Friday, December 5, 2008

Bah Humbug!

Rhys here on a cold Friday morning:

I've come to a conclusion: let's do away with Christmas!Before you click to another, friendlier, website, let me state that I love Christmas. I adore any kind of holiday with the family together, laughter, silly games and the spiritual element as well. But I can't stand what Christmas has become.

When I was a child Christmas carol singers started appearing on street corners about a week before Dec 25. The shops started looking festive about that time. Turkeys appeared, so did Christmas trees. A couple of days before the holiday I took my pocket money and went to town alone to buy gifts for my family (awful perfume for one aunt, I remember. At least it must have been awful because it only cost about twenty cents). Then on Christmas Eve we all piled into the car, loaded to the gills with food and a tree tied to the roof and drove to my grandmother's house. We decorated the tree, and when I was considered old enough I went to Midnight Mass with the grownups. Christmas morning we examined our stockings. We ate a huge turkey lunch, then tea with an iced cake made to look like a snow scene. There were more small presents tied to the tree. We played charades, sat around the fire, talked and went to bed.

Sounds boring, right? But to me it was perfect--and full of real treats. Turkeys only apeared in the stores for Christmas so eating turkey was a treat. Tangerines dates and nuts appeared at the same time so we ate things that were special. The presents were horribly simple by our standards. I got a book, or a puzzle or a new sweater. There was usually a family game to play. But we expected less.

So now that the Christmas music starts blaring out the day after Halloween and the presents under the tree include a BMW everyone should be that much happier. But they're not. It's as if the hype is raised every year to try and convince us that it's a fun and jolly time, but it's not. And why? Because we have too much the rest of the year. It's no treat to eat turkey if we can buy it for 43 cents a pound any time we want. There is no treat in feasting when we eat our fill every day of the year. It's hard to know what presents to buy for kids when they already have everything they could desire.

The holiday has been taken over by Santa and flying reindeer and Frosty to the point that we have forgotten we are celebrating someone's birthday. And it must be truly annoying for non-Christians to have all the Christmas hype blasted at them wherever they go. So I've got a suggestion: Nobody knows when Jesus was born, so why don't we move his birthday to another, quieter time and turn this into Winterfest, so that Santa can bring presents from the North Pole to all good boys and girls with no religious overtones?
Just a thought. What do you think? What memories do you have of holidays past?

RO: I think it's already been turned into Winterfest. I don't mind that I start hearing Burl Ives (Holly Jolly Christmas)and Brenda Lee (Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree) earlier and earlier each year. Maybe if I had kids I'd be more concerned about the commercialism and the ever-escalating gift list, but for me it's the food, the decorations, the general feeling that people are happy and celebrating having gotten through another year!
Your memories sound idyllic. Mine were a little less Currier and Ives, but just as wonderful for me. My mother was one of eight and my father one of nine, so I have more cousins than, oh, Hank has black shoes! (Okay maybe not THAT many) And we'd hang out at my grandmothers in Brooklyn eating Italian specialities that my mother baked, and the seven different kinds of seafood that Neapolitans have on Christmas Eve.When I was a teenager we'd pile into someone's car and drive around looking for the houses with the most garish displays of lights. That used to be quite a contest in our neighborhood. There was a Danny DeVito movie a few years back called Deck the Halls about a guy who wants his decorated house to be seen from outer reminds me of those guys in Brooklyn with their over-the-top decorations.


  1. More to come soon..but Rhys? Was the perfume "Evening in Paris"?

    Remember that?

  2. Rhys,
    You've found the perfect solution to the problem thats been bothering me for years. Yes, turn Dec. 25 into Winterfest and celebrate the religious part another time. I'm not especially religious, but it still bothers me that the holiday is so divorced from its core. I even started to light candles in an Advent wreath (something my family never did) to try to impress upon my children that Xmas was about more than just what toys were under the tree. They loved the whole Advent thing (proving that kids love any ritual involving candles), but it didn't do any good. So YES, let's make everyone happy and call it Winterfest or the Solistice or something. Then I don't have to feel conflicted that the whole holiday has been co-opted!

  3. The perfume was Lilies of the Valley, or Ashes of Roses, two staples of Woolworth, I believe. Certainly not Chanel.

  4. Ro, I've always wanted to be invited to an Italian Christmas eve. All those courses...mmmmm

    It is hard to keep the right spirit for the season. This year I'm singing in our church choir for the first time since high school. (If you read PREACHING TO THE CORPSE, you'll recognize the group!) I think it's going to help keep my focus. But I still rush around like a lunatic. Not sure that calling it winterfest would help with that!

  5. The inexpensive perfumes I remember giving were called Ambush and Taboo. Pretty subtle names! And the men got Canoe or English Leather. I wonder if they still exist.

    I'm a Thorn Birds junkie and Ashes of Roses was the color they kept calling Meggie's dress the day Father Ralph realizes she's not a little girl anymore. Was that a famous fragrance?

    I only made the seven seafoods once myself (in the past I'd cheat and have a seafood salad that took care of three or four of them.) But I do make struffoli..if I'm feeling ambitious I'll bring some to the December meeting.

  6. I remember funky cheap perfume from my childhood, sold at the five-and-dime, called 'Blue Waltz'. It was sold in a little heart-shaped bottle about the size of a silver dollar. The smell -- I can only describe it as 'mixed floral fug'.

    Did I ever gift someone with it? The price was within my allowance, sure, but I think it was just too stinky to be good value-for-money.

  7. Despite all the hype, I still burst into tears at the sound of "Silent Night" being sung at church on Christmas Eve.

    I love Advent and the season through Epiphany. It always strikes me as funny that, for most of the U.S., Christmas ends on Christmas night, but it's really just the beginning. And, of course, the biggest celebration of all doesn't happen until Easter.

    Rhys, I remember those tangerines and walnuts being so special, too. They appeared magically in our stockings and I think I liked them better than any roll of Life Savers I ever got!

  8. I really like the simpler, heartfelt Christmas times. Christmas to me is hot weather; cicada songs in the sun; the warm smell of gum trees; the smells from the perfume counter at David Jones department store in Sydney; Christmas holidays camping at the 'lake' (Wangi Wangi); the annual Christmas hamper Mum would order from the store which held all of the exotic things like nuts, fancy chocs, etc; the big Christmas dinners and Nan and Grandad's house when I was a tot, where all of the kids presents filled a huge square shipping basket out in the porch room; my other Grandma's huge homemade plum pudding; the annual Christmas eve carols televised live from Myer Music bowl in Melbourne...

    Tonight, we ate a lamb baked dinner, dropped some things at a friend's house, then we 'kidnapped' him and drove down to another friend's house. There we helped her decorate her house and tree while laughing, talking, drinking chocolate/vanilla tea, ate kettle corn popcorn, and the little iced spiced-ginger cakes I'd baked a few hours earlier. It was a great relaxing time, and we had fun.


  9. Hank, Evening in Paris was the first thing I thought of too. And how about Jean Nate, which you can buy by the gallon and smell for a mile?

    One of my prized adult Christmas memories was going caroling in the Berkeley hills--and one of the carolers was a baritone who sang with the San Francisco opera. Wonderful voice, even if it was a bit hard to compete with him (the rest of us were very ordinary singers!). And the caroling trek culminated with hot toddies at author Robert Silverberg's house.

    Ro, what on earth is strufolli?

  10. Hi Sheila,
    the carolling sounds like loads of fun. Bob Silverberg is a hoot. We see him and his wife, Karen at various science fiction events and have a catch up fest. :-D


  11. I confess, I love the excess as long as I don't have to participate. Fortunately I live in a completely hokey neighborhood where all my neighbors decorate like mad. This year the favored lights seem to be bands of tiny white ones. Last year it was a dripping-icicle version of the same and wire deer. I've always wondered if these folks buy new outdoor lights every it just that they get impossibly tangled and can't be reused??

    We had a Christmas tree every year which we decorated Christmas eve. What I remember is my father laying out the strings of lights (big fat colored bulbs) on the living room floor, connecting them and turning them on. Because of the way they were wired, if ONE bulb was blown, all the ones after it were out. So it was a painstaking process (like combing out nits) finding the defective lights, one by one, and replacing them. And we kids of course managed to step on a few lights (loud POP!) in the process.

  12. Struffoli...little deepfried honey soaked (dough)balls generously sprinkled with chopped walnuts and colored sprinkles. I use Mario Batali's recipe and it's pretty close to my mom's.

  13. Hallie, we have next door neighbors who go so crazy with outdoor lights that it looks like daylight out there--reindeer leaping over the roof, santa, penguins, giant candy canes-you name it, it's in their front yard. And we have one down the hill that adds a new specatcular piece each year. This year it's a working ferris wheel. We confine ours to a tree and a front door wreath

  14. This might sound pathetic to some, but I think it's pretty cool (in hindsight.) I wasn't nuts about it then. ;)

    When I was a kid, my mom never bought us a six-pack of Coke unless it was Christmas. (Remember the cardboard bottle carriers with the picture of Santa laughing and waving?)

    Anyway, my mom was way ahead of her time, as far as healthy food was concerned. I could have Coke out at events, but we only had it in the house for Christmas.

  15. Call it Solstice, or Decemberfest - or merge it with new year, which it is anyway (Winter? well, we are in the Southern Hemisphere, in Summer at this time; a lot of us are). A good idea! And Christians can observe our religious Birthday, same as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists have their own special dates.

    Bah! Humbug - ghosts and all!