One of the many strange things about weekly journalism is the fact that you write about events well before (and sometimes after) your readers read about or experience them.
This Christmas is an example, given that the pre-Christmas edition of your favorite weekly newspaper comes six days before Christmas, which means I’m writing about it well before that. Of course, the Christmas season could be said to extend from Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day, through the 12 Days of Christmas to Jan. 6, Epiphany, the last of the 12 Days of Christmas.
One of my favorite football bloggers, ESPN.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, has a regular feature about Christmas Creep, Christmas items appearing in stores months before Christmas. The fault begins, as one of his readers pointed out, with the angel Gabriel, who in Luke 1:26 prophesied the birth of Jesus Christ nearly a year before the blessed event.
Speaking of the 12 Days of Christmas: My daughter got a trick question for a Dec. 12, 2012 assignment last week: How many birds can be found in “The 12 Days of Christmas”? But that’s a trick question with three possible answers, based on my copy of Dinah Shore’s rendition of this song:
7, in reverse order of introduction: goose a-laying, swan a-swimming, calling bird, French hen, turtle dove and partridge in a pear tree.
23, if you add up the last verse: Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying [“five gold rrrrrrrrings” are not birds], four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
184, if you add up every verse: 42 swans a-swimming, 42 geese a-laying, 36 calling birds, 30 French hens, 22 turtle doves, and 12 partridges in a (possibly overloaded) pear tree.
(We answered 23. I now think the correct answer is 184, because the song doesn’t say the recipient got a partridge in a pear tree, then two turtle doves the next day, and so on; the recipient got a partridge in a pear tree the first day, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree the next day, and so on.)
I mentioned a few weeks ago here my parents’ collection of tire-store Christmas albums, which were the standard of Christmas music, both secular and religious, in our house. It may seem unusual to hear Barbra Streisand sing “Silent Night,” but no one sang it like she did. To that song list I’ve added selections from Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You” (an album released Nov. 22, 1963, which was why no one knew about it for years), Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear,” the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” and LeRoy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.”
Related are the perennial Christmas TV specials, including “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” created by the same people who crafted the art form known as Looney Tunes cartoons. I occasionally use Dr. Seuss lines in columns I write. (The Jim Carrey remake? I wouldn’t touch that with a 39½-foot pole. And just wait until I describe my next least favorite politician of the day as having a soul that is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots.) To that list was added two movies, “A Christmas Story” (two words: leg lamp) and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” which appears to be the inspiration for at least a few area houses every year.
I was fortunate to have three Christmases each year growing up — those at our house and those at both sets of grandparents’ houses. The joy of getting three sets of gifts each year morphed into the fun of seeing my relatives and eating things I didn’t usually get a chance to eat, especially a dessert called Aunt Harriet’s Yummy, named for no one in our family. (On the other hand, there was the year all nine people in my grandmother’s house got the stomach flu within 24 hours of walking into her house.)
Then I got married, and for several years we had five sets of Christmases, including the one in our own house and the in-laws’ Christmas, where I was introduced to brandy slush. Somewhere I have what I believe is the only four-generation photo in my family — my grandmother (who lived to 98), my mother, myself and our seven-month-old son. (Who is now 12 and has a younger brother and sister.) This newspaper prints five-generation photos, but all my great-grandparents died before I was born, so four has to do.
The other thing about experiencing a lot of Christmases is that you remember the people who used to be at your Christmas, but now aren’t anymore. I can’t see my Norwegian grandfather, who inflated any job I ever had into a claim that I was running the entire company, though I occasionally drink a brandy and cola in his memory. Lacking anything I could think of to give a woman in her 80s or 90s, I started giving my grandmother stuffed animals for Christmas and her birthday. Large stuffed animals, that is, along with a teddy bear that repeated anything you said to it. I can’t talk farming with my farmer-in-law anymore either.
One thing I’d like for this Christmas is the ability to tell the difference between the Platteville Community Arboretum and the Platteville Community Auditorium. That, or combine the two organizations, or move one to the other’s location.
Christmas occupies a hybrid place in our increasingly secular society today.
Some might argue Christmas has been passed by Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. On the other hand, with the possible exception of Black Friday, Christmas is a season where people give to others, particularly their children through the guise of Santa Claus, taking no personal credit for their generosity. The New Testament tells Christians to be generous to others, and Christmas is a natural opportunity to do just that.
Merry Christmas, however you define that.