It’s that time of year once again. The time where I complain about B101’s taste in Christmas music, watch “Black Christmas” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” over and over and scream The Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy’s Christmas” at the top of my lungs when I’m in the car by myself.
As magical as those traditions are – very – they’re not even all that high on my list of favorite Christmas activities.
Of course, I don’t have an actual list per say. That’d take too much work. What I do have is a loose and random collection of things that I enjoy or enjoyed doing during the long, slow slog towards C-Day morning, when wrapping paper bombs go off in living rooms all across this great and god-fearing nation.
- The family party. Gatherings with the extended family used to be a pretty huge deal when I was younger, but none more than the Christmas party, which my family hosted. These parties got less and less important as I got older until it reached the point where I stopped going to any of them. Things have come full circle now and I enjoy going to them again, but still nowhere near as much as I did when I was a lad. I’ll always remember hanging out with the cousins and playing nonsense games with Nerf guns. The all-time highlight took place during the Christmas party when I was in 8th grade. Both my younger cousin and I were completely obsessed with the WWF and we spent a huge chunk of the night reenacting matches and moves. It all culminated memorably with me locking him in the Mandible Claw complete with sweaty sock, which made both of us crack up. Well, he cracked up after I'd removed the sock from his mouth.
- The Macy’s light show and Dickens’ Village display. Another great tradition from my youth that’s been reborn in the present day. Every year my parents, sister and I used to take a trip into Philly to see them and we did it again this year. If you’ve never seen the light show, it’s a wonderfully retro, low-tech affair that cobbles together bits of like 15 separate Christmas stories in an attempt to mask the fact that you’re sitting in a department store getting a nasty crick in your neck watching light bulbs flash on and off. The Dickens’ Village display tells the story of “A Christmas Carol” using animatronic dummies and some impressively detailed sets. It’s all been outdone in terms of production values by the HD spectacle that takes place in the lobby of the Comcast Building, but it doesn’t matter. Unless you’re Michael Bay, you know that real magic doesn’t come from flashy bells and whistles. All the HD screens in the world can’t outshine the memories I have of wandering Macy’s as a kid, thinking that at that very moment Santa was busy fine-tuning his sleigh in preparation for the big night.
- Decorating the family tree. Oh the memories. Going out into the woods as a family, sharpened saw in hand, to hack down the piece of nature that would provide us with enough Christmas spirit to make it through the season – and more importantly, to once again remind Mother Nature that Jesus and Santa are in charge. Wait that’s not what happened. I was raised with an artificial tree, so instead of going out into the woods and forcibly evicting some squirrels from their home, we went up into the attic, lugged down a tattered old box and then put our Christmas spirit together branch by branch. For some, tree maintenance meant having to water it from time to time, for us it meant matching the different colored tags on the branches with their spot on the fake trunk. It sounds dumb, but the simple pleasures of a fake tree are a lot like being raised by cannibals. You just don’t know any better so to you it’s right and wonderful.
- Christmas Eve mass. I’m more of Santa is the reason for the season kind of guy now, but I still look back fondly at those evening masses where our local church was standing room only. My family would always get there early enough so we’d have good seats just in case this was the year that Jesus finally decided to grace us with his divine presence. It never happened, but at least we were able to be disappointed in relative comfort, unlike those poor schmucks stuck up in the nosebleeds, AKA the choir loft. If Jesus did show up, they definitely wouldn’t have been able to get his autograph. Even though it was hot and stuffy and boring, it was impossible not to get into the Christmas spirit what with the church all decked out to the nines and all four advent candles burning bright.
- Christmas Eve with my grandparents. When I was younger, we opened presents from Santa and then some from my parents on Christmas morning. Editor’s note: Knowing what I know now about Santa, I can’t help but look back on that fact and say: Holy shit. My parents deserve a goddamn medal for what they must have spent on presents every year. But on Christmas Eve, we’d do presents with the grandparents. They lived with us, so there were no trips involved. Instead, we’d all head down to their living room in the basement and exchange gifts. It was like the commercialistic appetizer to the wallet-busting entre that was Christmas morning. We’d be down there making merry while listening to Burl Ives’ “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” album over and over and trying to keep the dog from drinking my parents’ and grandparents’ adult beverages. We’d all have a laugh while we tried to make heads or tails of the gifts from some parts of the family before us young folk were sent to bed to allow time for Santa’s arrival. Sadly, this tradition ended when my grandfather passed away, but those nights were always a standout special moment in a month full of special moments.