utm_campaign=oper&user_id=5262154&pixel_source=en_vidch14001_conf&utm_source=watch

Between these videos and that damn Elf on the Shelf I am tapped out creatively.  That elf has done it all — he ziplined into town shortly after Thanksgiving, was held hostage in a stand-off with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles late last week, and just this morning I found him under the mistletoe in a three-way with Ken and Barbie.  I should have such adventures.


Todd and I have been mostly child-free this week.  Chris is involved in no less than 847 activities: piano lessons, yoga, cooking class, choir, re-interpretive existential post-modern Afro-Hungarian line-dancing, macaroni macrame.  He’s very busy.

Parents who complain about how exhausting it is to drive their kid from activity to activity are liars.  Exhausting is having your kid at home every night and then being forced into the role of Julie the Cruise Director.  I don’t care how much an activity costs — it is worth every penny if it means I get to be visibly drunk.*

Tonight Chris is attending a Christmas party so Todd is taking me out on a date.  Of course I had to tell him that he was taking me out on a date, but still, if he’s willing to pretend that I actually listen when he talks, then I can pretend this date was his idea.


*I’m never visibly drunk.

the week that was 5

The big news this week was black.  As in, Friday. Millions of Americans abandoned their Thanksgiving turkeys mid-meal to crowd local malls in a bid to snatch up ten dollar panini presses and 99 cent poinsettias. Unlike the pro-abortion homosexual 9/11 American-hating terrorists at K-Mart who opened their doors on turkey day at 8 am, family-values store Walmart resisted the siren-call of consumerism…opening their doors at 6 pm.  I suppose this makes Walmart better than K-Mart because, really, if you haven’t finished your holiday meal and lapsed into a post-turkey coma by 6 o’clock on Thanksgiving then clearly you must be a pro-abortion homosexual 9/11 American-hating terrorist.

Despite our pro-choice homosexual leanings, my family displayed patriotic superiority waiting until 9 am on Friday to hit the malls.  And while we did miss out on buying a bunch of junk we didn’t need, we did score some great deals on a bunch of junk we really wanted.

After doing our part to keep the economy from teetering off yet another fiscal cliff, we made our annual pilgrimage an hour north of the city to a Christmas tree farm.  Todd and I have been cutting down our own trees for more than a decade now, introducing Chris to the tradition last year.  It’s a comfort to know that nothing changes and every year is the same: Five minutes after we arrive Chris will fall into an icy mud puddle then Todd and I will fight then someone will cry then someone else will storm off in tears and then just when we think it can’t get any worse someone will suggest the other two go “fuck off”.  (FYI: We’re working on curtailing Chris’s potty mouth.)

Of course none of that unpleasantness matters because at the end of the day we gather around our beautifully decorated tree in matching handmade sweaters, sipping homemade cocoa and eating artisan-crafted Christmas cookies.*


It was another week of celebrity retweets, unsourced reposts, and copy-and-paste Wikipedia MLK quotes on Facebook as New York upstaged Missouri. Considering the amount of hand wringing in my news feed, I was a bit surprised when a protest rally parading past my office in downtown Pittsburgh drew just literally tens of people.  Proving once again that while it’s easy to be socially active from the comfort of your smart phone, it’s quite another thing to actually be present in the real world.

From a stalking perspective I love Facebook, but beyond that I just don’t get this hashtag activism or these attempts at engaging others in intelligent discourse.  I mean, how much truth to power and honest change can you hope to affect in a virtual reality populated by anatomically-challenged, overweight 50 year-old men who routinely pass themselves off as well-hung, buff 22 year-old studs?

In the same way we now look back and ask, “Can you believe people used to sit around in wool suits and top coats and stupid hats and dump raw sewage in public streets and rivers and then wonder why it was they had such a low life expectancy?”  I believe our children’s children’s children will one day look back and ask, “Can you believe people used to sit around in skinny jeans and ironic T-shirts and stupid beards and dump raw sewage in public streets and rivers, I mean the internet, and then wonder why it was they couldn’t solve centuries of racial inequality in 160 characters or less?”


*That doesn’t happen.  We aren’t the fucking Waltons.

once more with feeling!

It was number twelve on his Christmas list.  It was the first thing he told Santa Claus.  Shortly after making his annual wish on the remains of this Thanksgiving’s turkey carcass, he entered into negotiations with the Elf on the Shelf.  Wishing wells, shooting stars, the occasional stray eyelash.  Whatever would help the cause.  My son was determined to have his wish: a brother.

When we told Chris that the adoption agency had matched us with a child — someone who, if all things fell into place, might very possibly be his new brother in a few weeks or months — he stopped eating his dinner, calmly stood up and then executed a rather impressive triple somersault expertly sticking the landing before effortlessly melting into a perfectly-posed standing bow.  Not really.  But he did smile a huge smile the length of his face, announcing that he had never been happier while simultaneously shrieking with delight.

So you can imagine our surprise when, several moments later, he burst into tears.  On a normal day Chris is a very messy crier, but these were sloppier more hysterical tears.  They were Oscar-winning tears.  Todd and I just looked at each other.  We expressed our concern, but Chris assured us he was okay, telling us he “just needed to be alone for a few minutes”.  At first I thought he was simply trying to get out of finishing his dinner, but then I remembered that Chris has a lot feelings.

He went up to his room.  To be alone.  Because he has a lot of feelings.  Like any good stage mother not wanting to miss out on a moment of the drama, I counted to almost sixty before rushing upstairs to get the scoop.  Like a good parent I respected his need for privacy and allowed him a few minutes to compose himself before going up to check on him.  I found him perched on the ladder of his loft bed — sobbing uncontrollably.

Me: What’s wrong?

Chris: (hysterically, through tears) I’m just so happy.

Me: But you’re crying.

Chris: I know.

Me: Are you okay?

Chris: (more hysterics and more tears, but smiling) This is the happiest day of my life.

We have of course explained to him that this new brother is not a done deal.  There is a second family being considered.  There are unknown factors and forces beyond our control at work.  It’s out of our hands, kid.  He says that he understands and he pretends to listen, but if we are not chosen, if he doesn’t get his brother, he will be devastated.  As devastated as Todd and I.  But we’re adults.  He’s just a kid.  With a lot of feelings.

claus and effect

The day after Thanksgiving we took Chris to visit Santa.  Chris is eight years old — nine in February — so this very likely might have been our last Black Friday visit with jolly old Saint Nick.  Of course I hope not.  I hope he believes forever.

It’s selfish really, wanting my son to stay in this perpetual state of holly jolly arrested development.  But I miss believing in that magic.  I miss that blind faith, that anticipation, that innocence.  And so the reasoning goes if he still believes then I can believe too.

Because as long as Chris believes then maybe just possibly Santa Claus is real.  And if he is real then maybe he really does live in the North Pole with his grandmotherly wife and his army of Roloffs.  And if the wife and the little people are real so then it stands to reason are the flying reindeer.  And if he can make reindeer fly then circumnavigating the globe in one night is suddenly not so impossible.  And if it’s not impossible then it must be possible.  Santa Claus is real.

Which is all I  want. Because if Santa Claus is real then I’m eight years old again.  It’s Christmas Eve and I’m too excited to sleep.  Like every Christmas Eve since I was three,  I’ve been up all night waiting until that moment when I can rush down the stairs to see what Santa brought.  It’s the magic of Christmas and I haven’t lost it.  It’s still in me.

Except I’m not eight years old.  I’m an adult.  A cynical and jaded adult.

Like the man on the radio this morning as we drove Chris to his bus stop. The commercial voice announced, “The holidays are a stressful time.”  Chris interrupted, “Why are the holidays stressful?”  I started to list the reasons: money, family, low levels of serotonin that bring on S(easonal) A(ffective) D(isorder)…but then I realized that he was not asking a question, he was making a point:

There is no legitimate reason for this to be stressful.  It’s Christmas.  It’s magic.  It’s Santa Claus.  Stop making this complicated.  Just believe.

If only.  Because as we get older — no matter how hard we might try — we can never truly recapture the innocence and magic of our Santa years.  It always eludes us.  Just.

My wish for Chris is that he never outgrow his Santa years; that he keeps the innocence and the magic of Christmas with him always.  How different the world would be if we could all do just that very thing.

the week that was 4

The big news this week was Thanksgiving. I love holidays for many reasons — food, presents, more food — but mostly I love holidays because they give me a legitimate excuse to drink before 9 am, an opportunity I seized yesterday with both hands…firmly on a bottle of champagne as I indulged in a round of early morning mimosas. In our house if you do the cooking, you do the drinking.

So cook I do. Or did, rather. A twenty-five pound turkey, homemade stuffing, homemade mac-n-cheese, fresh cranberries, broccoli, a pumpkin pie and apple-cranberry cobbler.  And yes, Todd cooked too: homemade mashed potatoes and a to-die-for carrot soufflé.

Despite the mountain of food that we prepared (and for three people, no less), I’ve still never understood the fuss around cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It really is the easiest meal to prepare; mostly idiot proof, provided you can follow directions. Essentially you turn on the oven and then pop the turkey in for 3-5 hours depending on how big a bird you bought. If you have any self-respect you baste it every 30 minutes. (Note: Those of you lacking dignity may skip that step and jump to the part where you serve your guests a dry turkey carcass.)

As for the sides…seriously, how hard is it to prepare a few vegetables?  Wash, peel, cut, cook.  Voila.  I suspect the idea of Thanksgiving dinner being this laborious, back-breaking task was a myth created by our grandmothers and then perfected by our mothers; a scheme designed to allow them a few peaceful hours — free from husband and children — to sit in the kitchen getting hammered and melancholy on cheap wine and regret.

Well I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinners for nearly two decades now and the jig is up. You ain’t fooling anyone, Nana.


This week, like a dead fish left to bake out in the hot Florida sun, you could smell the stink steaming off Facebook.  People took to their iPhones and laptops to “express themselves” with a wailing and a gnashing of teeth I haven’t seen since, well, three months ago when everyone was wailing and gnashing their teeth over dead celebrities and mental illness.

Suddenly everyone was my eight-year-old son, tears streaming down his face after losing a round of Clue, screaming, “I have feelings.”

Full disclosure: I wrote a lot of other stuff here but Todd said it was too angry. And no matter how strongly I may feel — not about the events in Missouri, but the reaction of the public to those events —  I don’t want to offend good people, who I otherwise respect, simply because I disagree with their opinions.

So I’ll just say this:  if you have an overwhelming need to be a part of something, keep it simple and be a part of your life. By which I mean, clean your own house. Because all this noise disguised as discourse is just you distracting yourself from the business of living your life. It changes nothing.

This instafacegram tweeting cyberbullshit — this isn’t real. Your life is real.


And speaking of real, it’s time for me to unplug. I’m off to cut down a Christmas tree with my husband and son. It may not be some grand act of passive protest, but it is living.

and then the turkey laughed

We laugh.  Every day we laugh.  Sometimes once.  Sometimes until it hurts.  We laugh at funny things and stupid things and inappropriate things.  We laugh at the things we see and the things we hear.  We laugh, most of all, at ourselves.

Laughter has seen me through some tough days.  It made 13 to 17 a little less awful. Laughter made me — the fat kid — not the joke.  It helped me to make friends at college and when I lived abroad laughter introduced me to new experiences.  Laughter made me interesting. It made me appreciate great television and the electricity of live theater.  Laughter made me a writer.

When I realized I was gay, laughter celebrated.  And when I met Todd, it was laughter that made us fall in love.  Laughter got us through the days following Todd’s heart attack and later, when I thought our relationship might be over, it made us stronger.  Laughter gave us Chris.  And then laughter made Chris our son.

Laugh.  Right now.  And then laugh again.  Laugh until someone laughs with you because laughter unites us.  It demands to be shared.  Laughter is a weapon far more powerful than our collective rage.  It stops tears except for those rare moments when it makes them (and then it is the best kind of laughter).  Laughter says it can get better.

So in this season of giving thanks, be thankful for your health or your family or the roof over your head, I’ll take laughter.  Because with laughter, the rest will fall into place.

how to survive the holidays

For many Americans, myself included, the last two months of the year are a happy time of reckless drinking and excessive binge-eating.  It all begins like clockwork at approximately exactly 9:37 p.m. on October 31st when, shortly after putting your kid to bed, you begin to steal his Halloween candy.  At first you show admirable restraint taking only the loose Tootsie Rolls at the bottom of the pail, but by the end of the first week you’ve moved on to a breakfast of snack-sized Kit Kats and mini-Twizzlers. A midnight raid early in week two takes out the last of the king-sized Milky Way bars and you know you’ve hit rock bottom when your son asks what happened to the jumbo Reese’s Cups and you suggest the dog ate them.

No sooner are you beginning to show signs of early onset diabetes when you abandon the candy and move on to a gluttonous carb-filled Thanksgiving feast where you consume enough food to feed all the starving children in China dating back to the 1950’s when parents still said things like, “You eat that meatloaf.  There are starving children in China.”  Your reward for all your hard-eating is a 72-hour turkey coma…followed by four weeks of Christmas cookies for dinner.  Your shame spiral then comes full circle when, moments after receiving your yearly visit from the ghost of Dick Clark, you wake up hugging the toilet, your face plastered with bits of pork gravy and sick.

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  So complain all you want about holiday store displays in October and Christmas music in November.  Not me.  Those eight weeks are magical.  Give me Perry Como and The Carpenters.  Give me Bill Murray in Scrooged and the whole of Britain in Love Actually.  Give me all the Christmas crap the Hallmark Channel can make.   Kit Kats, Reese’s Cups, Todd’s carrot souffle, row after row of brightly decorated Christmas cookies — I surrender.  I’ll buy new pants.  I’ll run tomorrow.  I’ll join a gym in January.

But for now I’m going to be a kid.  I’m going to remember when the day after Halloween meant Christmas; when Santa Claus seemed possible.  I’m going to take my kid to the Christmas tree farm, cut down the biggest tree we can find and then make Todd drag it back to the car.

How to survive the holidays?  Give in.