Prepare

The wood is stacked, leaves raked, yard cleaned up ( well, almost). So I must start on the following tasks needed for the coming holidays:

  • The little lights for the windows and plants all work. 
  • I’ve gathered all the materials for the rum-soaked fruitcakes (don’t eat and drive).
  • I’ve bought the fresh poppy seed for Grandma’s poppyseed bread.
  • I’ve started prep for the holiday letter.

There is a lot to do that wouldn’t fit into a paragraph. Thanksgiving is still weeks away, but it won’t work well without preparation. Remember the seven P’s – Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

And sometimes, I get a bit fed up with it all. But it keeps me from mourning the passing of my favorite seasons and keeps me from looking towards the one I least like; winter.

Now is also the time of year when I reflect on the fragility of these things. It depends upon family and friends, and pets. It would all be very hollow if it were only me. So let’s see, get sloshed on the rum-soaked fruit cakes, get stuffed alone on poppyseed bread, light lights only I might see, and read my prose in the dark.

It’s more fun to chase the cat away from the decorations. Chastise the dog for stealing food. Make holiday calls to relatives. Listen to our favorite family songs while kissing my wife. And watch my adult children tell stories while they put up the old favored decorations.

As arduous as the preparations may be, most of the pleasure is tied up in enjoying the enjoyment of others. It reflects back on us and cheers us at this time of year.

Hold The Muzak

How can I say this…the long retail slog towards Christmas has started. Yesterday I visited my doctor for an immunization, and on the way home stopped at the big box bookstore for a treat. It was low but insidious. Christmas music, on the second of November. 

Oh, Lord! Do I have the stamina to withstand two months of Chestnuts Roasting in an Open fire, Here Comes Santa Clause, and Silent Night? Can I do this without becoming a grouch or, worse, a grinch?

I still have the build-up to our Thanksgiving ( here in the States), and I understand that between bird flu and supply chain issues, the rush to the freezers with the turkeys will make Black Friday a stroll in the park. It is almost enough to make a teetotaler like myself lust for a drink of the Golden Egg Nog they have already started pushing in the stores. Ick!

Don’t get me wrong, the holidays at this time of year are my absolute favorite. Nothing is mundane about lighting the first Christmas lights at sundown on Thanksgiving, preparing a holiday dinner, or listening to sappy songs. These things light off old memories like fireworks on the fourth of July.

So I guess I’ll put my earbuds firmly in place every time I go into a store for the next two months, play Tom Waits or ZZ Top, and buggy through the schlock. I love the holidays,

Market Forces

Seasonal Creep. I don’t know if that’s the technical term, but it’ll do. I bet you already know what I am talking about. It’s Halloween decorations showing up before Labor Day and Christmas decorations showing up before Halloween. People used to grumble, “It’s too early! One holiday isn’t even finished before the other is pushed on us!” 

The big box stores suggest that the elaborate marketing forces are to blame. 

My parents maintained that such Seasonal Creep was ultimately untenable and would have to stop because it would fail due to low sales. Well, over half a century later, it hasn’t failed yet.

As a child, I remember the Christmas Season starting right after Thanksgiving. Now it starts before Halloween but picks up momentum on Black Friday. Black Friday is now a holiday of its own. The news reports on “Door Busters,” the lady caught in the revolving door with all the presents she was carrying out of the store, and Black Friday traffic jams. You can even buy Black Friday holiday cards…Google it!

You think this is just Lou ranting about the commercialization of holidays and whining about the good old days. Wrong. Remember, I have that carving shop full of tools and the laser engraver in the basement. I’ll happily “craft” all the  Mortimer Roger’s Birthday goodies you ask for. I can have a lovely marketing agreement out to you before the Richard Nixon holiday observances…If you act now! 

Holiday Spirit

I moved away as fast as possible. The couple in the parking lot were having a loud argument over Christmas presents. They disagreed over the fluff while ignoring the fundamentals.  

There seems to be a tendency for holidays to drift away from their anchorage. Memorial day is about hurrying to the beach, and Christmas is about consumption.

We seem to perpetuate hollow holidays – eventually stripping away the original meaning and adding in heaping doses of ordinary celebration. 

If you think about it, that’s why the Puritans in Massachusetts did not celebrate Christmas. The day had ceased to be an observance of Christ’s birthday and had become a good excuse for a long party. Not that I think there is anything wrong with a good party.

Admittedly, the extended nocturnal portion of our twenty-four hours in the day tends to get us down this time of year. The Romans knew this and partied heartily at Saturnalia. Imagine the conservative among them complaining that Saturnalia just wasn’t what it used to be when they were a child. Well, why not?

So here is a holiday assignment for all of you. Make a hollow holiday out of an as yet uncorrupted winter holiday. I recommend Festivus.

To remind you that Festivus was designed to be a non-commercial holiday – and should provide lots of opportunity for corruption. Remember you will be graded on the originality of the ideas you bring to the holiday, and how far from the original intent you can get it to drift. This will be an open book exam, so have fun. I will not be marking on a curve, and the final will count towards one third of your grade.

Some points about Festivus:

  •  there is a Festivus dinner, 
  • a plain aluminum Festivus pole
  • an Airing of Grievances
  •  Feats of Strength
  •  and the explaining of Festivus miracles

 Remember Festivus was to be a ” Festivus for the rest of us.”

Okay, Festivus is December 23rd. So get out there and start corrupting. The winner becomes a Youtube influencer and wins the most toys before I die competition.

Oy

Hanukkah gelt, for the uninitiated, is the chocolate, foil-covered coins given to children at Hannukkah. If you’ve ever played the Dreidle game, you might have used gelt to make bets on the fall of the dreidl. Growing up as an excellent goyishe boy ( a gentile rather than a Jew) in New York City, I spun many a dreidle with my Jewish friends and cousins. At my parent’s home, it was the angel over the nativity, and at my friend’s homes, it was the Menorah.
Meanwhile, at uncle Joe and aunt Lee’s, I’d better know how to thank you and enough in Italian when I visited during the holidays.

To add to this polytheistic, multi-ethnic atmosphere, my grandmother took orders for shopping from her observant neighbors before the sabbath. Grandma knew English, Spanish, native German and Hungarian, and Yiddish. Grandma’s Hungarian Poppyseed bread made the rounds of all the family and friends of all traditions at Christmas time.

It was years before I realized that these experiences were neither universal nor appreciated by all.

If love is not blind, it certainly has severe vision problems. One year my affections drifted to a woman whose family found these traditions reprehensible. My lover asked me to “tone it down” when around her relatives. Like most New Yorkers of my generation, my speech is peppered with Yiddish, Italian and Spanish bits. If someone behaves crazily, I’ll say he’s meshugana. It’s not something I think about consciously. My lover ground her teeth at this.
When asked to go home to meet her family that Christmas, I got told to be careful what I said. Her family holiday traditions admitted no polluting trends from elsewhere. Instead, they insisted on their “purity,” ignoring the fact that “American” Christmas was itself a patchwork of borrowed traditions.
Before dinner, things grew tense when grandpa asked me,” who are your people?”, ” What do you mean?” “Well, you’ve got a funny name.”
In reply, I began to lay out the family’s genealogy, including the pirates, Catalan, Hungarian, Caribean British, Scots, and other gory details. Grandpa blanched. I was a mongrel!
Eventually, this abraded my built-in anthropological sense of cultural relativism. Over dinner, I started by singing Hava Negila. Then I began liberally salting my speech with Spanish and Yiddish. To top it off I began to recite a bit of the Enuma Elish – the Babylonian creation myth. Who says anthropologists can’t be the life of the party?

All this proved to be a bit too much for my hosts. My love asked me how I could do this to her? I replied that her family had a right to know what they would get for a son-in-law. This caused grandpa to clutch his chest and fall forward into a plate of cranberry sauce. To cap this off, I leered suggestively at her sister. As a collective, the family recoiled. ” So, the engagement is off?”

Yes, the engagement was off, and I was on the road from Vermont home to my tiny apartment in Eastie for Christmas with my terror of a cat who left me a mouse under the Christmas tree.

Sincerity is to be valued.

Holiday Travel

Reprinted from the 1969 Road Journal – Holiday Travel edition ( copyright Lou Carreras)

Holiday travel, by thumb, can be a joyful or stressful thing. Often by turns in the same day. At no other time of the year are you likely to find as much generosity or so much danger waiting for you as you stand on the roadside. Rides with Uncle Albert on his way to spew conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassinations are especially poignant. The Albert’s of the world will use your vulnerable situation in the passenger’s seat to rehearse the rhetorical positions they plan on using with aunt Gertrude and her hippy-dippy son. Try not to offer advice on the sneers and harrumphs. Just go with the flow – Albert’s are generally not violent unless cornered.

Needing more subtle skills in deflection are the carload of guys on their way home from college. If they have been drinking on the way, you may be looking at a car wreck. Spotting tips are the glazed eyes, slack features, and the smoky interiors of their cars. Although any actual narcotics may be hidden in the dirty laundry, you’d be wise to avoid riding with them.

Perhaps the most dangerous is aunt Agatha. This older woman is on her way to her sisters with half the holiday meal in the back seat. I was asked once to keep a pot of gravy safe from spilling. Not too hard a job you’d suggest? Aunt Agatha’s idea of driving from Newark to Harrisburg was nonstop tailgating and erratic passing maneuvers. When I left her at a truck stop, I was shaking so severely a concerned state trooper thought I was ODing.

Seemingly innocuous situations can have ugly turnings during the Holidays. People are in a relentless pursuit of happiness at any cost. So turn down any offers to join strangers at their family gatherings. You either wind up being paired with a melancholy cousin who has just lost a suiter or get dragooned into the middle of a religious discussion.

The Holidays are the one time of the year that I encourage my readers to spring for the Greyhound bus or in extremis airfare. The worst that will happen is getting caught in a holiday sing-along or a sentimental conversation.

Good luck, and remember, the objective is to get there safely.

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