Monday, December 22, 2008

Traditions

We all went to see The Nutcracker this weekend. The review in the newspaper had said it was a "very musical" production, and we were almost entirely enchanted by it. Ballet is not something we rush out to see, as a rule, but the band director and history teacher at the high school have together managed to get Eleanor interested in Russian composers, and as my Christmas letter reveals, this is a particular interest of mine, too, so I leaped (metaphorically) on the chance to help hers along. Walker and I thought Act 2 got a bit long, but he also recognized enough of the music to stay interested through the more virtuoso dance numbers. The spectacle helped--the sets were truly gorgeous, with one of the best snowy woods I've ever seen on stage. And the emphasis on comedy helped; we especially enjoyed the doll's dance and the parts where they appeared to slip on ice.

The kids are out of school this week, so we're finished with all the holiday performances. I always enjoy reading David Sedaris' "Front Row Center With Thaddeus Bristol" after the last week of school before Christmas, because the final paragraph of this essay captures my feelings about having to sit through those school performances so perfectly. I'm a snob about amateur theater and music programs, and won't go to them unless my own children are involved. When they are, I get everyone ready, rush over to the school unwillingly, settle myself while complaining to the other parents about how hard it was to get everything coordinated to be able to be there, and then once the performance starts, there's usually a moment that brings tears to my eyes, and I remember why I'm there:

The problem with all of these shows stems partially from their maddening eagerness to please. With smiles stretched tight as bungee cords, these hopeless amateurs pranced and gamboled across our local stages, hiding behind their youth and begging, practically demanding, we forgive their egregious mistakes. The English language was chewed into a paste, missed opportunities came and went, and the sets were changed so slowly you'd think the stagehands were encumbered by full-body casts. While billing themselves as holiday entertainment, none of these productions came close to capturing the spirit of Christmas. This glaring irony seemed to escape the throngs of ticketholders, who ate these undercooked turkeys right down to the bone. Here were audiences that chuckled at every technical snafu and applauded riotously each time a new character wandered out onto the stage. With the close of every curtain they leapt to their feet in one ovation after another, leaving me wedged into my doll-sized chair and wondering "Is it just them, or am I missing something?"

You've got to love Thaddeus, bless his clueless little heart. Reading this passage this year makes me think of Walker's recent question when we had our annual viewing of Love, Actually. In the final Christmas pageant, there's a little boy playing a wise man who has on Spider-man face paint, and Walker asked why. I told him that it was for the same reason that when he was three years old and was cast as an angel in our church nativity play he refused the part until we amended it to "flea angel" and allowed him to hop everywhere he went. He was very big into Bug's Life at the time.

Now that we're done with most of our public traditional activities, we're going to start in on some more personal traditions at my house, so I'm taking a week off from the virtual world. We've got dinosaur cookies to cut out and decorate with red and green sugar, presents to wrap, cats to tease with ribbons, and, of course, books to read on long, cold afternoons. One of our book-centered traditions for the past few years is to read David Sedaris' essay "Six to Eight Black Men" (from Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim and also included in Holidays On Ice). Walker, who is 12 this Christmas, likes us to recite from it when we tuck him into bed on Christmas Eve:

"Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

There's nothing that makes my family feel more sentimental than reading David Sedaris. He puts the wide back in wide-eyed for us, giving us back some of our sense of wonder. Then we get all sappy, like me hearing the traditional final song for the Wiggin Street Elementary School Christmas Program:

One song
for all of us
One song
could bring us peace
One song
could make a miracle
For all of us
a song of peace.

"It's a great song," says Eleanor, who just joined with Walker to sing it for me, complete with the hand motions.

3 comments:

Cschu said...

Merry Christmas to you and all! Drive safely

Alison said...

Every time I read anything by David Sedaris, I hear it in his voice, which only makes it funnier. Except now I am hearing "Six to Eight Black Men" in Walker's voice. It's all terribly confusing...

J. Kaye Oldner said...

I have not read a book by David Sedaris. I have got to change that!