i love christmas. it's the most wonderful time of the year.
but i thought a lot about why i love it. and couldn't really figure out why.
on christmas eve: our family tradition is to go to my grandparents' house, or my aunt and uncle's house, and....... to eat and drink a shitload until it was time to open presents and then a weird-ass santa claus would come and creep everyone out including the children and we'd all laugh a bit at the same old stories and quote "it's a wonderful life" to each other and get a buzz and one or two of our cousins would get a bit high and then we'd scratch off lotto cards and drive home to go to bed. so... any old south-side family party really.
on christmas day: our family tradition is to wake up mid-morning and empty our stockings of fannie may turtles and chap stick and clementines and then to rush over to the tree to open our presents one at a time my three sisters and i but i was always so hyperactive that i'd open all of my gifts in 1-2 turns and then just sit there watching my middle sister carefully unwrap in such a way as to save all the paper and she'd have some dumb fucking skirt sorry ma and then i'd get frustrated and just "accidentally" open 3 or 4 of her little gifts for her to move things along so we could drink some fucking egg nog. and maybe go back to those turtles that were sitting on the carpet in the other room. but then we'd eat burnt bacon and cold eggs and maybe a cinnabon or three and pass out until the extended family showed up. and then we'd........... eat and drink a shitload until it was time to open presents and then a weird-ass santa claus would come and creep everyone out including the children and we'd all laugh a bit at the same old stories and quote "it's a wonderful life" to each other. and then, if were were still coherent, maybe we'd have a funny conversation with a cousin we were close with and a painful conversation with some family we were far with. then we'd walk to the neighborhood bar and get all toes-y and come home and make fun of my dad's magnets and then go to bed. so any south-side family party really.
so, what's to love? is it the presents per se? no way. when i think back about it, i can hardly remember a single christmas gift. the only two that really stand out (sorry ma) are the pad of paper and the essential oils kit. the pad of paper, i don't know if that was even meant to be a gift. i honestly think my old man was all goof'd on grass when he wrapped it and put it in my pile. a few weeks before my 8th christmas i have a vivid memory of him opening his saab trunk and then quickly closing it. and telling me that i couldn't look. and making a big deal that i had seen into his trunk. but all i had seen was this weird pad of paper. which totally confused me cuz i didn't ask for a fucking pad of paper for christmas. and also i likely believed in santa claus at the time.
anyway, i recognized the pad of paper when i opened it christmas morning. and was super flabb'd. had no idea what i was supposed to do with it. but then i figured it out. and drew and drew and drew. and traced even more. until i ran out of paper. that weird ass pad of paper was the best damn christmas gift i ever got. ... only bad thing was that my parents wouldn't buy me a new one when i ran out of paper. later that winter, they burnt all my art supplies for heat. and that was the last time i had ever drawn anything. 'til i stole their atm card and drew cash from their debit account for pearl jam tickets.
and the essential oils kit. i think i got that at my 32d christmas. and it flabbergasted just as much as the pad of paper did. and i stared at it. in the corner of my room. for weeks thereafter. and polly and i wondered what we were supposed to do with it. and four or five of our friends posted on facebook about it constantly. always dumping essential oils all over their babies' faces. for fucking sleep or toothaches or to make their babies' feet greasy enough to slip on socks? i don't know. seems tough to get socks on babies is all i know. anyway, my machine and oils are probably still collecting dust on a shelf at the logan square VDO if anyone's interested. sorry ma.
so if it ain't the gifts, then what the fuck gives? why would i like christmas so much? the music? well yeah. course. more on that...
but really. as i was running to the brewery around 10p last night. after getting word that a foeder was overflowing with swell-water. i realized that i love the anticipation. it's really just like everything else. like they* say that happiness comes from a handful of things. one of those things is vacations. but the vacation itself don't do shit! it's the planning. the anticipation. all the talking you do about it in advance. that's what makes you happy. the vacation itself might be relaxing. but by the halfway point you ain't happy. you're just thinking about how it's ending so soon.
much like christmas. the anticipation is all the fun. the thought, 3 weeks out, that you gotta get a gift for your gal or guy. and maybe a niece or nephew. and what the hell will you get them. and you think about it a moment or two until the moment passes and you forget about it until 2 weeks out when you have a little oh-shit moment. walking through a fresh-fall grip of snow. whistling an andy williams take on an average christmas tune. (cuz you lost your phil spector christmas record. one of only three christmas records that matter. another one being chuck b's christmas w linus and lucy. but i digress.)
anyway the anticipation. of what? of the average gifts you'll give? and the average gifts you'll get? no no... it's the anticipation of love. of the big giant love exchange that happens on that day. and before that day. when people are just nicer to each other. when people think about others a liiiiiitttle bit. when kids smile in excitement. old people smile too. and they pass on those smiles to other old people. (old people being us. people who read newsletters. you know. and then reeallly old people too. those people are great mostly.) this smile and love exchange happens in the walgreens pharmacy line. and at a red light at 79th and pulaski. and on the red line just past wrigley. and at the holy-shit-what-horrible-thing-happened-to-it christkindlmarket.
it's all about love, actually. (ha! gross.) but really. the anticipation of the big love exchange.
oh. and it's about church. every year we also "go to church". sorry ma.
but back to the music real quick: i heard a really smart interview awhile back. i think the interviewee was jon brion. who's a brilliant producer. musician. etc. and he talked about how he divides music into two categories. there are tunes that are beautifully written per se. (notice two correct uses of "per se" herein. and zero incorrect uses.) but they're so well-written that it doesn't matter who plays them or how they're played. they'll always be brilliant and beautiful. and then there are songs that are much more about performance. stones songs. pearl jam songs. zeppelin songs. grateful dead songs. songs that only a particular man or woman or band can do well. and when they're covered, they're boring as fuck. cuz it was always about the particular performer.
now, as much as i love the dead. and pearl jam. and the stones. i've always been a melody guy. i tire very quickly of music that's about emotion or attitude. heavy metal. punk. emo. the rolling stones. rape rap. even really good lyrics sung or rapped over a total of... 3 notes will mostly bore the shit out of me. (excepting dylan and guthrie and nas and craig finn and maybe a handful of others.)
and that's behind, i think, my love for both church songs and christmas music. the shittiest, most pabulum lyrics won't even tickle my register if they're sung over a good melody. and christmas music and church music and belle and sebastian music. it's all all about the melody dude!!! there's a reason there's forty covers of "have yourself a merry little christmas". and they're all pretty enjoyable. it's the fucking melody! you're singing or whistling along to one of the saddest songs in time. a song about how a woman's man is away at war. and all her male friends are at risk of death. and life is a big fucking muddle until they all get back. even christmas. (srsly. listen to the original judy garland take. ol' blue eyes that dirty racist bastard was told to change the lyrics in his later version. to "hang a shining star upon the highest bough". which, of course he did. cuz he was a monster who old cared about hurting people and making money.)
but melodies! melodies help bring back memories. of that big fucking love exchange. and that's why i love christmas.
oh. and also darlene love. and a warm ritz-broccoli casserole.
so even if you hate christmas... love a stranger some these next few days. and remember it next year this time.