I used to work for a man who was born on Columbus Day. He said that what he loved most about it was that where he went to school it was a day off, so he and his friends always got to go to the movies or something similar on his birthday. That was one reason that when he founded his own company as an adult that one of the benefits offered was that each employee got their own birthday as a holiday.
I wasn’t significantly younger than he was, but I don’t remember any of the school districts I lived in ever closing school for Columbus Day. Instead, at least during elementary school, it was a day that we would be given lessons that were extremely white-washed about the man who supposedly discovered America—a continent with tens of millions of inhabitants with rich cultures (and often knowing a whole lot more about agriculture the that later European invaders). But Columbus wasn’t even the first person from Europe to land on the shores of the new world!
Native American museum director: Columbus was far from the first to discover America – Scores of cities and a growing number of states are renaming Columbus Day to honor the history and cultures of America’s indigenous peoples.
Maybe since my former boss grew up in New England while my childhood was in Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest is why his school was closed on Columbus Day and none of mine were. The state-centric history classes I took in Middle School and High School spent a lot more time teaching us other myths about the colonization of the U.S. I learned, for instance, about a “massacre” which had occured in 1878 less than 100 miles from the town where I was born, but not about that fact that first a federal agent had ordered men to plow a bunch of the native american’s prime pasture land, and when they protested, it was the U.S. soldiers who fired on the Native Americans first. It was called a massacre for years because, even though more of the Natives were killed than whites, it was a very small number of those whites who lived to surrender.
Less than a year later a significantly larger army contingent marched all of the Natives at gun point out of the green and fertile region with many rivers and forced them to settle in a desolate desert area where there was virtually no water sources at all.
Funny how those details seldom made it into the textbooks.
I understand why people are reluctant to rename the holiday. It was unsettling when I learned how much I had been being taught was a lie. It is unsettling to realize that the town where I was born, and the surrounding fields and woods and nearby riverbank that I enjoyed exploring and goofing off in when we moved back when I was in Middle School was among the land stolen in that historical event mentioned about. It is unsettling to realize my entire country is built on land that was stolen from peoples that we killed, drove out, intentionally exposed to diseases, whose children we stole, whose culture we mocked and outlawed and then appropriated.
It is not a pleasant set of facts to embrace.
The neat story about brave pioneers settling an “empty” frontier is a much more romantic and uplifting idea than the very messy, bloody, and immoral truth.
I have one other reason why I believe that Columbus Day should be renamed.
Columbus was wrong.
I don’t just refer to the evil things he did to the people he found living in the so-called New World, I mean that not once, even until his dying day, did he ever belief that he had found any land previously unknown to his contemporaries in Italy or Spain. Columbus insisted until the last moment of his life that the islands he had discovered where the Indies, islands off the coast of India. Because of trade routes such as the Silk Road, Europe had been in contact with east Asia including China, India, and so forth for generations before Columbus’ time. He didn’t belief he had discovered continents previously unknown to Europe, he thought he had found a shorter route to lands they already knew about.
So, in addition to being a thief, con man, and mass murderer, Christopher Columbus was an idiot who refused to accept the evidence that was brought forth by many of his contemporaries that the lands he was invading were not India and islands off its coast. For that reason alone, no one with a lick of integrity should be willing to support a holiday honoring the discovery that he denied until his dying breath.
We need to change the name of the holiday. Sooner, rather than later. We’ve started, let’s keep it up: More localities drop Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
I’m sure it seems weird to some people that a queer man who describes himself as an ex-Christian would observe the Feast of Epiphany. But I’m not really observing it so much as using it as a cultural milestone. Many years I take down all the decorations on New Year’s Day. Some years, some of them stay up longer (usually because I’m busy or sick or otherwise swamped). I just always try to draw the absolute last line at Three Kings’ Day.
This is also the last day I let myself listen to Christmas music.
“Is it just me or is the reason that Earth Kitt’s original version of ‘Santa Baby’ is better than all the rest (other than the fact that Eartha Kitt is inimitable) the fact that Eartha was actually singing to a sugar daddy that was was playfully calling ‘Santa’ and was dead serious about all the thing she was asking for (…and Micahel Buble was really trying to sing to Santa).”
“Wait. Do people genuinely think that Santa Baby is about Santa??? I’ve known that it was about a sugar daddy since I was like 11.”
“Michael Buble doesn’t know what a sugar daddy is and that’s the flaw that will finally kill him.”
“Bold of OP (original poster) to assume Eartha Kitt had not, in fact, landed Santa Claus as her sugar daddy.”
I had planned to keep a streak of posting every day through my vacation, and I had several other topics I meant to write about today. But I reached the point last night with this cold where I can’t think very clearly, and naps keep attacking me, but I’m not sleeping well since last evening because I keep having coughing fits that wake me up.
While transferring some content from my various Tumblrs to other platforms, I’ve also been scrolling through to see what remains there, and this particular post really cracked me up last night.
At a fairly early age I understood that Eartha was singing to her sugar daddy, but I also was absolutely certain that the real Santa was, indeed, the her boyfriend who came with financial benefits.
As I got older, I realized that it was a little… odd, that some of the same people (in church and so forth) who railed on about the crumbling morals of the nation and so forth, also thought that this was a funny song.
Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I don’t need to justify why I think a particular song is a Christmas song. As a matter of fact, you can’t justify such a thing, because we aren’t really talking about thinking here, but rather feeling. And no matter how much logic you pile up, that doesn’t change the way another person feels.
Just as an example: the exact same logical case that certain other people are making that a specific song isn’t a Christmas song applies to “Jingle Bells.” Seriously. “Jingle Bells” doesn’t mention the manger, nor the angels, nor the shepherds. Absolutely nothing in the lyrics at all about the arrival of Jesus, so not a religious Christmas song, clearly. There is also no mention of Christmas, nor a Christmas tree, nor holly, no mistletoe, not even chestnuts roasting on a fire. Yes, it mentions snow, and a sleigh is mentioned a lot of times, and then there’s all those jingling bells. But first, it’s a one horse open sleigh, not a reindeer drawn sleigh. Snow doesn’t just happen at Christmas. Bells were put on sleighs and carriages and the horses that pulled them at night and particularly in winter time as a precaution to avoid collisions in dark intersections.
In fact, the original author of the song back in 1822, wrote it as a party song. We’re so used to children singing the song that we don’t notice how racy the song is. A couple being out in a one horse sleigh meant no chaperone, after all, and that means all sorts of naughty things could occur. The word jingle, by the way, is meant to be a verb, not an adjective. Jingle those bells, because you’re driving fast! And there’s also some innuendo that.
And then there’s that line “He got into a drifted bank And then we got upsot.” Most people assume it’s away to make “upset” as in overturned or fallen over, to rhyme with lot. Not so fast! The word appears in a number of 18th and 19th Century songs, where it does seem to refer to something fallen over and such, but not just fallen, but in fallen in a drunken manner. Yes, other uses of the word seem to be referring to a more stumbling and raucous situation amplified by the liberal application of alcohol.
So not only isn’t “Jingle Bells” not a Christmas song, it’s not a wholesome children’s song either.
Except, of course, that for most of its history, Christmas hasn’t been a wholesome children’s holiday either. There are reasons the puritans banned the celebration of Christmas entirely in the old Massachusetts colony, and not because Christmas trees were pagan symbols. In point of fact the decorated evergreen tree wasn’t associated with Christmas in English-speaking countries at the time of the Puritans. But untangling the tree’s origin is way more complicated than I want to be here.
But, everybody knows that “Jingle Bells” is a Christmas song. And I think a case could be made that other Christmas songs mention sleigh rides and jingling bells at least as much because the modern celebration of Christmas appropriated “Jingle Bells” in the 1860s as the fact that those things are associated with winter.
I’m a Christmas music addict. And yes, there are some Christmas songs that I absolutely hate. I have walked out of people’s houses when certain songs come up. So I understand that someone can have strong negative feelings about a song or a movie. Let me like my songs and movies, and I’ll let you like yours.
And if you happen to stop by my place, I will offer you some eggnog. With the rum and brandy if you like, or without. Let’s just all have a cheery, jingly, non-judgmental holiday!
Khruangbin – Christmas Time Is Here:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Big Freedia – Make It Jingle:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
My childhood Christmas memories are divided into several sections. There were about six years where Christmas consisted of Dad, Mom, my sister, and I cramming into either the four-wheel-drive pickup (because the roads would be icy at some point of the journey) either early morning Christmas Eve or sometimes at the end of Dad’s work-shift, and drive hundreds of miles from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal Grandparents’ house. My maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma) and one set of great-grandparents on that side happened to live in the same small town as my paternal grandparents (aka Grandpa and Evil Grandma), so we would get to see them at least briefly during the trip, but it was always clear that we were there to spend Christmas with Evil Grandma, and everyone else was secondary.
I was aware, during this time, that Mom’s side of the family liked to get together on Christmas Eve, and again for Christmas dinner the next afternoon, but Christmas morning was generally for each family unit at home. Because we often were arriving at Evil Grandma’s house late in the evening, I very seldom got to attend the other family Christmas Eve.
Then there was a period of three Christmases in a row where we lived just an hour’s drive from Evil Grandma, which meant getting to see everyone for a bit longer at the holiday. That is, until Nice Grandma re-married my Mom’s adoptive father, and she moved out to Washington state to live with him.
Then there were three Christmases we lived in the same small town as my paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandparents (and only a couple hours drive from a bunch of other relatives). The tradition then became that we would spent a chunk of Christmas Eve with my Great-grandparents, then Christmas morning and Christmas dinner at Evil Grandma’s.
Then after my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved up to the same town in Washington state where Grandpa and Nice Grandma lived, and that first Christmas Eve was a revelation. When Grandma lived in Colorado, Christmas Eve involved my Great-grandparents and a few of Grandma’s friends, because there weren’t many of her non-in-law relatives there. In Washington, there were Grandpa’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, my Mom’s six half-brothers (and for some of them wives and children), plus a bewildering number of cousins, demi-cousins, shirt-tail relatives of many other sorts, plus the people that Nice Grandma always seemed to adopt.
Not every single one of that vast constellation of Grandma’s “folks” made it every year, but a lot of them managed to drop in for at least a little bit. As my Aunt Theresa (who was the ex-wife of one of my Mom’s brothers) was fond of saying, “You never knew who you would see at Gert’s Christmas Eve!”
Aunt Theresa was a great example. She had only been married to my Uncle Randy for three years. They divorced when I was about 14 years old. Theresa and Grandma had got along really well from the first time they met, so she was the one who came to Grandma the tell her the she was divorcing Randy. Theresa told the story later that, “Gert looked at me and said, ‘You can divorce my son, if that’s what you have to do, but you are not divorcing me! You’re part of my family forever, you understand?’”
And for the next 30-some years of Grandma’s life, Aunt Theresa came by frequently to visit, check on Grandma, and keep her up-to-date on the well-being of Theresa’s relatives—because Grandma still considered them all in-laws.
Two: I only got to see another one of my Mom’s half-brothers at a couple of those Christmas Eves, once I was living nearby and able to attend. Uncle Brad never quite got his life together. He spent a lot of time in jail. He was never convicted of anything serious—I think the longest sentence he ever got was six months—but, between being addicted to a couple of illegal substances, and having to sell said substances to support himself at times, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. So sometimes Uncle Brad missed Christmas Eve because he was in jail, and sometimes because he was in some other trouble.
And then he got sick. Everytime Grandma called him, he said he hadn’t been coming to visit because he was sick again, and figured he was contagious with whichever illness he thought he had.
Christmas Eve 1982 was the first time we had seen him in months, and he looked awful. Of Mom’s brothers, Brad had been the shortest, and he had never been what anyone would call fat, but that night, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grandma thought that he was using more serious drugs, and confronted him a few times. He insisted that he wasn’t, that he’d just kept catching things that he couldn’t seem to shake.
Then one day a few months later, Aunt Theresa showed up at Grandma’s and said, “I have some very bad news. Have you heard of this new disease they call AIDS? Well, Brad has it. He thinks he got in it one of the times he was in jail…”
My Uncle Brad wasn’t a really early case, but when he was diagnosed in early 1983 it was only months after the Center for Disease Control gave the illness that name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Uncle Brad didn’t live to see Christmas Eve of 1983.
My Uncle Brad was hardly the only person that I knew that would be taken by AIDS. I’ve written before of the winter when so many friends and acquaintances of Ray and I died in the same six-week period that we couldn’t attend some of the memorial services because they were happening at the same time.
The disease didn’t get its name until September of 1982, but it had been recognized as an epidemic that ought to be taken seriously since 1981. Unfortunately, no one in either party on the national level was willing to even talk about it, let alone allocate funds to the CDC and other agencies to address it properly. The very first politician at a national level to call for the government to address the crisis was a woman from California who was elected to Congress in a special election in June of 1987 to fill a seat that was vacated with the previous Congresswoman died due to cancer.
That new Congresswoman, after being sworn in, was allowed to make a short introductory address to Congress as was traditional. Usually these comments are a brief thank you to family and supporters. And the new Congresswoman did that, but she ended her remarks with this statement that surprised her colleagues, “Now we must take leadership, of course, in the crisis of AIDS. And I look forward to working with you on that.”
The Congresswoman was Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi became a tireless campaigner on the issue, bucking both her own party’s leadership, as well as taking on the Reagan administration’s (and subsequent Bush admin’s) bigoted opposition. During those early years, reporters and others kept asking how could she, as a Catholic, support what was perceived as a gay cause. Her answer was simple and consistent: “We are all God’s children, and that includes gay people.”
While people think of her as part of the establishment and middle-of-the-road, that is a gross mischaracterization. Not just then, but now. So in case it isn’t clear: I frequently describe myself as being far more liberal and progressive (radically so on many topics) than the Democratic Party, but this is one queer man who considers Minority Leader Pelosi’s current trajectory to become Speaker of the House as a big Christmas present to the forces of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Third: My Nice Grandma didn’t always live up to my idealized vision of her. Because of how negatively she (and other relatives) reacted to my coming out of the closet in 1991, I had to boycott all family events for six years. Not just Christmas Eve: everything. If my husband wasn’t welcome as my husband, then I wasn’t. It was years later that I would first read Dan Savage’s version of the epiphany that led to the boycott: “The only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.” Because of the many times over a couple of months I had been told by multiple relatives that I was going to hell and deserved it, that sure I could live my life as I chose but any time I was in there home… I had had to tell them I would not visit them, ever, but if they liked they could come visit me. Though, any time they were in my home…
(Those ellipses can imply so much, no?)
After six years, it was Grandma who reached out shortly before my birthday in 1997 and asked if she and my step-grandpa could drive Mom (who doesn’t do freeways) to see me on my birthday. I said of course. It was awkward for about an hour, but the ice finally melted, and the next thing we know they were inviting us to come down to a picnic and the meet my sister’s new daughter (my sister and her now-fifth-ex-husband were coming for a visit), and suddenly they started treating Ray like a person, instead of a symbol of whatever their feelings about my queerness were.
The change in attitude (including apologies) was topped off by a request that we come visit for Christmas, where, yes, Ray was welcome, and none of the weird conditions previously alluded to were expected.
I really wish I could end this by talking about Ray’s first Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. The problem was, Ray was very sick (he did not, by the way, have AIDS; that picnic had been a bit difficult for us to juggle because Ray’s second round of chemotherapy was underway, but we managed). In November he had a seizure, went into a coma for several days, and then died.
Michael’s first Christmas Eve with Grandma happened in 1999. It wasn’t the first time he and Grandma met. That had been at a different trip, where I decided it would be better not to have the first meeting tied to a major holiday. We had been on our way to Mom’s (she lived an hour south of Grandma back then), and we stopped in for what was supposed to be a short visit (just in case). Michael had hardly spoken a couple of sentences when Grandma gave him a look and asked, “Is that a Missouri accent I hear?”
Soon the two of them were talking about all these places in Missouri and Oklahoma where Michael had grown up, and where coincidentally Grandma had lived for a number of years. You want to talk about coincidences? The hospital listed on Michael’s birth certificate, is the same hospital listed on Mom’s birth certificate.
Anyway, they just kept talking. At one point, my step-grandpa leaned over and said quietly to me, “If you wanna get a burger or something, I think the two of us could slip out and they wouldn’t even notice.”
I was very happy. Grandma liked Michael. That meant if anyone else in the family didn’t, well, they have to keep it to themselves.
Despite the warm fuzzies of that encounter, all of the things I said yesterday about why we avoid the big family gathering apply. This Christmas Eve, it will just be Michael and I. We usually cook a sort of romantic dinner. I’ll watch some Christmas movies. We’ll probably stay up until midnight to say “Merry Christmas” and have a kiss under the mistletoe. But we have to get to bed soon after, because first thing in the morning, we always check our stockings to see what Santa brought.
After being up way too late finishing work for our latest impossible deadline, I slept in a little, then began packing up the car for a drive to my Mom’s. It’s always been a little awkward visiting the family, because as much as they think they are open-minded and accepting of my queer self and my bi husband, it is precisely the kind of acceptance where the person has to tell you that they are open-minded and not homophobic at all… and then proceed to make references to various queer stereotypes and so forth.
Things got a bit worse on some topics during the eight years that Obama was in office. Now things have gotten really bad since Trump was elected. So after the awkward Thanksgiving Day of 2016, we’ve contrived to not visit on the actual holiday. I drive down for a one day thing once or twice during December to say Merry Christmas, drop off presents, admire Christmas trees, hold one of the babies, take a few pictures, and that sort of thing. I also drive down for one-day visits several times outside of the holiday season.
Anyway, Friday was the present-delivering run. I also needed to help Mom with two computer issues: bring her the replacement/upgrade iPad Michael had put together for her (and bring back her apparently dead one to see of Michael can resuscitate it) and fix a couple of things on her computer. The computer was, fortunately, remarkably easy to fix.
The day went fairly well for the most part. There were some odd rants that came up with two different family members about a topic that I learned long ago that it is best to just bite my tongue and let them go. They will always believe everything they see on Fox News and whatever “Christian” news network they watch—regardless of how illogical or contradictory of other things they believe.
It’s not just that what they spout off is nonsense. It’s not just knowing that they vote for people who are actively trying to take my rights away. It’s not just that it hurts to hear people who taught me to love my neighbor say hateful hurtful things about whole swaths of humanity (including categories that I fall in). It’s also that I don’t feel safe in that community. It’s been a few years (but less than ten) since a random person in that community has felt the urge to call me fag out of the blue, but I see the looks. I can read the bumper stickers. I overhear the conversations at other tables in the restaurant.
If I brought that up, they would dismiss it. I know, because they did when I tried to explain years ago some of the reasons I am much happier staying in “the big city” as they say. It’s an amazing blind spot: they dismiss any racist or homophobe and so on as a single anomaly that I should just ignore, at the same time they are convinced that every single person who talks about racism or gay bashing or sexual assault is part of a vast satanic conspiracy that must be fought and defeated lest the world literally go down in flames.
And they don’t understand that they just said that I need to be exterminated in order to save their world.
So, yeah, I’m going to keep limiting my exposure to all that hate. I much prefer holidays with my chosen family.
So I supposed I can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting that I own a particular book or a music album, right?
I own a lot of Christmas music. According to iTunes I own 2,538 Christmas songs. While a substantial fraction of that comes from Christmas albums recorded by a single musician or band, a whole lot of the collection comes from various compilation albums where every track is by a different person. Before the era of digital music stores, I would go through displays of Christmas CDs at this time of year, reading the track lists on those compilations and sometimes buying a particular disc just to get one single track. And because my friends and my husband know I love Christmas music, I have been gifted with various albums over the years.
I have rules about when I listen to Christmas music. The earliest that I can listen to Christmas music each year is after Thanksgiving dinner. And usually I wait until the day after Thanksgiving. I can keep listening to Christmas music up until Three Kings Day/Epiphany (the literal 12th day of Christmas). For most of that period each year, I pick my Christmas music by choosing from playlists. If I’m in a silly mood, I might pick the list called “A Silly Christmas” or “A Quirky Christmas” or “Xmas Oddments.” If I’m in a more serious mood, I might pick “A Grand Golden Christmas” or “A Choral Christmas” or “A Sombre Christmas.” An other days I’ll pick “A Dame & Diva Christmas” or “A Gay Yultide” or “A Jazzy Christmas” or “A Swingin’ Christmas.” If I can’t decide, I just grab “A Class-ic Christmas” which contains the songs that I think of as Christmas Classics.
And I update these lists. When I get a new album, I often pick a few songs from the album to add to one of those playlists.
Unfortunately last year while updating one such list I added a song that I absolutely despise. It was part of an EP that I wound up buying without sampling all the songs. As I recall, someone linked to the music video for a song, and I liked it enough to go see if I could buy the song, and that’s when I found a it was part of an EP of five I think it was. I listened to the samples of a couple of other songs on it, decided that I wanted to buy those three, so might as well just buy the whole thing. And four of the songs are great. But the fifth… no.
I went to delete the song from the playlist that it didn’t belong on (wondering briefly how I had added it), and when I right-clicked, onr of the options on the pop-up was the remove the download entirely. So I picked that. And it was oddly satisfying.
Anyway, while between all of those lists that’s a lot of Christmas music, it isn’t everything I own. So several years ago I got in the habit of Setting up a smart playlist each year that would gather all the Christmas songs that haven’t been listened to in over a year. I’ll set that list on shuffle and listen to it on shuffle for a day or two, watching it shrink (because each time a song plays, it gets removed the list, right?). Every time I do this, some music that I forgot even existed comes up. And that’s fun—most of the time. Of course, there are some songs that come up in this list that, well, there are good reasons I haven’t listened to it in a while.
Not necessarily because I dislike them as much as that one song I deleted. For instance, some years ago I found in one of those displays of music that pop-up in retail stores at Christmas time, an album by a pop singer whose heydey was during my childhood. I had fond memories of his music on the radio, and the disc was on sale, so I figured, what the heck?
Oh, boy. Now, it wasn’t awful. It wasn’t gouge your ear-drums-out bad like the Dylan album a couple years ago, for instance. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is Great, 1 is Dreadful and 3 is Mediocre? The album is a solid 2.5. The orchestration was by-the-numbers. The session musicians who recorded the accompaniment all did just fine. The pop singer’s voice was still pleasant. He hit the notes without needing autotune. But his delivery on every track except one is just bland. And the tempo of several of the upbeat songs was just a little slower than what you would call festive. No single track on the album is terrible, but likewise, there is only one track that I’d say is good. Not great, but good.
Looking at the album more closely, it’s a great example of why sometimes these Christmas offerings by musicians who are no longer burning up the charts can be so hit and miss. Only two of the tracks are songs that are still under copyright, so licensing for the album was very cheap. Pop and rock and other genre musicians often do a Christmas album when they’re in the downside of their careers because they are usually cheap to produce, and while people were still buying most of their music as physical media, mass-produced copies were reliable sellers year after year. I still see some of the racks of Christmas music CDs in some stores, but even my inner Christmas music packrat can seldom get me to stop and look at them any longer.
Which is probably a good thing. Yeah, maybe I’m missing the occasional surprise treasure, but I have so many great treasures already! And I just got a new idea for a Christmas playlist. Gotta go!
I have mentioned many times that I am a packrat from a long line of packrats. Other people might refer to us as hoarders, and certainly some family members leaned more toward that end of the spectrum than others. After Grandma died, for instance, my mom and her older sister found at least five “spare” microwave ovens squirreled away among the thousands of boxed up things stuffed in every closet of Grandma’s home. One of those microwaves my Aunt recognized immediately, and not just because of the scorch marks, as one that my Aunt had thrown away when it suffered a major electrical problem.
For years after Grandma’s death, mom and her sister have been ocassionally producing weird things that were packed up at Grandma’s that they hope that one of us will take and use.
My maternal-maternal great-grandfather (who insisted all of us kids call him ‘Shorty’ rather than Great-grandpa) died when I was 14 years old. At the time he and Great-grandma lived in a little house that was about a three minute bicycle ride from our home. Grandma and all of her brothers and a huge number of the grandchildren (Mom’s first cousins) and great-grandchildren (my second cousins) came to the small Colorado town for the funeral and to help with the arrangements. Great-grandma went back to southwest Washington to live with Grandma, then she died a year later.
Because of a couple of photographs, we know that during the first Christmas after Shorty’s death, that Grandma and Great-grandma decorated a tree in Grandma’s house with a combination of Great-grandma’s ornaments and Grandma’s. As far as any of us know, Great-grandma’s ornaments then stayed boxed up and unused for the next 32 years. When Mom found them, they were still in the original box packed inside a bigger box with other things of Great-grandma’s. There was a note attached to the outside of the box in Grandma’s handwriting that said, “Mother’s decorations.” Inside the box Mom found a handwritten retail receipt from the little “five-and-dime” store that had once been in the tiny Colorado town where I was born (And where Shorty and Great-grandma lived for a bit over 20 years). It had a date: December 1956, and noted that the ornaments were being sold at half price because two of the glass ornaments broke during shipping.
Mom split them up, with myself and one of my cousins getting three each. Mom kept four for herself.
I suspect that the reason they sat unused in that box for all that time was three-fold. The first Christmas after Great-grandma died, I suspect Grandma was just too sad about them to use them. The next dozens of years if Grandma thought about them at all, she probably decided not to use them because she was afraid they would get broken, and then she wouldn’t have these things of her mother’s any longer. And I think the third reason is that the longer they stayed boxed up, the less often Grandma even remembered they existed.
The last phenomenon is one I became accutely aware of during the move 20 months ago, as I kept finding boxes of things squirreled away in the old house that I had forgotten we had.
This is one of the reasons I insist, no matter what colors and theme we’re doing on any Christmas, that Great-grandma’s three ornaments always go on our tree. As kitschy and ordinary as they are, they represent my Great-grandma and make me remember happy times with her whenever I look at them. But the other part is that I don’t want them to sit in a box unseen for years. There is no point keeping them if they aren’t going to be seen and used. Their only value is in being seen.
Yeah, if one ever got broken, I would be upset. But I would also remind myself that for 19 years they gave Great-grandma (and anyone who visited her during the season) a bit of holiday cheer, and for 10 years and counting they have contributed to my Christmas cheer. That’s a pretty good return on G-grandma’s original investment of less than a dollar.
Different people have different traditions—by which I mean a long established or generally accepted practice or custom. Now, if I were to be pedantic, I would have to point out that in order to qualify as “generally accepted” the practice or custom can’t be individual. Fortunately, most dictionaries put that “or” in there to bail us out. Anyone that has met me knows I can be extremely pedantic, so I don’t blame other people being that way, even if I may try to give them a different perspective. For instance, Christmas is, technically, a religious holiday, and many churches that observe Christmas has a tradition of calling the time period from the first Sunday in December up to December 23 as Advent, rather than Christmas. In such Churches, the Christmas season does not begin until December 24, and it continues on through Twelfth Night (sometimes also called Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day).
I was not raised in that kind of church.
I was raised in Southern Baptists churches: a good ol’ boy, redneck denomination (with an extremely racist origin) that took particular pride in eschewing liturgical traditions. And not just pride, it was an article of faith within the church culture that the more tightly another denomination clung to traditions and rituals and so on, the least likely they were to be part of the “true” church. This was a communal act of both projection and denial (otherwise known as gatekeeping). We had just as many rituals and traditions as anyone else, we just didn’t publish them in a liturgical calendar or give them high-falutin’ names.
I often describe myself as a Recovering Baptist, or Ex-Evangelical, or even Ex-Christian, so I rejected the notion that they (or any other institution) has a monopoly on truth or grace, but I am also self-aware enough to know that part of me always assumes that I’m right, and people who disagree with me are not. In any case, there are certain traditions around the Advent/Christmas season from my childhood that I adhere to:
- I don’t listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving dinner.
- I try to start decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving.
- There are always lights on the tree and around the house.
- Presents should start appearing under the tree shortly after it goes up, and people are allowed to pick up presents tagged for them and shake/listen to/weigh in their hands/et cetera to their heart’s content trying to guess what is inside but must never try to peek under the wrapping.
- Any member of the household may move any ornament except the treetopper from one point on the tree to another if they think they see a bare spot; but also each member of the family may declare one ornament as theirs and not to be moved by anyone else.
- If you have reached the age where you realize that the truth about Santa is that Santa is all of us, it becomes your duty to help make sure everyone younger experiences the wonders of receiving a gift from the jolly old elf and if they realize it actually came from you you have failed at being a good Santa’s helper.
- There will be olives and a relish tray on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Just to name a few.
Other traditions are more personal that have evolved over the years, many of them at least partially caused by the six or seven years where I and my “friend” (there are some relatives even more than 20 years later who refused to call my husband anything other than “Gene’s friend”) were not welcome at family events.
A biggie is, that the height of the Christmas Season, the day that I consider my real Christmas, is the annual Holiday Party which I and friends have been having, almost always on the third Saturday of the month, here, and not with relatives. It’s the time that I get together with people I love (among Christmas decorations) to laugh, to share food, to exchange gifts—to fill our little corner of the world with light and love. Which just happened day before yesterday. This feeling that that event is my Christmas is so strong, that for many years now I have to be careful on the Monday after the party not to start asking co-workers how their Christmas went.
Since 1995 this event has also included the Christmas Ghost Story Challenge: I write and perform an original Christmas Ghost Story, and challenge other people to have something similar to share.
There are still several of my personal traditions that are related to my family. Every Christmas among the presents I give my mom, one is a box of that type of candy I have been giving her since I was about 14 years old. I keep an eye peeled for decorations or albums or other things that Mom loved to bring out during the holidays that have subsequently been lost or broken. This is why, even though I as a taoist married to a wiccan no longer celebrate this season as sweet-baby-jesus time, that I have purchased for Mom more than one Nativity scene, and when I can, additional figurines for the larger one.
Part of the reason is because, yes, I want my mom to be happy. Another part is because those things represent moments that we found something to be happy about in spite of living with an abuser. Things like the glitter on the Christmas angel or the Christmas albums we loved to sing along to were moments of light and love in a world of darkness.
And while I take great delight in unpacking and setting up the plastic Santa & Sleigh that for years graced my Great-grandparents’ home every Christmas, or hang up the three kitchsy glass ball ornaments that were on their tree every year, or hang up the embroidered Christmas tree that hung in Grandma’s home, these things also remind me of our mortality. There are people I loved who are no longer with us. We can never be sure how many happy times together we will have in the future with our loved ones that are still here.
So we should enjoy and be thankful for whatever bits of happiness we can give each other.
My friend, Krisin, wrote a nice essay that touches on similar themes that you might enjoy: Expectations.
I don’t have to deal with that sort of thing this week because we’re staying home again this year. And I had a lot less of it to deal with last year because we stayed home for both holidays. I drove down twice during the season to see folks and drop off Christmas presents, so I did see a lot of the extended family, but it’s different when you aren’t sitting in one place for a long time either waiting for food to cook, or more people to arrive, or whatever.
Anyway, if I were to do something like this letter, it might go something like this:
Hello, cousin/aunt/cousin-in-law I only see at holiday gatherings! It’s been too long!
As a matter of fact, no, I don’t technically live in Seattle any more, I’ve moved to a small suburb called Shoreline.
No, I still take the bus to work. It’s only four miles further from the office than my old place. I would love to talk about our new neighborhood and all the things I’m growing in my–
Yes, I am still working in the same part of the telecommunications industry that I have been for the past 31 years.
Yes, you actually use the stuff we do every day. Our products are the servers that figure out where you phone is anytime you use maps, or need to call 9-1-1, and so forth.
I’m sorry to hear about your vague problem with your very cheap Android so-called smart phone that is almost certainly running a very outdated version of Android and is loading with bloatwear. I don’t do Android. At all. I’m an Apple user.
No, that is not an iPhone. It has the name of another company printed right there in very large type. I’m sorry the salesperson at the place you went to get a cheaper phone than you could buy from your carrier (after two other cheap phones died on you this year) lied to you. You should probably go somewhere else next time.
I’m sorry to hear about your vague computer problem on your super cheap very old Windows machine that is probably infested with more malware than actual software. Can’t really help you, as I said, I’m a Mac user. You should probably stop taking it to that guy who runs the combination Pawn Shop/Smoke Shop/Computer Repair Shop and go to the place my husband recommended last year.
Yes, I voted. No, I really don’t think we should talk about it.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do still believe that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, just like his birth certificate said. And no, I’m not at all glad he’s gone. I’m really sad that voter suppression and Russian interference put a person who lost the popular vote into office.
Yes, yes, I completely agree we should change the topic. Did you see the Seahawks game two weeks ago?
Since the form of this thing is a flier you could hand out to people, I decided to leave out the many times that I wind up sitting very tight-lipped awkwardly listening to someone try to explain away some real world news with very very mangled Bible references. Or the latest quack medicine/magical Bible cure someone is trying for their vague physical ailments.
At least for the last five or six years everyone has realized that talking about anything related to their opposition to gay rights or transgender people isn’t a good idea. Please note that I have been out of the closet for over 26 years and they have all met (and all seem to really like) my husband who has been coming down with me to these things for 20 years, but it took this long to decide that maybe telling us some of those things to our faces isn’t polite dinner conversation.
I am going to miss not getting a taste of Mom’s Mistake Salad (it’s a concoction of pistachio pudding and pineapple and whipped cream and I don’t remember what, that seems to contain about a million grams of sugar per spoonful, so I can literally only have a few bites, but dang it is so, so, so good!) or share and compare anyone’s attempt at making Grandma’s Frozen Cranberry Salad—for a long time we thought the recipe was lost, so several of us came up with versions of our own; Mom found an index card with the official recipe hiding in one of Grandma’s photo albums. And then when she made it, it wasn’t quite what any of us remembered, confirming our suspicion that she did never made it the same way twice.
Since it is just the two of us, Michael and I are cooking a small turkey. We’ll have stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, my Great-grandma’s creamy savory sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, cranberry sauce, and a relish tray that will have enough pickled foods and olives to feed about 30 people.
Oh! And I plan to make the Fiery Thanksgiving Manhattan again: Rye bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Tillen Farms’ Fire and Spice Maraschino Cherries. It will be divine!