Christmas is the Elvis of holidays. Not the rebellious, pouty rockabilly Elvis of the 1950s or even the sleek, sexy, Ann Margaret-wooing Elvis of the the early 1960’s, but the drug-bloated, constipated, hazy Elvis of the 1970s. The Elvis of frequent, embarrassing karate kicks in sequined jump suits stretched just beyond their shimmering capacity. The Elvis synonymous with garishness and excess. The Elvis I cherished from childhood.
Christmas, however, is something I have participated in only with twitchy discomfort and reluctance. It is challenging enough to just be in the world without spiraling into sensory overload in even the most gentle times. The frenzy of the holidays feels like a trip to Disney World on mescaline, with the hyper charged commercialism, the throngs of people, the hallucinations and the vomiting. Then there’s the music…
There is something hardwired deep, something perhaps as basic as survival instinct, that has always repelled me from all Christmas music, but from THAT song in particular. You know the one. It is played at least 4,872 times a day on every radio station, in every department store and from every passing car in the endless weeks leading up to Christmas. Every time I hear it I just barely suppress the urge to simultaneously projectile vomit and self immolate. The song I am referring to, of course, is “Santa Baby.”
I think I read somewhere that the mythology of Santa, at least in some part, is derived from some hideous horned beast of ancient pagan lore. That feels right to me. It is the only explanation for the creepy sway he seems to have over the breathless toddler-vixen who sings His odious song of conjuring. There is nothing about Santa that intrinsically inspires cutesy or vapid. I know this intimately from a painful stint of obligatory lap rides with Him at the Polish American Country Club Christmas party every year from the time I was four until I was at least 13. Santa Baby is wild-eyed, reeks of stale cigarettes, cheap booze, prostitutes, and urine, and is about as sexy as a dose of the clap. He, like the rest of Christmas, should be met with extreme caution and probably brass knuckles. Everyone knows this.
This year the holidays lurched in as usual, bringing with them a sense of low-level anxiety and impending doom. I started making plans to donate to humane shelters in lieu of unnecessary obligation gifts for family and friends. I vowed to not set foot in a single department store or mall. The closest I would come to decorating would be the small potted rosemary bush shaped vaguely like a tree that I propped up on the table and named Harold. That small token was mostly for the benefit of the house sitter. Miraculously, though, mysteriously, despite my best efforts at avoidance, things took an unexpected turn.
It began, like most things do, with Donny and Marie. As fortune had it, 2013 was the year everyone’s favorite Mormons picked our very own Bridgestone Arena as a stop for their Spectacular Hot Shit It’s Donny and Marie! Christmas show – what would perhaps be their swan song, the final stop before derailing the decades long train that has been their careers. Somehow enough tickets were still up for grabs weeks after this thing was announced that the local easy listening station was just giving them away in packs of four to lucky callers. When I learned this, the only thing that made sense to me was that I was going to win those tickets. Such an event would perfectly exemplify the horror and excess of the holiday season. It was nothing short of destiny. What could more wonderful and terrible?
My first call to the radio station was far too ambitious. I was caller number one. To win you had to be caller number nine. I had the radio playing softly in the background, just loud enough to hear Sarah McLachlan passionately warbling about angels again while I frantically dialed over and over for approximately three minutes and thirty seconds. When the song was finally over, I found myself stunned by the utter lack of excitement on the winner’s part when they took his call on air. It was like he had won tickets to nothing more wondrous or life changing than a spaghetti supper at church. Clearly he had no sense of priorities or irony.
I called again in two hours when they announced the next chance to win. Kid Rock lulled me into a sense of lameness and lethargy during his duet with Sheryl Crowe, and I missed that opportunity altogether. I never even got through to the station before they were announcing the next winner – again, someone who had no real appreciation for the spectacular nature of their prize.
The last chance to win was at 6:45. By this point my girlfriend and I had made elaborate plans to rent a limo, invite my sister and her boyfriend from Pennsylvania, and possibly acquire snazzy red velvet outfits for the occasion. We discussed all this through a growing aura of disappointment. We had both called around 500 times since noon that day, to no avail. This would be our last chance to win until the next morning. I was scheduled to work and was debating about calling in sick so I could spend the entire day compulsively dialing. At the final hour, however, providence shone down upon us, and I hit the jackpot! When the disc jockey announced I was caller number nine I shrieked into the phone. The rest is a blur, but I feel certain I shouted “Hot damn!” several times and babbled something barely coherent like “You rock!” at him before hanging up.
I cannot really explain the strange force that motivated me to want this so much. The Shitsmastacular represented pretty much everything that makes me insane about the holidays, everything I typically work so hard to avoid. Maybe it was a strange fondness carried over from childhood and watching the Donny and Marie variety show every Friday night. As a little girl I had adored it – all the costumes, the cheesiness and camp… all those teeth! Whatever it was, as soon as I won those tickets something really strange began to happen. I began to no longer dread all things Christmas so much. What started out as a horrible worst case scenario embarked upon strictly for irony’s sake and fodder for future story telling turned into something actually resembling excitement for the holidays.
In the weeks that followed several things happened. I dug out my cd of holiday klezmer music and made a conscious decision to change my perspective about things. I received a lot of generous bonuses from clients. I cashed those checks and went to the mall on several occasions and participated in mass consumption with feelings of love and sentimentality for loved ones. I got a free Caturdays© mug with a purchase of $30 or more at Pier One. I reserved a limo. I surrendered to the pull of the season in all its strange, commercial, glitzy glory. I just stopped fighting it. It felt strangely soothing.
I found that when I wasn’t so caught in the resistance of it, Christmas began to open up in some absurd and wonderful ways. The actual spectacle of the show turned out to be everything I had hoped for and every bit as ridiculous and lame as I had imagined. Clearly the Donny charisma still works its magic on a small but fierce crowd, even if that contingency is more likely to eat with an AARP discount than throw panties on stage. The best part of the evening was definitely touring some of Nashville’s seedier neighborhoods in a long white stretch limo. Something about the cool LED lighting inside the car provided a surreal contrast to the oranges and reds in the neon strip club signs and discount liquor stores. It was a night of gritty magic.
I still think Christmas is like Elvis. It is so hyped up and commercialized it is easy to get swept into the chaos and the crankiness of vying for parking spots at crowded stores and spending money you don’t have on stuff folks don’t really want because you feel obligated to. It’s easy to get frustrated with out-of-towners gawking and holding up traffic on the commute to work. And it’s sometimes hard to catch a glimpse of the shy mama’s boy with the homemade shirt through the sweaty, peacock bedazzled capes and gold jewelry, but he’s still there. Somehow, beneath it all there is still a thread of kindness. There is still a desire to show the folks in your life that you love them. There are still a couple of Mormons dancing their tired asses off to give you the most spectacular celebration of the holidays they can possibly muster up. There is still goodness beneath the tainted and unsavory. Sometimes you just have to completely throw yourself into the fray of it to see it.