December 18, 2006

There! That'll Show 'Em!

It’s only one week until Christmas and I’m just finishing up my Christmas cards. I find it remarkable that I’m even sending them this year, so don’t judge my tardiness. However, I also find it interesting that lots of people I know don’t even send Christmas cards … ever. OK, I can understand why the Jew doesn’t (I send him one anyway), but it seems so unusual to me that people, lots of people, don’t send Christmas cards.

While I think giving and receiving Christmas cards is one of the season’s simple pleasures, there are people like, let’s call her “Mildred,” who take the whole Christmas card business way too seriously. She comes from the old school of hand-writing notes in each and every one of the cards she sends out. A nice tradition, if you have the sensibilities to keep things simple and concise. Mildred doesn’t believe in simple and concise when it comes to Christmas cards. If someone sends her a card that simply says, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” along with their signature, she is offended to the point where she will punish them by not sending her card to them. It is quite obvious to her that someone who doesn’t write a detailed description of everything that has happened to them throughout the past year doesn’t care enough about her to deserve one of her cards.

On the other hand, Mildred hems and haws every year over how much effort she will put into the Christmas cards she sends to others – the others that deserve one, that is. Even with her dwindling list of deserving recipients she complains about having to write all those letters and notes, by hand. She doesn’t understand that greeting cards are designed to express the sentiment she is trying to convey without her having to come up with and write the words herself. She doesn’t understand that Christmas cards are merely a gesture of goodwill and remembrance. She doesn’t understand that if she wants to send Christmas cards, no matter how simple or detailed, it should be done with a happy heart, and if she can’t do it with a happy heart she should just chuck the whole damn project!

So with the example of Mildred to my benefit, I send out my simple, yet beautiful cards to those most near and dear to my heart. I don’t take any pride or shame in the number of cards I send out. I don’t generically send the same letter to everyone I know, sharing the same news, in the same way to each and every one of them. I send a card to those I like and don’t send one to those I don’t like. Christmas is a time of cheer, not of toiling over who is worthy to receive a card, or over the content of the enclosed note. Christmas cards (or lack thereof) should not be used as a punishment or reward from the giver. They’re Christmas cards, for crying out loud.

For all of you who don’t send cards because you choose not to, I’m going to send you one of mine, just because I want to send you one. For those of you who include a ten-page hand-written letter in your card to me, I will send you one of mine with the one-phrase sentiment I usually include in my cards. To Mildred and all those out there just like her I say, lighten up. Don’t judge people on something so meaningless as a Christmas card. And don’t think your Christmas card carries a whole lot of weight with others.

Remember, Jesus is disappointed when you use Christmas cards as a weapon.

December 13, 2006

HoHoHo-ing Through The Holidays

This holiday season is especially hard for me and my family because of the loss of my brother in August. Not only will we notice the large physical absence (as he took up space that equalled to six feet, five inches tall and the width of the jolly green giant), we'll miss his little holiday hijinx. For example, when Boyfriend and I have my family over for a pre-Christmas holiday cheer evening of drinks, dinner, and general milling about, my brother would secretly go over to our Nativity scene, hide the baby Jesus somewhere behind a shepherd, and replace him with a sheep in the crib. He claimed it was not yet Christmas and Jesus shouldn't be featured in the scene until Christmas Day. At my parents' house on Christmas Day he would be donned in a bright green crocheted necktie (a gift I made for him many years ago as a joke) and Frosty The Snowman socks, and would inevitably take a ribbon and bow from one of his gifts and tie it around his head, either as a little bonnet or as an especially fancy sweatband. He was a playful little fella, that's for sure.

Trying to get in the spirit of things has been difficult, to say the least. I miss my brother in his splendor, and I miss the way he drove me nuts. It's also very difficult to stand by in my own grief and watch the other people in my family suffer through their grief too.

In spite of succeeding in decorating the house and trimming the tree, I've felt little holiday spirit so far. It doesn't help that it's December 13th in Minnesota and not only do we not have snow, but temperatures are up into the mid 40s - downright balmy. What the hell?

But today after I got home from work I filled the CD changer with Christmas music and commenced to make some Christmas cookies. First on the list was Madeleines. I've never made them before, and from the looks and taste of what I made, I may never make them again. So much for the nutty-flavored cookies. Then I made my traditional Cream Wafers (which can be found in the Betty Crocker Cookie Book). I fell in love with these cookies when my grandma made them years ago. It's taken me many years to get them just right. A marble cutting board and a marble rolling pin help in keeping the dough chilled, and I finally got it through my thick skull that instead of spreading the filling onto these incredibly short (as in flaky) and delicate cookies with a knife, it's much better to squirt the filling with a pastry bag.

As I was processing, chilling, rolling, cutting, baking, and squirting my little heart out, Neil Diamond was belting out Oh Holy Night and the Hallelujah Chorus, Ertha Kit was teasing with Santa Baby, and Bing Crosby was crooning White Christmas. I do believe I got into the Christmas spirit there for a minute.

Could it be that life actually goes on after someone you love dies? Yes, in one form or another it does. I had a fairly festive evening proven by Christmas tunes echoing in my mind and flour all over the front of my shirt. Tomorrow I might actually sit down and address some Christmas cards, damn it.

Maybe I'm being a big baby about all this death stuff, or maybe this is something that everyone has gone through and just never let me in on the big secret about how hard it is. Whatever the case may be, I am determined to at least fake my way through this holiday sans my little brother.

As I look around and see the stockings hung by the chimney with care, the tinsel twinkling on the glorious Christmas tree, and the candle flames flickering, something isn't quite right.

I think there needs to be a sheep in baby Jesus' crib, and all will be right with the universe.

December 09, 2006

Commercialized Christmas

By now we’re all busy shopping for those perfect Christmas gifts for everyone near and dear to our hearts. That is, of course unless you don’t celebrate Christmas, which is really too bad because it is such fun. In my search for things whimsical and wonderful I came across some ideas that are a disgrace to the concept of capitalism. I mean really, preying on the desperation of those trying to find something for the person who has everything. How far will they go to pick the pockets of their countrymen? Have they no shame?

First on the list is the whole star-naming racket. Basically you send in your money, anywhere from $24.95 to $139.95, and have a star named after whomever you give the gift. You’re provided with a stellar map showing exactly where your star is, so you can look for it on those clear nights. How romantic, gazing into the starlight with the one so thoughtful to give you the gift. Until you realize it’s really stupid to even try to find the star shown on the map, because you probably can’t even see it with the naked eye anyway. That’s assuming your stellar map is not an exact replica of every other stellar map they’ve sent to all the other hopeless romantics who thought this idea so brilliant. Upon further investigation, I found this, which states very clearly that many of these star naming sites state very clearly that this is a novelty item. Stars aren’t officially named Meredith from Minnesota or Grandma Olga from North Dakota. Basically, when you have a star named for someone, you are buying an expensive piece of paper which means nothing. Lots of people realize this from the beginning, but there are far too many who don’t.

Along the same lines as star naming is the incredible opportunity to buy real estate … on the moon. Yes, you can actually own an acre ($29.99 - $59.99), or even a whole city (from $2,150.00 to $1,155,427.00), on the moon. This website goes into great detail regarding the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Treaty of 1984, justifying the legitimacy of the sale of this lunar land. The variations in price per acre of land are contingent upon how much effort they have to go through to prepare the gift package itself. For example, if you want to have the deed to your lunar real estate to be framed, you must purchase the $59.99 acre of land. Mind you, you can buy the same acre of land for $39.99 with an unframed deed. And that same piece of land again would cost only $29.99 if you get an unframed deed and fill in your own name on the deed when you receive the paperwork. Coming soon: property for sale on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter’s moon.

The most disturbing gift idea I found was that of LifeGem diamonds. Apparently, you can send the cremains of your dead relative to this place and they will extract the carbon from the ashes. Then they heat that carbon until it turns into graphite. They then take the graphite and place it in a diamond press, which mimics the “awesome forces deep within the earth,” which translates into heat and pressure. The heated and pressurized graphite morphs into a beautiful LifeGem diamond. Now, not only can they extract carbon from the cremated remains of your beloved wife, husband, child, parent, pet, etc, they can extract carbon from a lock of hair, which means that loved one doesn’t even have to be cremated, or even dead, to become immortalized into a precious stone. Prices range from $3,499.00 (1/4 carat) to $24,999.00 (one carat) and they come in many beautiful colors. Ick. Can you imagine having dead Grammy hanging from a chain around your neck? And I seriously pity the person who would spend that much money on turning dead Fido into a sparkling diamond.

The competition for the most touching, the most romantic, and most unique gift of all time continues. You can buy someone the moon and stars, or create a diamond out of your own carbon for your honey to wear forever. Call me an unsentimental shrew, but I’m giving Boyfriend a screaming Slingshot Monkey toy for Christmas.