Thursday, December 28, 2006

...And To All, A Good Night.

Ho, Ho, Heyyy…where did it all go?

All those weeks of hype, and in the blink of an eye, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are in the past, and we’re staring down the barrel of a brand new year. With it all behind us, I thought I’d use this space to share a few post-holiday thoughts that stuck with me last weekend.

• Somehow, big crowds and long lines and holiday chaos at the malls are a lot easier to handle the day before Christmas Eve than they are during the first few weeks of December. You’d think it wouldn’t be so, but as I was out for several hours of last-minute shopping on December 23 this year (a late date even by my standards!), I wasn’t nearly as frustrated with the hustle and bustle as I thought I might have been.

• If your buddies who are home for a few days for the holidays call you to go out, and you still have gifts to wrap and other things on your “to do” list, go out anyway. They’re your buddies. And if a couple hours turns into, oh, maybe four and a half…don’t worry. Things have a way of working themselves out.

• While the “Special XMAS” station I mentioned in my last entry can be a great mood lifter during the weeks leading up to Christmas, it seems only fitting on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to switch the dial to the “Classical Christmas” station one notch to the left that features big-production symphonies and choirs and traditional hymns in Latin and German and other ethereal carols. Just…because.

• Not having snow in the air—or on the ground—for Christmas is like not having chips and dip at a Super Bowl party. Something’s missing.

• If a beverage bills itself as a “Christmas Lager” on the label, and features honey and orange and spices in its ingredients, it might be entirely possible that it’ll end up getting tasted and then poured down the drain. Merry Christmas and all, but please leave the nutmeg and cinnamon out of my beer.

• “Silent Night,” sung on Christmas Eve…doesn’t matter if it’s by the Mormon Tabernacle or your local church choir…is as moving a song as has ever been written.

• If your 8-year-old niece asks you on Christmas Day what Santa brought you, after she'd been with you on Christmas Eve and seen the gifts you got during the family gift exchange, you'd better be a quick enough thinker to come up with a believable answer. (I'm not sure that I was. At first, I told her that I was naughty and that Santa didn't bring me anything. But I said it with a grin. So then I changed my answer and told her he brought me some books, because Santa knows how much I love books, and quickly shifted the topic to something else. I think I passed, but I've gotta work on my creativity.)

One big New Year’s Eve bash left for whomever wishes to ring in the new year in that fashion, and before you know it, the 2006 holiday season will be a memory and we’ll be grumbling for the snow to melt and why is it so cold and when is spring gonna get here and why won’t my car start?

Time. Marches. On.

“Next to a circus there ain’t
nothing that packs up and
tears out any quicker than
the Christmas spirit.”
—Frank McKinney Hubbard

Friday, December 15, 2006

No More Humbuggery

Let the holly-jollyness commence!
I believe I've just begun
the countdown to
full festive mode.

I'm the first to admit that it takes me longer than most people to find the "spirit" of Christmas. When I see the first signs of it popping up in stores shortly after Halloween, I block it out completely. And if too many people try to smother the great holiday that is Thanksgiving with too much talk of the big day that's "only" a month away, I tightly pack spoonfuls of stuffing into my ears and refuse to listen.
(Note: Mashed potatoes work equally as well.)

Regardless of the title of this entry, or the tone of its first couple paragraphs, my middle name is not Ebenezer. I promise you that. I'm a big fan of Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, as well. I just can't maintain the level of hype that some folks do for so many days prior, whistling carols as I work, or trying to sing like Burl Ives.

Around mid-December each year, though, there are a couple indicators that give me a jolt and tell me it's time to start Ho! Ho! Ho!ing.

The first has been occurring for more than a decade now, and it never fails to put me in the right mindset. The newspaper at which I work publishes a Children's Album each Christmas, as I'm sure many newspapers do. The middle school kids submit drawings, and the elementary school kids write stories and poems and letters to Santa and tell why they like Christmas and winter and......whether I'm typesetting some of their handwritten pages or formatting them to fit in the pages of our newspaper, it's impossible to not be inspired by some of the creativity contained within.

We do our best to leave as many of their "creative" spellings unchanged, so the reader gets to see what we see in the original. And while many of the themes are like to play in the snow and get cold so they can go inside for hot cocoa, or boys like to throw snowballs at their sisters, or boys like to go ice fishing with their dads and grandpas and uncles (who sure can drink a lot of beer!)...there's an originality to each kid's writing.

One girl wrote about how the snow sounds when it's falling. Didn't think that was possible, did you? Listen next time it snows, and if you hear, "Ch, ch, ch," then her writing is true. (If you just think of Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies, then you're not revealing enough of your inner child. Dig deeper!)

Out here in these rural parts, if Santa's reindeer get a little touch of frostbite on those extra-cold nights, do you know how Santa finishes his rounds? You got it...he lands in a farmer's field and borrows some cows.

In one story, a girl writes about how everything was going wrong in the days leading up to Christmas, and one of the elves went to Santa and said (and I quote), "...our wood got broke." Luckily, things all worked out in the end. Whew!

In this year's issue, one girl was writing about Christmas candy and mentioned a bag of "likalice." I'll never eat another Twizzler the same way.

And my favorite of the year (here comes my bias) is the boy that wants a Barry Sanders jersey for Christmas. This kid was probably only a handful of years old when Barry left the league, and yet he's this boy's idol because he was so great, and so humble. And because he played for Detroit. I can relate.

— • — • —

The other outlet that gives me a Christmas boost is relatively new, as I stumbled onto it just last year. I have XM Radio in my car, and during the holiday season they play Christmas carols on several of their stations. One in particular, called Special XMAS, caught my ear last year.

This station specializes in some of the "alternative" Christmas carols, if you will. Even more obscure than, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." For instance, just tonight I heard an AC/DC impersonator doing his rendition of "Jingle Hells Bells."

The other night, I heard the audio of Cartman singing, "O Holy Night," in Mr. Garrison's class, and every time he screwed up or forgot the lyrics, Kyle got to zap him with a cattle prod.

I've heard an ode to regifting, called, "Didn't I Get This Last Year?" (a la "Do You Hear What I Hear?") I also heard a singer named Richard Cheese (heh.) and his leisure suit-wearing band, Lounge Against The Machine, do a jazzed up version of "Christmastime is Here," made famous by Charles Schultz and his Peanuts (as he put it).

My favorite example, though, comes from last year, when I first heard "Santa Lost a Ho! This Year at Christmas." I wish I could find an audio link to it so you could hear it for yourselves, but the lyrics in the chorus go something like this:

"He used to go Ho! Ho! Ho!
Now he goes Ho! Ho!.....Oh-Oh!
Where'd the other Ho! go? Don't know!!"

(I know, I know. Simple things for simple minds.)

— • — • —

I'm going to spend some holiday family time at my sister's this weekend, and you can bet that there will be nary a single "Humbug" in my vocabulary, and my sense of humor will be set firmly in place.

However. Now that I've finally reached the preferred state of mind for this grand season of yuletide, would somebody pleeaase tell me what I can get my mom for Christmas?

"Never worry about the size
of your Christmas tree.
In the eyes of children,
they are all 30 feet tall."
—Larry Wilde

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ma Nature Says Hello...

It was all just an illusion, you know. The November without a jacket, save for a couple days. The 50s on Thanksgiving Day. You knew it had to come eventually. This is Wisconsin, after all. And on Dec. 1, it came.

It's not as if we got dumped with three or four feet of snow, but there were an awful lot of big flakes flying around in the a.m. hours, and things got a whole lot whiter before it was over. Doesn't look like it's gonna go away, either. Winter is here.

I've been through 30-plus of these seasons, closing in on 40 of 'em, actually. And while I don't make it a habit to bitch about winter too much, I don't like it. I don't own a snowmobile, and I don't ski. The occasional snowball fight can still be fun. But what I do mostly in winter is...wait. For spring. And most recently, I curse the shitty tires that came on the car I got last September. New tires...plenty of tread. Just, horrible in the snow! (a Kumho endorsement, I'll never get.) I've got a buddy that owns a Goodyear dealership, and if I'm going to stay on the roads this winter, I might have to pay him a visit.

There is one good thing about winter, however. Relatively minor on one hand, but amazingly grand in scale if you look at it through the right eyes.

Winter is the season for Orion. Visible in the northern hemisphere from November to April, it's one of the most well-known constellations in the sky. It's been mentioned in literature and pop culture and music, from Homer and Milton and Tennyson and Frost, to Jimmy Buffett and Metallica and Prince and Springsteen and Jethro Tull.

Known as The Hunter, many references have been made to Orion's belt and sword, and other constellations surrounding him make up his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, and his prey, such as Taurus the Bull. According to one story in Greek mythology, Orion was killed by the poisonous sting of the scorpion, Scorpio. The two constellations are positioned so that Orion (fall and winter) and Scorpio (spring and summer) do not appear in the sky together.

I'll never claim to be the biggest astronomy scholar on the planet, and I don't own my own Hubble, but I never...never...miss an opportunity to stare up at the sky in winter and find Orion. I talk to him. And when spring comes, I bid him adieu for another couple seasons.

It would make for a great personal ad, don't you think?

(Lonely, slightly crazy SWM into star-gazing at heavenly bodies, Greek mythology, talking to himself, reading the classics like "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," shooting good darts and playing bad poker...seeks SF with same interests. Heavenly body preferred, but not required. Scorpios need not apply.)

I can see all the soulmates lining up already.

"You know Orion always
comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over
our fence of mountains."
—Robert Frost in "The Star-Splitter"