Growing up my family was no different from any other family in the traditions we practiced during the Christmas Season. There was the custom of waiting until the last possible second to get a Christmas Tree which usually resulted in a tree either shaped like an open beach umbrella or a portabella mushroom. This was later replaced by the spurious efficiency of an artificial tree we kept stored between January and November under the stairs like a coniferous Wes Craven movie. The color-coded branches and their corresponding slots in the trunk faded quickly though and my teenage years are filled with the memories of poorly constructed trees that looked like a Spy vs. Spy comic strip.
Another tradition was receiving new pajamas from Mom and Dad on Christmas Eve to wear in anticipation of Santa’s arrival that night and for opening gifts the next morning. The pajamas were always the same; one-piece front zipper footie pajama’s with non-skid soles and our names decaled above the heart in case we developed somnambulism and amnesia during the night and wandered from the house; the pajama custom was one that was observed even after we went away to college much to the dismay of my college roommate. Finally, my favorite Gathen family tradition was the Christmas Morning Counting of the Gifts wherein each child would meticulously count the number of presents he or she received, stack the empty boxes and measure the height, calculate the current market value of each gift then feed the results into a supercomputer which ran an algorithm designed only to calculate which of us our parents loved more.
Now as a parent myself I’m able to let my own children ponder which of them I love more while we not only observe some of the same traditions I did when I was their age, but establish some cherished customs of our own that they might someday share with their own children; or at least with their college roommates.
Our Christmas Tree is the finest Fraser Fir afflicted with elephantitis of the trunk a $10-off coupon, off-season Midway Carney and big box home improvement store has to offer. Sure it drinks more than Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson and drops more needles than a one-armed heroin addict but she’s a real beaut isn’t she?
You may think the 38th Parallel that delineates the opulence of the upper crust from the impoverished branches below is intended to prevent our 14 month old from eating dozens of ornaments, hook and all, and pooping out paper clips, but the truth is that we were only able to decorate ½ the tree before we got bored with the whole process. What we are left with though is a pear-shaped figure garishly embellished with glitter, sequins and glitz from the middle up and completely bare from the middle down; sort of like Elton John backstage after a show on Fire Island.
This is the second consecutive year we’ve hired Emmanuel Lewis for the entire month of December, dressed him in a Santa Claus costume and chained him to the tree stand. With syndications and residuals from Webster at an all time low and job offers almost non-existent he comes relatively cheap, eats very little and is great with the boys.
Here Adam kicks out of a pin attempt during a playful wrestling match with Emmanuel. Adam eventually won the match by submission after getting Emmanuel into a Camel Clutch.
One of the most revered traditions in our house is setting up our Nativity Scene. Lights, please. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” All the major players are represented in our scene from the Baby Jesus to Mary and Joseph to the three wise men, however our overall interpretation differs slightly from the Church’s.
Across the roof of the manger we lay as a sacrificial gift the archetypal symbol of Pagan Hedonism, a slaughtered Plush Broadway Musical Singing Goat Hand Puppet.
We have also chosen to include the Four Snowmen of the Apocalypse joined hand to hand in a reverse Whoville Fah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! circle around their gift of a scented homeopathic candle; the fragrance of sacrilege.
Another atypical addition to the scene is The Bag of Pooh. At exactly midnight on Christmas Eve as a sign of goodwill towards man and the belief that we all should love thy neighbor we remove the Bag of Pooh from the display, place it on Mr. Harry’ front porch next door, set the Bag of Pooh on fire then ring the doorbell and run back to our house. Watching Mr. Harry stomp on the flaming Pooh from behind our foyer curtain we are reminded how on Christmas Eve, for a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be.
Finally, our wise men bring not only the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Mir, but also the treasured gift of unlimited local and long distance calling.
To add to the anticipation of the season, Jack uses a Dollar Store 24 Chocolate Days ‘til Christmas Countdown Calendar. Every morning he runs downstairs, finds the number that corresponds to that day’s date, then opens the cardboard flap to reveal a scrumptious treat made from the discarded wrapper scrapings of movie theater sold Kit Kats and Raisinets.
What Holiday decor would be complete without the two consummate commercial symbols of the season; Santa Claus and his Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Of course, we’ve interpreted Jolly Old Saint Nick as a little old driver so lively and quick, who drank too much eggnog and is about to get sick. He’s not only lost control of his bowels but of his team while Dasher and Dancer are seconds away from giving that Charlie in the Box an antler enema.
The scene we decided to recreate with our Charlie Brown Christmas ornaments was edited out of the final version shown on television, but a German bootleg version we got off Ebay includes the never before orgy scene after all the kids fix up Charlie Brown’s tree and belt out Hark the Herald Angel Sings. In our interpretation Linus and Snoopy are spooning and Charlie Brown is giving Lucy a Peanuts shower. Woodstock meanwhile keeps an eye out for the cops.
Those are just a few of the customs, traditional and non-traditional, we observe and hope to someday pass along to Jack and Adam. For tonight though Emmanuel Lewis is due to be fed and I still need to get zipped into my pajamas.