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Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

One of the rare family Christmas memories I have from childhood is of something we called “Honking For Hamburgers.”

In the before times, when I was young and dinosaurs ruled the earth, there was no such thing as a drive-thru.  For one thing we still spelled it “through” back then and, moreover, we called them drive-ins.   Cars and burgers were linked from the beginning, I guess.  You’d drive in and up to one of the menu stands next to each parking space in the lot that radiated out from the hamburger stand itself.  Once your mind was made up, you’d blow the horn.  A car hop then came out to your car.  I never saw one on roller skates like in the movies.  Seems a potentially very messy combination to me.  What we got mostly was some sullen high school girl with an attitude and an order pad.

A car hop took our order.  Then we got to wait around forever in the car.  Eventually, she brought out our burgers and fries on a tray that hooked onto the side of the car with the window rolled down.  I thought it was wonderful and there weren’t even little choking-risk, plastic-crap, marketing based toys.  Just burgers eaten in the unfiltered fumes of the parking lot.  No pesky smog control devices for us.

The best named drive-in was in Britton’s Neck – an alleged town in South Carolina.  The stand was called the Park and Blow.  This meant that their sign said “Britton’s Neck Park and Blow.”  I get an adolescent giggle thinking about it even now.

The point of this digression is to explain that at the time of this particular Christmas memory from my very questionably spent youth, you honked to place your order at the drive-in.

Drive-ins were garish places, garnished liberally with enough neon to be seen from space.

Despite my humble origins and though we lacked for a lot, we were never short on judgment.  It was our feeling that the houses festooned with lights lining the roof, covering the shrubbery and illuminating the fiberglass nativity scenes looked like drive-ins.  So, as a family, we would pile into the car, drive around town and spot particularly egregious examples of overzealous Christmas yard decor.  When we are all decided on an over lit candidate, we’d pull into their drive-way and “Honk for hamburgers.”  We’d flee when someone emerged.  Sort of a holiday ding-dong-ditch.

Such were the simple joys of my youth.

I suppose this might seem a bit thin on Christmas spirit and familial warmth.  It might even seem a bit ironic, given my own proclivity for extreme holiday decorating.  But I am a man who has never so much as had a meal in a restaurant on my own with my father.  I may have dined alone with Mom when we drove together to that funeral one Thanksgiving, but that’s pretty much it.  So, the fact that we got together to do anything even joyous-adjacent makes for a fond holiday memory.

Traditions are like that, I think.  Nothing we do in life has any real meaning.  I don’t mean life is meaningless, I’m saying that we decide what’s important.  Like picking the 25th of December and saying that it means something.  Since we made up the idea of December and established the convention of numbering the days, making one of them more significant than the other 30 or 31 or 28 or occasionally 29, well, that takes tradition.

In the end it’s the lights and the wrapping paper that make Christmas, Christmas.  Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of junk under a dead tree.

Whether it’s a month of fasting, eight candles or fireworks at sunset, our traditions give meaning to the events in our lives.  Weddings and birthdays and holidays mean something to us more because of the celebrations and ceremonies than the date.  I have friends who get tattoos or piercings to mark special occasions.  It’s a bit literal for me, but I get it.

I hear a lot about commercialization and whatnot, but what would a holiday be if we didn’t celebrate it? Without the crystal sphere and Times’ Square, New Years would just be midnight.

A lot of what makes the occasions in life occasions is that they only happen, well, occasionally.  If the Christmas lights were up all year, it would be no big deal at the holiday.  If you have caviar and cream cheese every day, peanut butter and jelly becomes the delicacy.  But if there are no dress occasions then there are no occasions.  Too much of the special of life slips through our fingers.  I’ve got a closet full of tuxedos I never wear.  I think that’s too bad.

I know I can’t live every week like it’s Shark Week, but does every day have to be casual Friday?

 

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I’ve been MIA for a few days.

I went to visit friends for Thanksgiving.  It was an excellent break and a joy to be in the company of some of my favorite people for no better reason than going off my diet and making each other laugh so hard pumpkin pie came out of our noses.

But that’s only half the story.  I have a problem and if you can’t talk about your personal problems on the internet, then what is blogging for?

Saturday, I got back from my Thanksgiving holiday back east – Palm Springs is east of here.

Since returning though, I’ve been secreted away in my house, lost in a nightmare of glitter, fir and glass beads.  I can’t seem to stop decorating for Christmas.

There is a walk-in closet in my office the size of many of the bedrooms I’ve had over the years.  The little room is literally filled to the ceiling with Christmas decorations (and unsigned copies of my second book with what’s-her-name that didn’t get handed out after she sabotaged our book tour so she could go live in a trailer and not pay her taxes.)  But mostly, it’s full of Christmas decorations.  There are also a fair amount of Christmas baubles in the office and cleaning supply closets, in the pantry, under my bed, in the linen chest, the kitchen cabinets, the sideboard drawers and this year they’ve even begun filling up the leg well under my desk.

At the current rate, I’m going to need a second apartment soon just to accommodate my Christmas ornaments.

I always get my tree on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  My friend Dan locates the nearest Delancey Street Mission tree lot – I like that the money I’m blowing on a dead tree at least helps out people whose concerns are a little more urgent than snarled garlands.  Dan and I meet for a strategy brunch, establish tree objectives for choosing a more perfect conifer than last year’s and then we launch our assault on the lot.  We used to stuff the evergreen giants, stand and all, into the back of my two-seater convertible and muscle the prickly pine up four stories from the parking garage to my modest manse.  Okay, there’s an elevator, but still, it’s a tree.

These days we go with the delivery option – Dan is getting older and for some reason the trees we pick keep getting larger.

This year, it rained the night before our tree lot invasion so they didn’t have as many out to choose from.  With selection limited, we convinced them to open some fresh trees, still bound after their journey from the Christmas Tree Mountains, north of here somewhere.  In the confusion, I identified the perfect candidate before I realized it was a Blue rather than my traditional Noble fir.  It was the perfect shape and seemed a reasonable height – last year’s was literally bent against the ceiling of my apartment.  In a moment of uncertainty, I agreed to the unfamiliar holiday flora.

By the time we were in the car on the way back to my apartment, I was a basket case.

It was blue, for god’s sake.  And would it be dried out in a week? The branches seemed soft.  Would they support my decorations? Can you return a dead tree? Could I afford a replacement? Christmas was ruined and we weren’t back from the tree lot.  It wasn’t even December.

The tree was delivered in due course.  I bravely soldiered on.  The tree lighting and decoration took a day.  The Christmas Village took one day to unpack and layout and another day to wire, light and blanket with the essential glimmer snow.  In truth, what was once a village has grown.  Incorporating Bedford Falls, Mistletoe Mountain, Victorian Village and Christmas in New York, I now call it Greater Christmasville.  My friends call it completely out of control.  Mine is catchier.

Then there’s a day of final touches as I cover the rest of the house and balcony with lights and various and sundry Christmas ornamentations.  Later, I have to go out for more because somehow there’s never quite enough.  And of course I need fresh poinsettias.  At some point I stop decorating.  Usually around the time I leave to spend Christmas at points east – that’s right I don’t actually do Christmas here.  I take the tree and all but the New York part of the Greater Christmasville down before Christmas.  That way the house is predecorated for New Years.

I can’t seem to stop.

The worse the year I’ve had, the more tenacious and fanatical my decorating.  This year, I became so obsessed with what I perceived as a possible shortage in the glimmer snow market that I actually became short of breath and had to lie down.  This was weeks before Thanksgiving.  Of course the day the holiday Kleenex Christmas ovals came out, I returned from the grocery store with bags full of flocked foil tissue boxes and no actual food.

It’s as though somewhere deep down, left over from childhood, I believe that Christmas will fix it.  I’m not even clear on what “it” is.  Still, I pursue my decorating with a superstitious fervor driven by a belief that if I get everything just right, the tumblers will drop and all my dreams will at last come true.  I’ve spent my life waiting for my Susan Boyle moment and each year I pin my hopes on Christmas.

My favorite Christmas carol is the tearjerker Just in Time for Christmas.  Bathed in the manmade holiday glow of Greater Christmasville, I belt out the holiday ballad alone but hopeful.

Now, I’m not a primitive.  I’m writing this essay with a certain amount of intellectual detachment observing my behavior with an anthropological cool.  Yet, even knowing what I’m doing doesn’t diminish my need to do it.  I guess to some degree it’s Santa Claus based.  Early on, I imprinted on the persistent Christmas notion that if I wish hard enough that this year I really will get what I asked Santa for at the mall, in letters and each night on my knees.  And what if I do get it all this year? Would I stop decorating or just hope for more?

I’m not sure if there’s a cure for my Christmas mania or if I’d even be interested.

On the plus side, I love doing it.  Decorating keeps the holiday blues at bay.  The house looks amazing.  Whether or not my Christmas spirit is sincere or self-induced, all the fuss lifts my spirits and stops me worrying about the many, many thing I could be wasting my time worrying about.  Two things I know for sure.  One, worry has never solved a single one of my problems.  And two, sometimes if I pretend that everything’s great, I forget that I’m pretending.

Now, excuse me, I’ve got to go make the perfect Christmas cookies.

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Next week is Thanksgiving.  That means one of my favorite annual events.

Not the parade or the turkey or the sheer joy of hanging out with some of my favorite people for no better reason than eating too much pie.  I love all that, but the event I’m speaking of has become every bit as much a Thanksgiving tradition as those balloons making their way from Columbus Circle to Herald Square.

Each year, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the TV news crews go to the airport.  There, whichever reporter is newest or drew the short straw asks people about their holiday travel experience.  It’s genius.  Every year, as thought is the first time it’s ever happened, people are furious that everyone in America can’t fly at the same time.  And if, since winter is upon us, weather is bad? Well-heh-hell the interviews are Oscar worthy.

I never cease to be amazed.  And yet, it’s somehow the perfect metaphor for the day the country sets aside each year for Thanksgiving.

As Americans, we expect everything.  When we don’t get it, we are not only disappointed, we’re enraged.  How could “they” not have built a fleet of airplanes big enough for everyone in the America to fly on the same day even though we won’t be able to use them the rest of the year? How could “they?” This year promises to be especially entertaining since we are adding the unreasonable expectation that we fly in absolute safety but without enforcing security measures because they’re “too personal” and “a hassle.”

That’s correct, people are calling for civil disobedience over security scans designed to keep bombs, like the one last Christmas, off the planes.  I wonder if anyone on the flights from Boston on 9/11 would mind if someone “touched their junk” to avoid plowing into the Twin Towers or the Pentagon? Some jerk actually threatened to have airport security arrested over “his junk” when they gave him a pat down after he refused the security screening.  The outrage is priceless and sooooooo American, as if flying is a right or something.

We want there to be planes enough to fly all of us simultaneously but we want to fly with $5 tickets we got at cheapsk8s.com in perfect security without having to have our underwear checked for bombs even though that’s where the last one was.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rather than being thankful that we can make the journey across the country in a matter of hours that took weeks or months only a hundred years ago, we line up for the cameras to bitch about the miracle.  Drowning in blessings, even in tough times, we complain about the package that our gifts came in rather than saying thank you.  Americans could have a bad time at an orgy.

I think we have in mind a version of holidays — and life for that matter – that we compiled out of storybooks, movies and TV specials.  We have our hearts set on things being the way we’d hoped or worse yet, the way we remember they used to be even though they never were.  Then no matter what happens, when it is reality and not fantasy, we cannot help be let down.

More holidays and lives are ruined by expectations than anything that actually happens.

We are a country built on rising expectations.  We expect life to be better with each successive generation.  It’s served us well.  We work very hard and we have achieved so much.  Yet unsated expectation keeps happiness always at bay.

I think the problem may be with our bettermometers.  Each degree of our success is measured materially.  For things to be “better” we must have bigger houses, or incomes, or just more and more stuff.  I’m not really sure, beyond the process of modernization, how much better we can live than we do.  Yet our expectations of success, as measured by our broken bettermometers, tell us that no matter how far we’ve come, its’ not far enough.  No matter how much I have there’s always more that I don’t.

It’s the expectations that keep us unsatisfied, even after our massive turkey dinners.

What if we chose to measure “better” in the number of homeless we got off the street? What if we took pride in how many poor kids we fed or how lavish the educations we provided all children? What if we congratulated ourselves for great the healthcare we provided for everyone no matter what? I think we might actually make room to “feel” thankful if we jettisoned a little of our overstock of selfish.  If we look for what we can give or are just grateful to be able to give what we’re already giving instead of obsessing with we can get, we take expectation and disappointment out of the equation.

That might be something to be thankful for while we’re waiting to be frisked.

 

 

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