Holiday Seasoning

In my universe, the Holiday Season starts with Halloween. From then until the New Year, I am generally happier. I am struck with a sudden sense of tradition that eludes me the rest of the year. This shouldn't be the case. I shouldn't be happier during the Holidays. I should be more annoyed.

After all, the Holidays bring us a particularly grotesque tableau of rampant, shameless commercialism. In the world of Holiday advertising, every American family abides in an upper middle class suburban palace. Every day is a snow day. Every Dad is a schlep: a goofy, balding white executive in a Christmas sweater, or a nondescript blue collar hero able to afford every amenity and indulgence. The women are either grinning trophies or mad housewives like the crazy Target lady. Kids are precocious and demanding, or act as creepy surrogate caretakers to their infantile parents, and there is room under the tree for every present imaginable. While these tired tropes are found throughout advertising, the Holidays turn them up to eleven.

Since reality is so different from this - we know that they know that we are struggling - we have no choice but to see their depiction of us as giddy, lobotomized cartoon characters not only misleading, but insulting.

This Holiday advertising blitz, starting every September and continuing on through January, is arguably the worst part of the Holidays. Apart from the pressure of expectation and heightened expectations from family and friends, the pressure to give, to spend, to consume, to join the herd compounds this.

I acknowledge this inherent Holiday evil. But despite it, there are things - many of them tied in with the commercialism of the Holidays - that inspire me. I am not alone, either. This is the inherent contradictionmany of us face this time of year. Ultimately, I must embrace this contradiction, because there are so many things I look forward to.

Each October, the empty lots throughout the South Bay fill up with giant inflatable animals, straw benches and plentiful pumpkins. These lots signal a shared communal acknowledgement of tradition that is mainly absent the rest of the year. In late November, the lots become forests populated with trees. I love seeing this. Much of this is childhood memory coming back.

My experiences involving Christmas trees were mainly positive (apart from the time I threw fruit loops in the tree, attracted ants, then in my youthful wisdom sprayed the tree with Raid). This mostly positive association keeps me in the Holiday spirit whereas some of you may not share it. If the only gift you get for Christmas is having to relive parental trauma, then you have my condolences. Your Grinch pass is good for the rest of your life.

The last few months of the year, for me, signal longer, deeper shadows, colder, bluer sunlight and shorter days. On days like today, the light is blinding and cold, and the wind whips up through tall buildings. For me, it feels like a cleansing of the spirit to wash off the years doldrums.

Stores carry limited edition Holiday versions of items we're exposed to all year, and suddenly everything old is new again. Wheat Thins got a cinnamon spice flavor this year (and it's good). Little Debbie is still as deadly and lardy as ever, but they give us snacks in the shape of Christmas Trees, and it doesn't seem as dangerous. Eggnog emerges in alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. Craft stores like Michael's get fake wreaths and holly streamers, do-it-yourself Gingerbread houses and Holiday tchotchkes. This year, I counted nearly thirty different Holiday candle scents at a certain mall store. That borders on obscene, but I'll admit - I love it.

I have other associations with Christmas that are specific to my experiences growing up. Classic Christmas music from the forties and fifties is one. More strange is how my brain carved a synaptic tract between Christmastime and video games and video game music. I grew up playing video games during the Holidays. After all, this is the time of year the gaming executives rub their hands together and grin.

Most odd is my Christmastime association with Nintendo's Zelda series. Nintendo of America often releases their flagship "Zelda" game this time of year. The game's entrancing, medieval, fugue like music is eerily reminiscent of certain Holiday Fugues I grew up listening to. From this, a bizarre association was born in my brain that will likely never leave. It's funny how tradition digs these tracts into our minds that shape our reactions to things.

My peculiar, positive reaction to this time of year makes a lot of sense, given what I've just told you. I also carry an inbred affinity for cold nights and warm hearths, for the feel of snow flakes on my face, and for dark nights lit up with bells and candles and red bows. Much of this is probably carried over from childhood. The impressionistic sensations I get from Christmas - the very same that Jack Skellington tried so fruitlessly to bottle up and capture - can't be quantified, ultimately. Each of our cultural and personal traditions and associations are ultimately responsible for how we feel about the Holidays. I count myself blessed that my association is a positive one.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some Zelda to play.


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