Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Remembered

On Saturday night, at a fancy dinner party on campus, I heard someone mention the movie Elf, and I unintentionally derailed a snark attack by leaning forward enthusiastically and exclaiming "oh I love that one!"

Okay, so I'm unironic (I hope those of you who know me are doubled over laughing). I have never been able to act cool and detached for more than about a minute. Seriously, though--what's wrong with being enthusiastic about holidays? I'm enthusiastic about Christmas because it's the holiday I grew up with, but invite me to a Hanukah dinner, a Kwanzaa celebration, or a Santa Lucia breakfast, and I'll show up in what I think is appropriate holiday attire, with bells on.

My daughter has asked me to get all my Christmas sweaters and shirts, plus the earrings and brooches, out for her to wear to school next week for "ugly Christmas sweater week." Joe Blundo, a columnist in my local newspaper, has something to say about that:

"Why the ridicule? In a culture where 10-year-olds dress like prostitutes and hipsters sport more ink than an illuminated manuscript, I don't understand why a Rudolph sweater with a light-up nose would even merit much notice. So wear a Christmas sweater--as long as you don't wear it ironically. Be proud and defiant in your jingle-bell pullover. If you catch some too-cool observers rolling their eyes, you'll know you've succeeded."

I read this out loud to Eleanor. She politely refrained from rolling her eyes while in my presence.

Blundo also discusses the "creepy Santa" photos that lots of teenagers have been chuckling over on the internets, saying "any photo of a stranger interacting with a child could be painted as 'creepy' if taken out of context. Cut it out." I agree; it's painting everyone with the same brush, kind of like the way my kids call the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" the "Date Rape Song." Okay, I giggle at that; I admit it.

What I like most in Blundo's column is what he says about the snarky remarks in the photo-laden article "11 Most Ridiculous Inflatable Christmas Decorations" at The Huffington Post: "Basically, the decorators are being convicted of exuberance. Sheesh. It's a cold, dark December out there. Even if a blowup Santa in camo gear isn't quite to my taste, I think I can appreciate the effort to brighten things up a little."

So when Joe recommended Tomie DePaola's Christmas Remembered in a comment on my post about The Box of Delights last December, I searched for a copy--even though it's not the kind of thing I would ordinarily read. For one thing, I've never cared for the bits of DePaola picture books I've seen as I leafed through in libraries and bookstores. But this is a "book for all ages," so I read it this December (it's a short book and doesn't take long). Each brief chapter consists of a glimpse of different holiday celebrations.

There's one memory of working at a candy store in Connecticut I liked because it describes how to make candy canes, including "crooking" the part at the top.

There's one about making paper "roses" to decorate his first tree away from home that reminded me of Jenny's comment on "Evening Without Angels" about missing her tree traditions this year (she's having a hard holiday season; New York took her gloves). I also like this one for his conclusion about the decorations he made because he had no money:
"I toyed with the idea of real roses in glass vials once, but when I held some real roses against my tissue paper ones, they paled. What a surprise! But maybe not--maybe at Christmastime, art or artifice can masquerade quite successfully as life."

In San Francisco people evidently celebrate Christmas the way I grew up celebrating it in southern Missouri and Arkansas--they put up a Christmas tree soon after Thanksgiving and take it down before New Year's Day, because it's bad luck to have the holiday decorations still up when you greet the new year. DePaola, a native New Englander, celebrates the way Episcopalians do: "I've always waited until just before Christmas to put my tree up and traditionally leave it up until at least January 6."

One year in Santa Fe, during a "Christmas Eve Walk" in which Christians carried candles and sang carols, DePaola saw "a festive group carrying a Menorah made out of flashlights duct-taped together, singing a Hanukah song." And there's an illustration of the flashlight Menorah!

When he had Australian friends spending Christmas with him, DePaola "found out that in Australia, Santa wraps all the presents he brings" and says that when he was a child, "Santa's gifts were under the tree unwrapped on Christmas morning."

In my experience, Santa fills the stockings and puts any gift too big to fit in the stocking right beside it, unwrapped. Does Santa come to your house? If he does, how does he leave gifts--wrapped or unwrapped? Have any of you achieved a cool, ironic attitude toward the holidays?


Eva said...

Santa doesn't wrap presents?! At our house, Santa not only wraps presents, he wraps every single stocking stuffer too. lol Apparently, Santa has a reckless disregard for the environment. ;)

A few years ago, I decided to embrace cheesy things un-ironically, and it's brought so much extra joy and giggles to my life. My favourite is posing for 'obvious' tourist shots...usually, once I've gotten my friends/family to photograph me, other strangers milling around will get up the courage to pose too. And it's such fun! hehe

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I'm not so good at holiday irony either. When you live in a wintry place, it helps to prop yourself up with something convincingly warm and inviting. Irony only gets in the way. I do draw the line at holiday attire, though. I'll dress up, I'll wear red. But you'll never catch me in a Christmas sweater. I believe in equal opportunity for holidays -- I'll take any of them. As for Santa, he stuffs the stockings with a mix of wrapped and unwrapped things and there is usually one unwrapped present under the tree. Oh, and we usually put our tree up a couple of weeks before Christmas and take it down on epiphany, depending on whether the tree lasts that long.

FreshHell said...

I have to say I'm with Eleanor on the Xmas sweaters. Never. All the other glitz? Absolutely.

Santa usually doesn't wrap his presents - I'd have to procure a separate paper for his because he wouldn't have time to wrap them at the house. He's busy. So he leaves his gifts with tags (I helped him with those).

And, I guess my Episcopalian is showing because we usually get the tree a week before Xmas (we went out Sat this year because the weather looked iffy) and take it down after the New Year. Depends on how much of a fire hazard its become by then.

Chrisbookarama said...

I realized the other day that "Baby It's Cold Outside" is a bit creepy ("What's in this drink?"). But I love Elf too and there's nothing wrong with that. People are too cynical nowadays. I wish we could all be like kids again.

kittiesx3 said...

I'm not a fan of Christmas sweaters either so I'll be over in the corner with FreshHell and Eleanor. I'll try not to roll my eyes too much :P

Last year we couldn't decorate because we'd had that flood. This year we just aren't home to decorate although I did get our little Christmas ball tree out.

I prefer to have the house decorated but I need to be home to both decorate and to enjoy them.

PAJ said...

Children don't do irony, and Christmas is for children (even children who are in their 50s!), so no ironic wearing of Christmas sweaters, holiday socks, or antler headbands.
We put up our tree 2 to 3 weeks before Christmas (never before Dec. 1) and take it down after Epiphany, partly because it was a tradition in my family and partly because we just like seeing the lights and baubles as long as possible. (January is a bleak, bleak month, after all.)
Santa doesn't wrap our gifts. They are in a pile on the coffee table with the appropriate stocking on Christmas morning.
Santa gets a bad rap from naughty boys and girls--not us true believers.

Amanda said...

In my experience, Santa leaves presents wrapped (in different paper than your own, of course) and under the tree, as well as some little unwrapped presents and a bunch of candy in the stocking.

I love Christmas and am very enthusiastic about it, but am also very snarky about the more cheesy aspects of it...

Alison said...

My mother-in-law got us a copy of Christmas Remembered for Calvin. I think the grown-ups enjoy it more than he does, though (I love the story of him getting his first set of art supplies).

I am with the folks who don't like Christmas sweaters, but I also wouldn't wear them ironically. I just wouldn't wear them at all. Santa is a big stinkin' deal, though. I am reading Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to Calvin (on LBIS's iPad, which is the only way to get the pictures unless you spend a few hundred dollars on an old copy). Santa leaves things in stockings, but whether or not they are wrapped depends largely on how much spare time his elves have.

Joe's family evidently never did Santa. At all. Everyone who has married into the family thus far considers that baffling.

Valerie said...

Santa leaves presents wrapped in red or green tissue paper in (or near) the stockings at our house. This is the tradition from John's family. When I was growing up, Santa left wrapped and unwrapped presents under the tree.

I really do love Christmas, especially the lights. I have a few Christmas shirts, but no Christmas sweaters, mostly because I haven't found the perfect one.

Anonymous said...

Well, I do not have a christmas sweater, but I am wearing a christmas bulb necklace. And we get our tree somewhere around the 20th and we leave it up until . . . it could be valentine's day. Santa's gifts are wrapped or unwrapped, depending on what looks better. He usually, but not always, leaves them by the fireplace. I confess that I find it harder to celebrate christmas without snow, or at least cold weather. I still don't have the lights up outside -- maybe this afternoon.

Marie said...

I love your comments and your quote about Christmas sweaters. I have two "ugly Christmas" sweaters I wear loud and proud. They're just so fun. Who cares if other people want to judge!

bermudaonion said...

I agree - celebrate in whatever way makes you feel good. Santa wraps gifts at our house and he even brings a few from Mrs. Claus.

Mumsy said...

Santa still wraps his presents at my house, and signs the tag with a distinctive capital "S" with a beak and feet added to make it look like a duck. Don't judge me. He started doing this years ago when he was pretty punchy from chasing toddlers by day and sleep deprivation by night. And I LOVE Tomie de Paola; I find his chidren's books so moving they almost always make me cry.

I love Christmas in a completely unironic way. But I do not like Elf. Have you heard Glee's version of the Date Rape Song? SMASHING.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I love the idea of an ugly sweater party, and not really ironically. I think it's a goofy way of celebrating the holidays, of stopping from being self-conscious of celebrating :) But maybe that's just me!

Jenny said...

I am the least amount cool and ironic about Christmas of possibly any human being on this planet. One time I was at work, having a crappy day, and my boss's boss stuck his head in our office and said "Six months until Christmas!" and I was totally cheered up for the rest of the whole week.

Jeanne said...

Eva, we did what my daughter thought was an "obvious tourist pose" when we went to France a few years ago, and we thought it was ironic. See, that's part of my complaint--if everything is ironic, then nothing is.

Santa must have been up all night at your house, wrapping stocking stuffers!

Harriet, I too wear red (it's my favorite color), but since I don't get rid of clothing, I still have an old Mickey Mouse Christmas sweatshirt someone gave me one year when my kids were little, and a sweater from Talbots my mother gave me another year... it seems a shame to let them hang in the closet downstairs and not get them out to wear once a year!

FreshHell, so what makes a sweater different from "all the other glitz"? If someone sent you one, you'd raise your eyebrows in disdain?

Chrisbookarama, that's the line my kids love-- "what's in this drink?"--when it comes around in the song, they yell "roofies!"

Elizabeth, I agree. The years we're home for Christmas, I get out more of the decorations. It's amazing how many we have now, especially candles, because I don't burn them much (too absent-minded; afraid I'll leave the room and a cat will tip one over or something).

Jeanne said...

PAJ, you've put your finger on it, as usual--it's the childlike sense of wonder that I'm missing from my teenagers and the rest of the sarcastic world. That's part of what makes me like the movie Elf--we were all delighted by it when the kids were younger.

Yes, January is a bleak, bleak month. But somehow I can't shake my mother's belief that if you don't put away all the decorations and dust and vacuum for New Year's Day, you'll have bad luck. Even eating black-eyed peas might not be enough to counteract leaving everything up!

Amanda, good point--lots of us alternate between enthusiastic and snarky! This is the first I've heard about Santa using different wrapping paper.

Alison, I did find a copy of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Ron's read it, and we had one with our OZ books, but I don't remember it.

Joe's family is baffling! I'm also baffled by adults who don't "pretend" about Santa. As Ron usually says, we've never seen a dragon either, but that's no reason to go around telling children we're positive they don't exist.

Valerie, I love the way you can adopt some of the traditions of your husband's family with your own. Tissue paper sounds easier for Santa than wrapping paper!

ReadersGuide, does your Christmas bulb necklace light up?!!!

Marie, I'm not sure a Christmas sweater can be ugly...although there's probably a website that could convince me otherwise, and my kids will end up showing it to me before this season is over!

Kathy, you're the only person I've ever heard of who has seen a present from Mrs. Claus!

Mumsy, if Santa is going to wrap things up, he should have a distinctive signature!

Yes, I've heard the Glee version of "Baby, it's Cold Outside" and I love it--especially that it's two guys singing it to each other. Unironically, I might add.

Jeanne said...

Kim, you've put your finger on the Christmas sweater thing. After enough people have made fun of a tradition, it's necessary to use irony to be able to continue it unselfconsciously. Or less selfconsciously, anyway.

Jenny, wow! That duck signature must have started you off right with enthusiasm for all things Christmasy!

So do you all like my antler headband? And the big tinsel earrings?

Care said...

I've always liked Christmas lights but now living in New England where days are dark and short and this continues far too long - I love love love and NEED the lights! Happy Holidays

Care said...

and what about Christmas socks? I have about 7 pair, I think. Including 3 with different Santa Lobsters.

Jeanne said...

Care, oh, right--I forgot about Christmas socks! My mother used to like to put Christmas socks in our stockings when we were teenagers, so she and I had a collection at one point. Oddly, Christmas socks are cool again--that's what Eleanor got for presents to give friends at school.

Santa lobsters?!!!
Have you watched the movie Love Actually?
"There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Christ?"