I've been tagged to do a Christmas "meme." (Thanks, Jeff.) I'm still not sure how I feel about "memes," or even what "meme" really means. But I guess I do enjoy playing around with these questions. I've added some of my own as well. See other Christmas Memes by Jeff and Crystal.
1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Jeff has a good point - why isn't Hot Mulled Cider offered as a choice? That's the main holiday drink in some regions of the country. And we're in the 21st century, for goodness sakes. In the United States of America. We have access to the internet. We can order practically anything online. We have 117 kinds of breakfast cereals, over a hundred channels of bad television, access to thousands of newspapers from around the world. Why must we settle for two kinds of drinks at Christmas? Who's trying to force these two limited choices on us? I sense the invisible hand of the National Egg Nog Association behind this meme.
NENA Exec 1: "Well, it's incredibly high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar, so how are we going to market it to people?"
NENA Marketing VP: "I know, we'll create a Christmas Meme and grapeshot the internet with it."
NENA Exec's Lackey: "Right - What's your favorite Christmas drink? Egg nog or turpentine?"
NENA Marketing VP: "No, that might be too obvious, and we might not like the responses. . . . As long as we only mention one other beverage, then at least half of the audience will say 'EGG NOG for me, buddy!!!' They'll go away from the blog thinking that they actually like egg nog, forgetting that they only drink it once a year, usually after they've had too much alcohol and aren't thinking clearly. They'll believe that they decided egg nog was their choice."
Have you ever seen those tall cans of egg nog that sit around on grocery store shelves all year long? With a film of dust on them? You realize, of course, that someone will buy those and serve it to their friends at some point. Do you want to risk being one of those friends?
No, thank you. I like anis for Christmas. Preferably Anis de Chinchón "seco." Unfortunately that's hard to find in the States, so I usually have to settle for Anis del Mono's "dulce" or Marie Brizzard. Sambuca can do in a pinch, but it's just not the same.
One must also consider atole and champurrado.
Since I live with a chocoholic, hot chocolate is a YEAR-ROUND beverage.
And I love hot-mulled cider.
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
In a global economy, Santa sub-contracts gift wrapping to unregulated companies in the Far East. (Why do you think Bush was pushing for that "Free Trade Agreement" with Vietnam so late in the year?) Basically, crippled 6-year old children are slaving away in Indonesian sweatshops under inhumane conditions so Santa can deliver nice, neatly wrapped presents to your child here in the United States. (Sort of like Barnes & Noble uses those 87-year old "volunteers" to gift-wrap that new Noam Chomsky book you had to buy.)
And what about the toy-makers themselves? Well, let's just say that nobody is monitoring labor relations at the North Pole. Sure, when you watch Rudolph or Frosty on TV, the North Pole looks like one big, happy family. But doesn't it seem striking similar to a company town? Do you really think the elves are unionized or able to organize themselves if they have a grievance? How do you think Santa, Inc. makes all those toys year after year and still turns a profit? Do you think the little Mexican elf who crossed the Yukon River for a better life in "El Muy Norte" has health coverage? Especially now that his lungs are scarred from breathing in toxic fumes while making that pretty sweater you wanted? You think Santa's gonna keep little Manuelito on the payroll now that he can't work 18 hours a day? Yeah, fat chance. I think even a cursory investigation would reveal that the North Pole operation makes Wal-Mart look like Catholic Charities.
3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
I'm a big fan of Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe that a Christmas tree should be judged on the content of its character, not on the color of its lights.
And I'm not sure that "colored" is the preferred term in 2006. I believe it should be "Lights of color."
Personally, I like blinky, multi-colored lights, so when I listen to Magical Mystery Tour and I'm . . . uh . . . drinking some tea . . . uh, that is, hot mulled cider . . . I can see all of creation in a single strand of $3.99 Christmas lights.
We have non-blinking lights of color.
4. Do you hang mistletoe?
I wouldn't even know where to buy mistletoe!
5. When do you put your decorations up?
I think anytime after Thanksgiving is fair game. We put our lights up last Sunday, December 9. In an unusual twist this year, we still haven't put anything else on the tree. So putting "decorations up" is "in process." (It's been a really busy end-of-the-semester. And there was a problem with the old lights, so we had to run down to CVS and get some new ones, and then we just lost all momentum.) While at CVS, however, I did spy a lovely green New York Jets ornament, and I managed to get it on the tree, so I guess we do have one decoration up.
5-B. When do you take your decorations down?
Were we supposed to take them down? After all that trouble?
We celebrate El Dia de los Reyes (otherwise known as Epistrophy - no, wait, that's a Thelonious Monk tune - Epiphany), so they have to stay up beyond January 6. Usually we don't get to it until late January or early February. We like the pretty lights.
A couple of years ago, I think the calendar actually may have said March before we finally took down the tree.
5-C. What's your favorite ornament?You mean besides the New York Jets ornament? Well, I have a handpainted Mexican tin ornament - an armadillo - that I got from my father's mercado in El Paso. That's pretty cool.
6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
My wife's quite a dish!
But food-wise, I don't know. Really it's the whole eco-system of stuffing/turkey/cranberry sauce/mashed potatoes/gravy. If you try to reduce it to just one element, you ruin the whole intricate ecology of flavor.
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Two years in a row, my mother and I travelled down to Mexico City with a group from our church (San José in Austin, Texas) for La Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12. We did some shopping in the Christmas mercados, and I bought really wonderful things of all shapes and sizes to put in our nativity set - a turkey, deer, armadillo, etc. I loved setting up our nativity set because almost every piece had come from a different place and had its own story.
And I remember staying up late and lying on the floor by the tree, with all the decorations and lights on it, watching some old black and white movie about places that had snow.
And then there was the time the cat pulled the tree down. That was fun.
7-B. "Créche," "Nativity," "Crib," "Belen," or some other name? What do you call it? Do you have one? What do you have in it besides the usual suspects?
I had never heard the word créche till I came to the Northeast. We always called it a Nativity. We have a lovely ceramic set from Riverside Church in New York that a friend gave us. I haven't gotten my turkey and deer and elephant out of the old set back in Texas. Yet.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
When I lived in Spain, it just seemed like people knew so much more than I did about politics and socio-economic issues. I mean, we really aren't taught anything here in the U.S. about these things. Well, we are - we're taught that Capitalism is the only thing that matters or exists. We get lessons in it every day through advertising. So, I started reading more on my own. At some point, it dawned on me that those poor elves probably didn't want to make toys all the time without getting paid or getting health-care coverage. I mean, I wouldn't. That's when I started asking the tough questions.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
"A" gift, singular? That's kind of a loaded question. As if opening multiple gifts is somehow immoral or unethical. You might as well add in parentheses at the end ("Or are you some kind of freak who opens more than one gift on Christmas Eve?") We've been known to open more than one gift the night before, if the occasion demanded it. It's a free country.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
This year: V - e -r - y . . . . s - l - o - w - l - y.
Usually, we put on some Christmas music - often Nat King Cole's Christmas album to get us started. Have something warm to drink. Put the Christmas lights on. Smaller balls at the top of the tree, larger ones towards the bottom. Then the ornaments. Then our "angel." Then I move the lights a bit, and my wife says, "You just left a big hole in that other spot." And then she starts putting the really ugly balls up front, and I say, "What in the hell are you doing? Stick those in the back so no one can see them." And then she makes fun of my painted-tin armadillo ornament, and I question her three faded blue angels (or whatever they used to be) that came from her grandmother, and then she makes reference to certain acts of nature I can perform on myself. And by then, I've ditched the Christmas music for Jerry Jeff Walker, but, of course, she wants her damn Girl with a Pearl Earring soundtrack, and then . . . the gloves come off.
No tinsel either.
11. Snow? Love it or Dread it?
I left Texas in large part because I got tired of standing around the yule log at "Santa's Village" in shorts and short sleeves. I moved to the mountains of Colorado, specifically so I could have snow. The more, the better. Unless I'm having to drive somewhere on I-90.
12. Can you ice skate?
I have ice-skated in my life, yes, though we didn't have many frozen ponds in Austin. I even owned a pair of skates for a while in Colorado. But that was a long time ago. A girl was involved.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Whatever it was that my wife bought me last Christmas.
(Oh man, I better remember what it was before she asks about it.)
Actually, I remember an electric football set made of metal, with all the little plastic football men on it. You turned on a switch and the thing vibrated terribly and made a horrible amount of noise. The football was a tiny dust-ball looking thing. I could never get it to work very well - the players went ever which way - but I loved it when I opend it up. I was six.
More painful is the gift I never received: love. No, wait, it was a model train.
I will own a model train before I'm in my grave.
14. What's the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you?
Free booze at the Christmas parties!
Actually I think it's setting up the tree, lighting the fireplace, and snuggling up on the couch to watch a good movie.
It's even better when my wife's with me.
15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
I'm not a big dessert guy. I'd rather have an extra dinner roll. I suppose I do like a good pumpkin pie, though.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Being with family on Christmas Day? Is that the right answer?
Midnight mass is a beautiful tradition. Leaving way too late to get a decent seat, and everyone in the car is all stressed out, and people are bickering and accusations fly about why we left so late, and of course there's no parking, and someone's a little tipsy and getting ugly about the whole trip, and someone didn't want to go anyway, and why didn't go to the other church that was closer, and we squeeze in with all the other lazy-assed Catholics who couldn't manage to leave fifteen minutes earlier for the once-a-year celebration of our Saviour's Birth. That's always nice.
17. What tops your tree?
We usually have a postcard of someone we like. The last few years we've had Fred Astaire, George Harrison, Lester Young, Bogart and Bacall. . . always with a little light behind the card. Kind of unusual, but you'd have to see our tree.
18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving?
I like giving a good gift that a person really likes more than receiving something that I didn't want.
19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
That's tough. "The Christmas Song," sung by Nat is pretty good. "The Carol of the Bells." "Joy to the World" is great for singing. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)." "The Holly and the Ivy." I like a lot of Christmas songs.
19-B. What are some favorite Christmas Albums?
Nat King Cole's album, definitely. John Fahey's The New Possibility is a classic solo guitar recording, with the best title ever for a Chsristams album. This year I've been enjoying Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper, which was recorded around the time as his great Stardust album (and also produced by Booker T.)
19-C. What are some favorite Christmas films?
1. The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. It may be the most genuinely spiritual film of the usual Christmas lot. And Cary Grant as an angel was a brilliant idea. If you've never seen it, ort haven't seen it in a long time, I highly recommend it.
2. Christmas in Connecticut, with Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall. A wonderful comedy, with Barbara at her most charming. She plays a a famous food columnist who often writes about her husband and baby and her beautiful home in Connecticut. Turns out she's actually single, lives in a small apartment in the city and has no idea how to cook. To save her job, she has to find the husband, baby and home in CT, as well as cook, all in a few days.
3. White Christmas, with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. I would argue that this is actually a great film in general - a wonderful musical. Who knew that a Russian Jew from the Lower East Side would wind up writing a Christmas song so famous it got its own movie!
19-D. Grinch vs. Charlie Brown vs. Rudolph vs. Frosty (or other TV Special)?
Dr. Seuss is pretty amazing. What an incredibly creative imagination. And we have a video that also includes Horton Hears a Who, so we'll often watch both at Christmas. But Charlie Brown also has to be considered. One, because of Snoopy. Two, because of the music.
La Reina would probably substitute Frosty for Charlie Brown.
20. Candy Canes?
Candy canes? We don't need no stinking candy canes.
Why not just make Egg Nog Canes and get it over with?! Blech!