Sure, there are lots of reasons to hate Christmas, and my list only grows longer with each passing year. Holiday e-cards, for instance, or Christmas-morning text messages on the olde cell phone – both make me want to toss my fruitcake. But on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons not to hate the Yule, even if you’re a mean little Scroogy McGrinch like me. Here’s my short list of 5 things I’m not completely hating about Christmas this year:
1. Hard Times. Believe it or not, our recent financial implosion is about the best thing to happen to Christmas since Prince Albert stepped out of his can and dragged a dead tree into Buckingham Palace. Mrs. M and I decided to give each other the gift of not buying gifts, with jolly good results. We used the time, money, and goodwill we saved to take in a few shows, jaunt off on a short roadtrip, and generally indulge each others’ whims. And this year we actually celebrated our wedding anniversary, which usually gets lost in the wrapping paper, with a fine dinner at Lalime’s on the 23rd. Sure, we bought a few presents for our daughter and her young man – I mean, Christmas is for kids, even when they’re 26 – and we mailed off some kitchen-crafted goodies to the diasporic family, but that was the full extent of our gifting this year. No receipts, no returns, no regrets – and no scary Visa bills in January.
2. Friends. This year, like every year, the Belligerati Reading Club held its celebrated Light Reading Party, where paperback novels and mini-bottles of booze were tied to helium balloons and launched skyward from San Francisco’s Mission district to points downwind. We were never all that good as a book club – too much arguing and not enough RTFB (read the f’ing book) – then again we’ve always done a bang-up job with the other two b’s of our 3-B credo (books, booze, and bacon). So we toasted each other with bacon-infused bourbon and exotic wood-aged beers and we ate a lot of meat, and verily it was All Good. Even when we can’t agree on reading the same book at the same time, which is most months, we still enjoy each others’ company – opining about fiction, belittling each others’ tastes, and trading random swings of the critical cricket bat. And there’s nothing in the world like watching a trade paperback of Gravity’s Rainbow struggle skyward under a half-tank’s worth of helium balloons. Or imagining the joy on a child’s face when she finds a Joan Didion novel and a mini-bottle of Cuervo on her doorstep. That, my friends, is the spirit of the season.
3. Tamales. Where I grew up, in the hills of east LA, no Christmas is complete without tamales. It’s a serious Mexican thing, and if you don’t have a bunch of aunts to spend all day in the kitchen whipping them up for you, you go stand in line on Whittier Boulevard to get your dozens on the morning of Christmas Eve. Making the little suckers is a lot of work, and before this year I had only ever attempted it once, when I was stationed in Okinawa and there was just no other way to get the hookup than to have Mom send over the ingredients and then make them with my buddy Dogman, who grew up in San Diego and felt The Hunger just as much as I did. Lately I’ve been buying my annual stash from a little place in Pittsburg, but this year my daughter and I decided to have our own tamalada, or tamale-making party, at her place in the Sunset district. She bought prepared masa from her favorite tortilleria, which saved us a lot of time, and I pre-cooked the red and green sauces, which saved us even more. So we got to focus on the fun part: setting up the assembly line, chatting and joking while filled, wrapped, and tied the little packages, waiting impatiently for the hour it takes to steam them, then stuffing our faces like greedy little tamale-pigs. Feliz Navidad!
4. Christmas Music. I know, this is one that can go either way. But this year it was all goodness. I managed to make it through the entire season without once having to listen to The Chipmunks or The Waitresses. When I listened it was only the good stuff: Dino trying to swing some holiday action in “Baby it’s Cold Outside;” Eartha Kitt asking for the deed to a platinum mine in “Santa Baby;” and Kay Starr anxiously “Waiting for the Man with the Bag.” I even added a new favorite to my short list of Christmas songs that don’t totally suck: “Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap.
5. Santa. Somehow that Santarchy thing just never seems to grow old. Mrs. M and I hardly suspected, when we boarded that first Santacon bus back in ’94, that we were helping to launch a global cultural phenomenon. But then again that’s always the way it plays – you never know when some mad idea is going to grab the zeitgeist by its fake beard and shake it like a bowl full of jelly. While my own crusty, unwashed, foul-smelling polyester Santa suit remains wadded up in the bottom of the costume closet, I was greatly pleased to see many other cheap-suiters in action this year, especially the naughty Santas in Tempe who gift-wrapped a bunch of traffic-enforcement cameras. Ho!
Alright, Christmas is over – now get back to work.