Christmas

The Humbug is Strong

I’ve never really been a fan of Christmas music.

I’m sure that’s not an entirely true statement. If we could find a time machine back to the Carter administration, I’m sure we could find a little tyke doing all the fun calls and responses from “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” What kindergartner doesn’t love to follow up a lingering statement like “used to laugh and call him names” with, “Like Columbus.”

What? Columbus wasn’t used as an insult? You’ll go down in history, like Columbus? I mean, sure, genociders are historical and all, but what, was Hitler unavailable? Honestly, the only thing that went down in history around Columbus was the population of Native Americans. But whatever, Montgomery Ward, let’s just stick with the moron that thought the world was a third the size that it really is.

Oh yeah, for those of you who don’t know, Montgomery Ward invented Rudolph as a marketing ploy to differentiate their mail-order catalogs from Sears in the 1930s. That’s why he’s not listed in “The Night Before Christmas.” Rudolph didn’t exist yet. It was just… um.. Vixen? Nixon? Dixen-sider? Wait, I know one of them is named Blitzen. See? Hitler!

And of course, beyond Rudolph are some of the other great hits. About snowmen and nights spent in sensory deprivation chambers. And bells, of both a chromatic and auditory nature. And, of course let’s not forget the annual debate over what does and does not constitute date rape.

Then there’s the song about… no, I think that’s pretty much it. There are only five Christmas carols, right?

That’s really where my disdain for Christmas music began. It’s not that the individual songs, in a vacuum, are bad songs. Except for maybe “Away in a Manger.” That shit’s horrible on listen number one or listen number infinity. Whereas the rest of the songs only become intolerable as they approach infinity. Which is about how many times I’ve heard “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” And, by extension, that means I’ve heard “And a Happy New Year” one-third of infinite times. Aren’t you glad to know that the subject I teach is not math?

My mom was one of those people who listened to Christmas music on a more-or-less continuous loop for the last part of every year. Most years she would wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start, sometimes she’d sneak it in around Veteran’s Day. My wife is in that same vein. I believe that, were I not in the picture, she would feel like the Fifth of July is a perfectly acceptable time to start signing about snow and bells.

Hey, speaking of Christmas in July, did you know Hallmark Channel did that promotion this year? Because I’m pretty sure they get eighty percent of their viewership when they run those crappy love stories, where Candace Cameron is about to hook up with some hockey player, but then Santa shows up at the end to kill the hockey player get some strange for himself. Wait, that’s not how the movie ends? Santa gets the two together? Shit, I’m super glad I never stay awake till the end.

Anyway, I know that Hallmark Channel does this because when I told my four-year old it was July, she said “Christmas in July,” because whenever she’s visiting grandma and grandpa, they have the Hallmark Channel on. They’re part of the twenty percent that watch year round. Including on Thanksgiving. Did you know there’s football on the TV on Thanksgiving? Because my in-laws don’t. When I explained this dilemma to my co-workers, they responded with, “Wow, that’s got to suck for your father-in-law,” to which I respond, “He’s the one putting on the fucking Hallmark movies!”

But at least there’s a variety of Hallmark movies. Not only can you watch has-beens from “Full House,” but “Party of Five,” too. I think I even saw a “Days of Our Lives” alum this season. Whereas with the Christmas music I listened to endured in my youth, it was the same three records over and over. And by records, I actually mean records. Oh, maybe one or two of them were on 8-track, but by and large, they were vinyl records. You know, the ones where you can’t skip a song?

As an aside, am I the only one who feels unfinished when “Yesterday” ends and it isn’t immediately followed by the opening riff of “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”?

My mom played those records like broken records. Over and over and over again. Which is pretty much what the seventeen different holiday channels on Sirius/XM are doing right now. “Hey, that was a great Bing Crosby song. Coming up after this John Denver song, we’ve got some Bing Crosby on the way.”

Because every Christmas song, it seems, was recorded in a three-year span by three artists. Oh sure, they’ve been redone by every Jewish musician known to mankind. Seriously. Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, and Barry Manilow have all recorded songs about the glorious birth of Christ. Hell, when Rod Stewart released a Christmas album last year, my first thought was, “I didn’t even know he’s Jewish.”

So somewhere around the age of seven, listening to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” for the two-hundredth time, I realized that I was kind of over all of the Christmas songs. It was probably a balmy 82 degrees in Southern California on this particular listen of “It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas” when I realized the absurdity of it all.

But when they go away for eleven ten nine months at a time, I sometimes forget the inanity. Somewhere around Thanksgiving or, knowing my wife, closer to Halloween, I’ll hear my first Yuletide song of the year. And I’ll hum or whistle along, because most of them are festive as shit. A little “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” goes a long way in mid-November.

But by the time December 1 rolls around, I’ve once again heard every song multiple times this year and I’m reminded that I still have another four weeks to go.  I try to grin and bear it, but the Stockholm Syndrome just won’t stick.

For a while, I was happy when new versions of songs, and even an occasional new song entirely, came out. I think my eyes went wide the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” Like, “Holy shit, they can do that?” Hell, The Boss isn’t even Jewish, unless his grandparents changed the spelling from Springstein.

And of course, when Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” came out, I was in college, so I was perfectly fine to watch her traipse around in her little Santa suit on VH-1 once per hour.

But before too long I remembered that Bruce Springsteen is a communist that hates consumerism and Mariah Carey is bat-shit crazy.

And don’t get me started on that “Believe” crap from “Polar Express.” Holy fuckdoll, is there any way I can gouge my ears out a la Oedipus’s eyes by the end of that song? Shit, I’ve got time, the song has to be forty-five minutes long, right?

That’s the problem with hearing the same things over and over. You start to notice every single nuance and intricacy of it. You start to think, “Really, Beach Boys? Christmas comes this time each year? When the fuck else would it come? What was the B-side of this calendar dumbfuckery: Saturday is at the End of the Week?

Hell, I’d probably find reasons to hate “Layla” if I had to listen to it on constant loop for six straight weeks.

Scratch that. “Layla” is perfect. But the acoustic version is on a strict no-more-than-once-per-month diet.

But the last few years, I’ve tried to make my peace with Christmas songs. There’s something about the joy in a child’s face. Especially when that joy appears when she’s in the car with mom, who has Christmas songs on her radio, and I only have to see that joy through a rolled up window.

Wife is usually kind enough to hold her pre-December Christmas songs out of my earshot. I did my part by ignoring all of the changed pre-sets on her car radio. But all good things must come to an end, and the last week or two, I’ve endured.

Until yesterday. When my daughter said, and I quote, “I don’t want to listen to this song.”

My heart grew three sizes that day. I became Darth Vader at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Yes, child, I am your father.

“Why not?” Wife asks.

“They play it too much.”

A smiled pursed my lips. Forget Darth Vader, I’m going full Emperor Palpatine on this one.

Goooood. Let your hate flow through you. Fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place. The Humbug is strong in this one.

The song that turned her toward the Dark Side?

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

Meh, not the first choice on my hatred hierarchy, but I’ll take what I can get. Maybe I should make her listen to the Bruce Springsteen version and then explain how it’s a subtle dig at the imperialistic evil of the United States.

Unfortunately, my four-and-a-half year old wasn’t really enunciating her feelings properly. Shocking, I know. What she really meant was that she enjoys when mommy and daddy sing it to her, and doesn’t want to hear docile pre-recordings. Why does she love mommy’s and daddy’s rendition? Because if there’s one motif for the month of December in a house with a pre-schooler, it’s “You better not pout, you better not cry.”

In other words, “Shut the fuck up! You’re supposed to be fucking happy!”

Seriously, what is it about this month? I know a big part of it is the shorter days and the lousy weather. In the summertime, after I pick her up from daycare, we can go to the park or ride bikes or play in the yard until the sun sets well past 8:00 PM. This time of the year, the sun has usually set by the time I can pick her up. And sure, there are street lights, but it’s fifty degrees outside, which in California is practically arctic. The best we can do is drive around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. Otherwise, it’s a steady stream of Disney, Jr while I wrack my brain about ways to expend one million joules of pent-up, four-year-old wiggles in a two-hundred square foot jail cell without damaging the prison walls and furniture that mommy and daddy put a lot of effort into.

And dammit, child, I have a very important blog with seventy followers, at least ten of which might not actually be bots, so just sit there and watch the same goddamned “Vampirina” episode for the seventieth time. It’ll prepare you for a life of Christmas music.

But there’s also the compensatory factor of our stories about Santa Claus and his Gestapo powers of spotting every naughty action the child has ever committed. Not that said child can identify what action is naughty and which is nice, but she’s pretty sure that Big Brother Santa knows her deepest darkest demons. After all, he’s watching her sleep. After we made her sit on his lap. Nothing creepy about that.

And don’t get me started on the Elf on the fucking Shelf. Trust me, that NSA-inspired bullshit will get its own post from me at some juncture. And if that post doesn’t materialize by December 2019, assume I’ve been placed into a Christmas concentration camp. By the time I come out, I’ll be Winston Smith saying, “two plus two equals Happy Holidays.”

But all of this, the cabin fever and the fact that she isn’t entirely sure how the whole Christmas morning thing is going to work, leads to lots of whining. And lots of temper tantrums. And, oh my GOD, the pouting. I ask her what she wants for lunch, she’s reacts like I asked her to sever her arm. She runs to the couch, doubles over and buries her head like Burt the fucking Turtle facing a nuclear attack.

So props to the writer’s of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” because they’ve nailed the essence of what it is to actually have a child during this “Most Wonderfucked Time of the Year”. Because we’ve had to hit the first verse often. And early. Like, before Thanksgiving. Of last year. Because “Jingle Bells” and Parson Brown marrying some motherfuckers who just met ain’t getting this family through the Donner Pass of Christmas time any easier than watching “Fancy Nancy” learn the true message of Christmas for the seventeenth time.

And there I had to be an asshole and ask her if she needs to go potty again. Cue the histrionics and the psychiatrist bills. Maybe I need to get an Elf to blow cigarette smoke into her face and scream, “Ve haff vays of making ju grin.”

But in the meantime, we just sing. “You better shut up. You better not pout. No seriously, don’t pout. You better not fucking… hey, where are you going? Why are you burying your head? Seriously, Spring is still three months away, can you fucking work with me here? I’m telling you why.”

And the result of our subliminal reinforcement? It certainly hasn’t stopped the whining. But at least it’s made her not want to hear the song. Except that, if you dig a little deeper, she does want to hear one rendition. Not Bing Crosby’s. Not Bruce Sprinsteen’s. Only…

“Sometimes I pout just so you guys will sing it to me.”

Oh, fuck my life.

And here I thought I was raising another Grinch. A young padawan to carry my Sith-mas traditions into the next generation. A burgeoning naysayer who could listen to her Bruce Springsteen music and rail against the consumerist tendencies of a bourgeois society.

But nope. Looks like I’m just raising another child who can play her parents like a fiddle and can’t wait to see where that crazy elf has hidden himself today.

Pass the eggnog.

Maybe “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” was a bridge too far. Next year I can try again with some low-hanging fruit to get her to hate Christmas music.

Sing it with me everyone. “We’re simply having a Wonderful Christmastime.”

War on Saturn

Every December, I get annoyed by all of those cultural warriors that try to re-write history and put their own spin on what this holiday season is truly about. They’ve even gone so far as to change the name of the holiday itself, trying to force us all to use a different greeting than was originally used. Unfortunately, the holiday was named after a person, or a personified deity, so when they change the name, they’re taking it away from the true basis, the true meaning of the holiday season. It’s almost as if they’re trying to eradicate the poor person whose birthday falls on December 25.

Jesus? No, not that charlatan. He was probably born in early spring, by most interpretations.

The person I’m talking about is Saturn, the “Reason for the Season” of Saturnalia.

Oh, we could throw Yule in there, too, but I really don’t if that’s a person or a season or just some other random crazy thing the Krauts came up with.

Oh, you thought Yuletide was a Christian thing? Because Jesus didst spake unto the Rich Corinthian Leathers, “Bring unto me a chopped down tree that is in no way indigenous to the region. Oh, and a log that burns for a really, really long time, like maybe a Duraflame.”

No, Jesus wasn’t born in December and most of the things we associate with Christmas were around long before Christianity. Even if a specific birthdate existed, that date probably would correlate to our current calendar. December, based on its name, was the tenth month of the year. Ever noticed that? September, October, November, and December translate to seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth month. But then a couple of Caesars came by and wanted their own months plopped into the middle of the year, so the rest of the months got pushed back. While Julius had already been there by 1 AD, so maybe there was a July by then, Augustus had not shown up yet.  I don’t know if there were ten or eleven months on the calendar that year, but I do know that December 25, 1AD would not be the same as December 25. Except that December 25 would not be listed on the birth certificate, anyway.

That’s why Easter changes its date every year. It falls on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring. Had Jesus’s birthday ever been noted, it would have had one of those kooky always changing dates. If he was lucky, “Three Days after the Winter Solstice” would have sufficed. But it probably would’ve been based on the last full moon of autumn, which would’ve been hard for the Apostles to buy him presents.

Oh, and by the way, Easter is named after Ishtar, a goddess of fertility. Hence all the bunnies, eggs, and other fornication references. Wow, another holiday the Christians stole. I would chastise them for ignoring the 7th Commandment, but they stole those from the Jews, anyway.

So who was born on or around December 25? Saturn, the Roman god. But even Saturnalia’s date moved around a bit, as December shrank from 36 days down to 31. Because even Roman gods would have to move their birthdays around as the first day of winter changed.  After all, the Solstice is the REAL reason for the season.

Every primitive society had some sort of celebration around the Solstice, be it Yule or Saturnalia or Festivus.  I include Festivus because I can think of no better definition of “primitive” than standard def and having to sit through the commercial breaks.

Why the celebration of Solstice? It is the shortest day of the year. So the day after it, the sun begins its return. And if the sun is one of the things you pray to and define your life by, then you celebrate the fact that he/she/it is coming back. I know, it sounds so silly and pagan to say your god was born with the return of the sun. I mean, the son of God being born that day is totally logical. But an actual god? Don’t make me laugh.

Birthdays and gods aside, though, there was a much more practical reason for celebrating the first days of winter. The weather is about to get worse. Food is going to become scarcer. There will  barely be enough food for the humans to make it through the next three months, much less the animals.  So you keep a male and a female and slaughter all the rest. Then you enjoy them, maybe with some gravy, because it’s the last time you’ll by full before April.

In fact, the Agricultural Revolution was caused in large part by a dude named Turnip Townshend. In addition to playing the guitar with a distinctive windmill motion, he also discovered that turnips replenish the soil better than leaving it fallow. Even better, people now had a whole bunch of turnips that they could feed to the livestock through the winter. Livestock living through the winter equals a more stable food supply equals farmers being freed up (or forced) to move to the cities. Add coal and iron and, voila, instant industrialization.

But back to these solstice festivals. In addition to the culinary element, they were usually marked by gift giving and the upheaval of social conventions. Lords and peasants switching places. Getting drunk and making out with your co-worker. Secret Santas. No wait, that came later.

So early Christians were trying to get converts A Roman guy says, “Gosh, your religion sounds great, what with all the rising from the dead and the turning of other cheeks and whatnot, but it’s hard for me to give up the revelry of Saturn’s birthday.”

So the Christians didst respond, “Oh, hey, our guy was born that day, too. We just call it Christmas. But all the other shit’s the same.”

The Roman looked skeptical.

“Seriously. Just put up this nativity scene, and then you can do all of the pagan pipers piping you want.”

And, lo, Christmas was born.

Then it died.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church frowned upon Christmas because it was too tied up with superstition and paganism. The Puritans then banned it, to the extent that December 25 was the only day of the year that British were not allowed to go to church. The Puritans were also the Pilgrims, so the alleged first American colonists didn’t celebrate Christmas. I say “alleged” because the Pilgrims actually showed up thirteen years after Jamestown was founded. But I’ll leave that for another day, because I can only destroy one misconception at a time.

But the next time a “War on Christmas” yahoo talks about the founding fathers being upset at what is happening to Christmas, be sure to tell them that the founding fathers didn’t celebrate Christmas. Even though most of them were Anglicans/Episcopalians, not Puritans, Christmas and its debauchery had fallen out of favor with many.

But like any good Christian, Zombie Christmas rose from the dead. Actually, better to call it a vampire, because it was much more intelligent and calculated than the randomness of a zombie.

What brought Christmas back from the dead? The very same thing that defines it still today. Love and joy? Ha ha, good one. No, I’m talking about money, money, money.

Our modern conception of Christmas comes from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. You know the one. Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by some ghosts and learns the true meaning of Christmas and Kermit the Frog and blah, blah, blah. But Dickens wasn’t describing the actual Christmas spirit that he observed, he was making up what he thought it should be.

So think about that. The true “spirit of Christmas” is based on a borderline Marxist attack on wealth inequality. I’m pretty sure Fox News leaves that part out.

The rest of the things we associate with Christmas were mainly marketing ploys. Rudolph? Invented by Montgomery Ward. Santa Claus, the way we conceive him now, was more or less solidified by Coca-Cola ads. Interestingly, the reason Coca-Cola used Santa so much was because they were not allowed to make any ads that specifically targeted or showed children. So they used Santa to market to kids without getting in trouble. Ah, consumerism!

Then there’s eggnog. Honestly, I have no idea where eggnog came from. I only know where it’s going: directly into my belly.

So enjoy your holiday, whatever holiday that may be, because we’re all really just celebrating the same thing. Go ahead and sing along with me the perfect carol for this wondrous season:

“Here comes the sun, do do do do, here comes the sun, and I say…

“It’s all right!”