Tag Archives: snowmen

What to get yourself for Christmas

picardchristmas

A cynic has no easier target than Christmas.  As November wanes and December waxes, garlands rise incrementally around the malls, Fox renews its annual War on Christmas™ coverage and the radio stations shuffle over to endless repeats of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” the holiday season reboots with all the originality and fervor of the latest superhero remake.  As the ornamented train shambles into the station, it brings with it the usual trappings of tinsel, spiked eggnog, impossible toy wish lists tailored by marketers and advertisers, hour-long quests for parking spots and harried photographers trying to capture the split second between tantrums as the toddler squirms on the lap of the weird bearded guy in the fuzzy red suit.  Movie studios roll out their usual December double act of just-in-time-for-awards-consideration artsy pieces and cheaply-cobbled- usually-starring-someone-from-a-failed-sitcom holiday fare for our consumption along with the millions of slain turkeys, pigs and tofu sloths we will burn for five hours and set amidst the plastic paraphernalia of our impeccably adorned dining room tables.  We will then gather the clan of people we’d ignore on the street if they weren’t related to us and consume our approximate body weight in shortbread and stuffing while hoping we don’t have to be subjected to yet another lecture about kids these days from the annoying uncle who dips too deeply into the punch bowl.

I nearly succumbed to this attitude the other night, while propelling our otherwise efficient and modestly economic vehicle at a funereal pace over gray sludge-strewn streets behind a throng of other roving metal boxes bent on the same destination.  Patience burned away to embers, and if not for the presence of my son in the back seat I have no doubt a few choice profanities would have splattered across the inside of my windshield.  Other than the exhaustion brought on by the end of the work day fused with sub-zero temperature and the (excuse the hyperbole) sheer inhumanity of total darkness at 5 p.m., there was no reason for it.  But for that brief moment, my Christmas spirit was absent, as though I’d left it in my other pants.  It is, I realized, a challenge to keep it.  No wonder Scrooge needed three scary-ass poltergeists to get him back into shape.

Christmas, as we’ve come to know it now, practically dares you to hate it.  It dares you to throw your hands up in resignation at the consumerism, the kitsch, the frequently awful music, the endless toys demanded from Santa that will be forgotten by February and the obsessive desire of some to recreate a neo-Dickensian display of forced family unity.  The pursuit of the “perfect Christmas” can be more of an exercise in stagecraft, as in designing the ideal movie set to permit the spontaneous eruption of merriment.  The “spirit” of Christmas is codified in a series of boxes to be ticked off:  tree, lights, cards, food, brown paper packages tied up with string.  I’m an atheist as you well know, but I sympathize sometimes with the Christians who put the “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs up out on their lawns alongside the backlit nativity scenes.  What are we celebrating, really?  The desperation of retailers to make up for months-long dry spells with one orgiastic year-end blow-out?  The ritual removal of millions of trees from the ecosystem to spend a few weeks inside living rooms before they are ground up for mulch?  Nerves frayed to the point of splitting in ensuring that everything goes exactly as planned and the turkey doesn’t catch fire?

To me, Christmas is best enjoyed broken down into small moments that form a series of triggers of positive emotions, both in connections to Christmases past and the forging of new memories to be cherished in the future.  The indelible scent of pine caught in the faintest whiff as you stroll into the kitchen for breakfast.  The adorable hand-crafted googly-eyed gingerbread man ornament smiling with a red felt mouth from within the branches.  The glow of candles and garland lights saturating the house with warmth as banks of frozen white pile up outside the windows.  The glint of those lights reflecting off the shiny wrap of the piles of gifts crowding the base of the tree.  Snowmen standing valiant guard outside.  The taste of cranberry, of red wine, of orange and of chocolate, popped into one’s mouth when no one is looking.  The scratches and pops on an old vinyl recording of a favorite holiday tune performed by a long-deceased crooner.  The telltale rattle of Lego in an unopened gift.  Fighting drowsy eyes to watch the 1951 A Christmas Carol for the thirtieth time while clad snug in brand new pj’s.  The silence of a house asleep, waiting for the arrival of Mr. Claus.  The face of the exuberant child beholding the bounty for the first time as cracks of sunlight spill through the windows and yawns escape lips.  The hug exchanged following the reveal of that most treasured item on the list that justifies in a heartbeat the hours spent combing the stores to find it.  And at the end of everything, sitting back on the couch, hot cocoa in hand, spouse curled up alongside, reflecting on a year of significant ups and dreary downs and thinking about the promise of new days to come.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but like the song says, these are a few of my favorite things.

You have to look for these little slices of wonder, be aware when they manifest and relish them before they disappear.  It’s the only way to avoid getting caught up in the pressure cooker that can often be the holiday experience and the overall dread of the inevitable January credit card bill.  But even the most notorious of failed Christmases will have its sublime moments hidden amidst the veil of falling snowflakes.  So grab a few this year and put them in your stocking.  They’re the best gift you can give yourself.

What are yours going to be?

The lesson of the Pumpkin Snowman

Happy Back to Standard Time Day!  It’s been a productive, decorative day on this side of the pond – installing curtain rods, acquiring Christmas accouterments and saying goodbye to the Halloween tchatchkes.  On the subject of the latter, I regret to announce that the otherwise brilliant and crisp morning delivered an unhappy surprise.  A few weeks ago my better half came up with the delightful idea of making a pumpkin snowman – three gourds stacked atop one another, clad with a scarf, belt and gloves.  We used thin bamboo sticks to anchor the pumpkins together and branches for arms with tiny leaf-stuffed mittens on the end, so he could wave hello to the trick-or-treating kids.  It turned out great and lots of compliments were to be had from visitors.  This morning, however, we discovered that a misanthropic type or types had decapitated him and smashed his head across the street.  We haven’t had the greatest of luck with our outside decorations; last Christmas a light-up doe was stolen from our front yard and never recovered.  But even though Halloween was over, even though we didn’t have to go out and purchase a replacement, this particular act of vandalism really set me off.  Unfortunately, smashing pumpkins isn’t just the name of a crummy 90’s emo band, it’s a deplorable Halloween “tradition.”  Certain folk seem to acquire an endorphin rush by destroying every pumpkin they can find, and our innocent, happy little guy was just the latest victim.

Warning:  Gruesome images follow.

Our pumpkin snowman in happier times, and this morning's crime scene.
Our pumpkin snowman in happier times, and this morning’s crime scene.

The sheer futility of the exercise is staggering.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – their job done, the pumpkins would have all gone in the garbage on the next collection day.  But to take the time to trespass onto someone else’s property to destroy something cute for what – because it was there?  All smug in its cute pumpkin-ness?  Joy in destruction is a concept that continues to elude me.  It certainly speaks to the character, or lack thereof, of the pedestrian minds that spotted our pumpkin snowman and decided to strike.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Little @#$!ers.

In everything there are those who build and those who tear down.  A while back a Chinese tourist in Egypt decided that what a 5000-year-old hieroglyphic really needed was his name scratched onto it.  You may remember as well the story about the ancient Buddhas carved into hillsides in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban with rocket launchers.  I’m not in any way suggesting that a little headless pumpkin snowman compares even remotely to such significant acts of cultural vandalism, but it’s a minuscule part of this larger trend that sees a portion of humanity dedicated to destroying what the rest of it is creating.  You could even extrapolate this argument further and point to corporate entities that ravage landscapes in pursuit of profit, and strangle any attempt to legally prohibit them from doing it.  It doesn’t even have to be corporations – look at the photos of what’s left of the Amazon rainforest, a bleak, yellowed, poisoned wasteland, now that enterprising gold prospectors have decided to set up shop.  Far too many of us have chosen to be irredeemable Wreck-It Ralphs.

How do you swim against the tide?  We can all probably remember a time in our childhood when we spent what seemed like hours carefully crafting a fortress of sand only to have a sibling stomp through it out of sheer petulance.  There was little choice then but to begin the painstaking effort of rebuilding, grain by grain.  So too must it be in later life.  You can’t let yourself be intimidated out of creation by the fear that someone may come along and smash it to bits.  Someone very well may.  But the fact that we’re all still here, alive and continuing to thrive, leads me to believe that there are far more builders than wreckers in the world.  There is a philosophical choice to be made, whether to believe that people are basically good or basically evil.  I’ve always fallen into the former camp, despite my faith in such having been tested on numerous occasions.  Fundamentally, the kids who thought it would be hilarious to smash our pumpkin snowman – as much as (a very small) part of me would enjoy seeing them flogged – aren’t psychopathic miscreants or agents of chaos.  They weren’t out to cause me or my family any grievous harm.  They’re just kids driven by hormones making a bad call.  And I’m sure at some point in their lives someone has destroyed something they created, and they know how rotten it can feel.  So I’m choosing to forgive, and vowing to make our Christmas exterior display even better.  Gotta keep building that sandcastle, no matter how many times somebody kicks it down.

Unless our deer gets stolen again.  Then I’m out for blood.