It’s pretty hard to sit in a room with a lit Christmas Tree, a fire on the TV, and vintage holiday songs playing in the background soothingly, and while all of that is going on, frown and say, “man, fuck this holiday.” Because, and this is something I can’t believe I’m saying as an adult male, this time of year can have a soothing effect on you if you let it.
It’s funny how Christmas has, embedded within it, a narrative that goes on about how it has become too commercial in the current form, and must revert to that of some pure form that probably never was. There’s some form of that in the story of Christ himself, and nearly every iteration of it retains some piece of the over-commercialization of the way the holiday is celebrated. (The Peanuts Christmas special – arguably one of the first and best holiday specials to date, is about that very subject from the get-go.) There is something about Christmas that has come to embody everything that is both bad and good about the spirit of spending money during the season, and the true meaning of the holiday is to find a way to embrace the contradictory ideas, and that there is intrinsic value in the experience of the season. It just so happens that you must also buy and spend like Wilma & Betty on The Flintstones.
Christmas as a child is always so incredibly simple, and you have fewer years under your belt to really begin weighing the strangeness of this arrangement. Good behavior throughout the year usually led to a boatload of presents being magically delivered to your home in December, and even with those draconian rules in place, you could often undo quite a bit of poor sportsmanship on your part through a hand-wavey explanation that it was in the spirit of the season, so long as you were good when your parents asked you to be.
But as the complexity of these experiences develops over the years, and layered meanings begin to create loaded holiday symbols that can cause even the strongest person to burst into tears. It is one thing to love the tree that shows up when your parents return with it, and for presents to appear beneath it after a lot of build-up and waiting. But when you remember all the holiday fights, the times spent alone, how you never really get what you really want anyway, and the overhanging threat that Santa is watching you at all times (with the surprise ending when it is revealed what is really happening as you get older), well… this time of year can take on a very different meaning. Especially if you have lost a family member that played a roll in all of this.
When I began to live on my own, I made a few deconstructed efforts to participate in the holiday, and they were all met with equal parts derision and head-scratching. As a kid, I had made a habit of finding a decorating very small trees in my bedroom with a more home-spun and Comic Book aesthetic, and this tradition for me continued through to High School. On my own, my trees grew full sized, and soon accumulated beer cans and cigarettes as a sort of upraised middle finger to the spirit of the holiday.
Even this grew tedious for me after a few years, and soon Christmas was just became another day where I had to pay special attention to the bus schedule, had to get to the liquor store around this new schedule, but at least I might be able to earn an extra fat paycheck if I worked certain days in November and December. Aside from a few random occasions, the time between my early 20s and my late 30s were often spent Christmas-less, tree-less, and only occasionally did I celebrate with family, when it was convenient for both of us. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to get into the holiday spirit on my own, unless that spirit was bourbon.
While I have had girlfriends in the past who liked Christmas, right from the very first year we were together, my wife felt strongly about the holiday. Before I could protest much, she had arranged for me to spend the holiday with her family, and it has been the way we have celebrated every year since. Her dedication to the cool parts of the holiday, mixed with our mutual understanding that we prefer to leach out all of the religious elements of the holiday, has led to us developing a very nice collection of holiday decorations, and traditions that we both enjoy and love.
Included here is a photoset of our Holiday Photos going back to the first year that we were together, and it includes some of my favorite trees and decorations that we use every year. We got a little ambitious this year, and wanted to set up more stuff than we were able to get to, but this often happens because of the hustle and bustle of the year, and we inevitably fall behind on this or that. Obviously, we enjoy having a good tree, but there are some other decorations that we love putting up every year, too. Here’s a few of them:
Blowmolds: Be it Halloween or Christmas, a good blowmold will attract our attention if we are out shopping. When I first met my wife, she had one of the candles, but since then we have acquired the other three pieces. Frosty is the most recent addition to the family. However, the exceptional wind and rain this year made it a little difficult to keep these guys upright and in place. Next year we’re going to use some loose gravel to weigh them down, along with ties to keep them from blowing over.
Stockings: If you look at the enlarged version of this photo, you can see that we have five stockings up on the mantel this year. In the early days, we used the small red stockings, and added the small green one for our cat. But I had the larger green and white Santa Claus stocking (on the right) from when I was a kid, and would bring it out occasionally as an extra decoration for the house. This year, my wife surprised me by finding a matching stocking in the same style online (the white and green Santa Claus stocking on the left), and had it shipped to us for the holiday. It was a very sweet thing for her to do, and now we have two sets of stockings.
Danish Paper Craft Decorations: I may have mentioned before, but both my wife and I are thrift store aficionados, and a surprising amount of holiday schwag will show up in stores, often at rock-bottom prices, to help the items move, quickly.
To that end, for a dollar each my wife found both of these Santa & Frosty Paper-Craft items. Both of them came with these super-funky paperclips that not only spoke to their foreign nature, but how strange these
It is hard to convey how
strange these are in photos and text, but let me describe: in Frosty, the hathead, and body are interlocked folded constructions that rotate independent of each other, but also work together. in Santa, the beard is a weird cardboard overhang that wraps around the face, folding out of the way when you collapse him. They’re both incredibly neat and very weird at the same time, and they are excellent additions to our collection.
Tiffany Glass Candle Holders: We see these at thrift stores fairly often, occasionally in their original packaging, and we now have five of them in our collection. We struggled with how to light them at first, as burning actual candles was costly and didn’t quite work well. (You would have to either buy short stubby candles, which were hard to find and did not burn long, or tall narrow candles, and let them burn down until they were the right hight, at which point they, again, don’t last long. This year, my wife found electric candles that were the right height and diameter to fit into the candle holder in the back, and they now look great. They not only light up very well, but they are much safer than when we had fires burning behind each ofthem.
Late ’50’s Paper Print Wall Hangings: As estate sale junkies, another place to find excellent holiday decor is in a place where someone old has passed on. It is part of the natural life-cycle of material goods: the young pilfer cool shit from the elder folks that pass away, and we horde it until we pass away, and let some other young person pilfer all our cool shit at some far point in the future. My wife is much more tuned into that part of the resale market than I, but this hasn’t stopped me from being impressed with the stuff she comes home with.
These two prints were together when she found them, and while we don’t know the exact
provenance of where they came from, we know that they have been around at least since the late ’50’s. On the back of the prints, one of the previous owners has carefully written out the years that these were hung in their house. It’s not only a great added feature to these images, but it tells an entire story of a family in a few scrawled years and dates on the back of these prints. I have become obsessed with these ever since my wife found them, and I’m very happy to have them in my home.
Ralphie Radio: My wife and I have very different tastes in music, but one thing we can agree on is that older is often better. And to that end we like to listen to Ralphie Radio when this time of year comes around. I discovered this several years ago, and found that this is the perfect kind of holiday music because it is from the 1940’s (or, in some cases, older), and that helps when you are listening to the same pop pap that is often circulated this time of year. The premise is that the music is appropriate for the time period in A Christmas Story, a detail that not only makes it more appealing, but sort of preps you for that movie, anyway, which everyone will see at least once this year. While I would hope that you are listening to my Holiday Podcast Feed in iTunes, it would make sense that if you are not listening to that, you would want to listen to Ralphie Radio instead. While I find the commercials on Live365 to be very annoying, and the interface for most programming in not ideal, the quality of the music on this station is well worth tuning in for, even for a little while.
A Digital Fireplace: When my wife and I bought our first TV (and a Roku to go with it in 2011), we discovered that Roku had created a holiday Yule Log, a digital fire with Christmas Music that played along with it. (You could also just turn off the music and have the fire.) We loved it so much that we’ve been trying to recreate it ever since Roku discontinued their version of the Yule Log a couple years ago, and in the place of it, they introduced other, much less impressive holiday programming. Fortunately, nearly all streaming devices now have YouTube embedded within them, and finding a digital fireplace is easier than ever. (Netflix also has a pretty decent one, too, but I find the YouTube ones last longer.) Just play your favorite holiday tunes while you watch this, and you have the ideal environment for celebrating Christmas, without having to add logs or stoke the fire.
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The two things we did not get to this year was our Christmas Village – which we got started on, but just could not finish – and our outdoor lights, which were hindered by the rain and wind, making it difficult to get them up at a time when we were free to spend a lot of time outside anyway. But there is always next year, and I look forward to trying again then, too.
I never appreciated how enjoyable the holidays can be when you get to celebrate it exactly the way you want to, and with the people that you care about most. Now that I have someone like that in my life, this time of year means more to me than it ever used to. Hopefully, however you prefer to celebrate, make sure that you do it with someone who you actually want to spend time with.
And, if you can, hang up a stocking or two. It’ll help you get in the right mood.