25X: Christmas Stories

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This whole 25X advent calendar has been about trying to capture or describe some of our favorite Christmas traditions, because this season is all about honoring traditions: ornaments, cookies, Christmas cards, holiday movies and festive $6 Starbucks drinks.  So much of Christmas is wrapped up (PUN!) in trying to relive, or at least finding comfort in repeating, events that tap into a sense of nostalgia, usually with the people closest to us.

My mom and dad sent me the ornament above as a Christmas present, plucked right from their own tree. ¬†Passing this little 25-year-old porcelain Santa Mickey onto a new generation, so to speak. ¬†I teared up as I held it in my hands, remembering all those Christmases at my parents’ house, gathered around their tree adorned with so many ornaments. ¬†It was my childhood, right there, in a little cartoon mouse.

Lance and I wish all of you the Very Merriest Christmas, and hope you’re all honoring your favorite Christmas traditions today. ¬†Share your love and goodwill with your family, however you define it: near and far, by-blood, -marriage, or -Twitter.

Tell old stories and make new ones. ¬†I’m sure that time us kids got drunk before church, or when my brother-in-law Showcase Showgirl’ed his mini-14 semi-automatic rifle before unwrapping gifts, will be just some of the Christmas 2012 anecdotes we’ll be sharing for years to come.

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25X: Little Lights

Public Doman Photo, since, you know, I don't have a time machine or anything.
Public Doman Photo, since, you know, I don’t have a time machine or anything.

Tonight, one of my most favorite holiday traditions will begin quietly glowing in the cold evening air: luminaires.

I’m not a religious guy, so the significance of these paths of light being “runway lights for Baby Jesus” is lost on me. ¬†Still, there is something uniquely moving about such a simple display of faith.

It got me to thinking that, really, so much of this season, in reality and metaphorically, is about light, the simple colored bulbs we dress our houses with, or the elaborate displays from the Osbourne Family, or a tealight in a white paper lunchbag.

Is it because we find ourselves (up here in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway; hi, Australian readers!) in the lengthiest, the darkest nights of the year, that we’re drawn to this tradition of light? ¬†What innate human need is satisfied by a few twinkling lights? ¬†Why do we still find such peace in something so relatively¬†primitive?

I love this time of year because, when you strip away all the Furbies, the gift cards, the calorie-explosion holiday lattes and the umpteenth Christmas movie on ABC Family, what’s left is a common, universal thread of decency. ¬†There’s a shared sense of hope in the goodness of man (collective, sex-neutral pronoun). ¬†Maybe it’s naive, but it’s there.

So those little lights are important to me. ¬†They’re represent one of the most basic elements of human experience: light in the darkness, hope on the horizon, for all of us.

25X: Beards

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Sirens slowly wound toward us from down the block, the dog and me. ¬†Of course, my first thought was, somebody’s fir got a little too dry. ¬†But the pace was too slow. ¬†Ripley let loose a long, drawn out mixture of grunt and whine as he repositioned himself between my feet.

But the truck wasn’t moving fast enough for an emergency. ¬†The pace of the truck was leisurely at best; its siren, not so leisurely.

Rounding the corner at the end of the block, behind the truck, was a full-on fire engine, blaring a different, but just as loud, alarm. ¬†Perched on top near the base of the ladder was none other then ol’ Saint Nick himself.

“What the blerg is this?” I muttered to myself. ¬†It was like 10AM on a Saturday, and my dog was increasingly flipping out underneath me.

Screw this Santa. ¬†He wasn’t even sporting a full beard.

Now, I believe in Santa Claus. ¬†Maybe not the North Pole, elf slave-labor version, but I consider that enlarged sense of generosity and thoughtfulness, the slight relief of selfishness, that spirit is collectively “Santa Claus.” To throw around a cliche: there’s a little bit of him in all of us.

Still, when Santas manifest themselves as real, live people, I expect them to commit to the role: fat, jolly, and with a real white beard. ¬†The whole experience of a mall Santa may be fake as hell, but something about a real beard gives it weight, an anchor of believability. ¬†It means this guy considers the role as important…or he’s just a creep-o with a wild beer who probably lives in the woods, makes his own moonshine and cuts hit toenails with a hunting knife. ¬†Regardless, the beard needs to be real or that “Santa” is a fraud, throwing on some synthetic fiber for a quick buck.

Real beards or bust!

25X: The Snickerdoodle Incident

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To my delight (and the delight of my ever-expanding tummy), a package of my mom’s Christmas cookies showed up on our doorstep today.

I don’t usually go crazy for sweets; a piece of candy now and then, perhaps a bag of Haribo Gummy Bears, but I’m a salt man. ¬†Give me tortilla chips and pretzels any day of the week.

…Except Christmas, which is synonymous in my family with M&M cookies, snickerdoodles, Russian tea and peanut butter balls, chocolate brittle. ¬†My mom bakes cookies for what seems like days every holiday season, packing up tupperware containers for teachers, co-workers, and extended family. ¬†There’s even an infamous anecdote she likes to tell whenever she wants to rib me a little:

During Christmastime, probably about 10 years back, my mom was slaving over a hot oven, producing mounds of cookies. ¬†Meanwhile, I’m slouched back on the soda, probably drinking lots of Coke and belching a lot while watching an episode of Real World/Road Rules Challenge. ¬†“Finish those snickerdoodles, wench!” I commanded (as my mom tells it, anyway.)

My mom slid another tray of snickerdoodles into the oven and swung the door closed. ¬†As the oven door snapped into place, the glass pane on the front of the oven popped loose (only held up at one point by what amounted to some glue and a shallow lip). ¬†The weighty pane dropped straight down, with a crunch, right onto my mom’s toes.

There’s a truncated yelp, more of a startled shock before the pain kicked in. ¬†My mom hopped out of the kitchen, the purple and blue stain of bruising slowly blooming. ¬†“Ooohh, the snickerdoodles! If it weren’t for your snickerdoodles, this would’ve never happened!” she cried.

My mom then spent the next few months in a mix of unmatched boots, thermal socks, and sandals. ¬†I don’t know if we ever found out if her toes had been broken, but regardless, the event was the fault of, not the shoddy manufacturing of Maytag, but me.

Merry Christmas, Ma!

25X: Window Displays of Affection

Just a quick one today, folks, since I’m on Santa’s naughty list after not prepping enough for this post (apparently when you’re talking about a visual experience, you may want to include images. It’s crazy!)

As we’re jettisoning our last booster rocket on our approach to Christmas, one overarching element that I really love about the holidays is that everybody tries a little bit harder. ¬†People (not everybody, but a lot!) put more effort into getting into the spirit and enjoying this season more than any other time of the year. ¬†People bake more (and eat more), have and attend more parties, are more considerate; people are consumed with this season, and it may be one of the last few shared cultural experiences we still hold on to. ¬†I mean, you don’t have half the country watching the same TV show anymore.

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One of the simplest examples of this Santa-sized effort is the storefront window display. ¬†Otherwise some mannequins in a bathing suit, these windows often transform into elaborate storytelling devices during the holidays, with video, animatronics, and music. ¬†Most major cities will have at least one big department store that will feature their signature display, people flocking downtown to see it (and even Disney World had a “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”-themed display while we were there–thanks to HarshLight for posting these photos!), but even smaller businesses step up their game.

Recently, I stopped by Shane Confectionery here in Philadelphia. ¬†This candy shop has a long history (and makes some bangin’ chocolate), and its owners’ pride themselves on honoring tradition. ¬†So it was a treat to see their windows decked out in festive throwback to the first-half of the 20th century.

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The windows were stocked full of slightly-creepy vintage toys, stockings, a train set, fresh garland, molded clear toy candies. ¬†The curved glass was glazed with a fake frosting, a cozy reminder of how mom-‘n’-pop shops can sometimes strip away the pomp and circumstance of a big department store’s display and provide their customers with a nostalgic appreciation of yesteryear.

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And if the holidays aren’t about reminiscing, what are they about?

(Well, except Jesus and stuff.)

 

25X: Yo! Christmas Wraps

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Another title considered for this post: “More Evidence Jeff Isn’t Gay.”

Now, I don’t want to play into stereotypes of gay men, but, you know…some of us happen to have an eye for good design and the wherewithal to execute a Grand Unified Theory of gift-wrapping with such precision and skill that you’d think they were elf dentists in their spare time. ¬†People who love to wrap gifts, like Lance, will spend hours doing it, jamming on some Mariah Carey and sipping a homemade latte. ¬†And they’ll actually enjoy it!

I am not one of those people. (more…)