I’ve been listening to Christmas carols in my car this week, mostly checking out the traditional and pop holiday stations on XM, finding that I know most of the old school songs due to seven years of playing clarinet in a variety of school concert bands. We didn’t use “holiday” as a placeholder for “Christmas” because this is the Christmas season; the fact that Hanukah falls somewhat near it on the calendar and that Kwanzaa follows are either accidental or derivative effects. I played in Christmas concerts (thanks, Mr. Webb and Mr. Santoro, again) because we played Christmas music, and when I hear those songs again I dredge up pleasant memories, triggered by a melodic imprint that’s as deep as my associations of the smell of bakery products with the Jersey Shore or the opening of “Siberian Khatru” taking me back to 11th grade algebra. I have no problems with applying “Christmas” to the season, the music, the celebrations and the traditions, for those are the things that create the imprints. In my case it was someone’s ill-scored attempt to write half a dozen carols as a march for concert band, the fearful “Russian Christmas Music” wind ensemble work and a one-note (glissando) solo at the end of “Sleigh Ride” that made the music celebrate more than a calendar page.
What’s a fat Jewish guy have to do with Christmas? Not much, really, as I don’t celebrate it. Quite a bit, really, because my friends and co-workers and even some family members do, and I respect them and their traditions. Even more, when I dress up like Santa (I’m thinking it’s time for me to hit the rink in the red suit this weekend, I’ll be at South Mountain from 8-1 on Sunday). For me, the season comes down to three things: create traditions that your kids remember, think about what it truly means to give a gift, and laugh and smile at all of the background noise along the way.
In that vein, here are four things I read and re-read with the intensity I normally reserve for fall foliage discussions on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:
Family Tradition. I can only explain my quarter century of fat-man-in-a-suit (apologies to Little Feat) as my dual career on Team Santa. I described it fullylast year, but the background reading is a piece called The Truth About Santa that does a fantastic job explaining how the most-followed family tradition on the planet survives generation after generation. I’m proud to be part of it, for some small number of kids. And it’s so, so, so much better than the forced tradition of the Elf on the Shelf. I mean, you can buy a tradition? No, you can’t – traditions only exist if you live them.
Giving A Gift. John Scalzi is one of my five favorite authors. I read everything he writes, religiously, with a punctuality that borders on punctilious nature, because he is funny, creative and manages to punch you in the heart when you aren’t looking for it. He has written a few Christmas pieces, but only one was crafted with the express written intent of making his mother in law cry. Whatever your legal, marital or religious status, I can assure you that if you have kids, this one will make you cry, and if it doesn’t, forget about being the too-small-heart Grinch and check your surroundings for indications that the eggnog has caused you to lose consciousness. Read Sarah’s Sister with tissues nearby, or a sleeve that can be laundered if you’re a guy.
Laugh. Where do I start? By dropping Mr. Santoro, high school band conductor, real life version of Harry L. Dinkle, an apology for taking far too many “jazz liberties” with Christmas carols when he was trying to prepare for a concert? And having him remember that, without malice, over 30 years later? With the fact that I do not know more than the first lines of any carol, despite knowing the melodies, so sometimes I make them up? The best laughter, as my friend Bill says, comes from poking gentle fun at things that take themselves seriously in the first place — Star Trek parodies are funny, Saturday Night Live cannot be made more funny if you watched it in the 70s. Again, tip of the Santa hat to Scalzi, for his 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials spoof of all things serious, including people who take (took) themselves way too seriously.
So that’s my Christmas story, in three parts. It’s about, as fellow Tiger Amy Julia Becker writes, finding a glimpse of glory this time of year. To take away “Christmas” as an adjective for a season, a timely reminder of people’s motivations to think more, do more, or act more selflessly, then we’ve taken away a bit of that glory. And should a fat Jewish guy in a Santa suit giving out candy canes at the rink trigger some happy memories down the road, that’s glorious enough for me, even if I don’t remember what carols have “glory” in the words.