Tuesday, December 07, 2004

You Blockhead! It's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Grinch that Stole the Night Before Christmas!

Rankin and Bass. Burl Ives.
Linus saying "Lights please."
Schroeder's Giraldi jazz.
"I want to be a dentist." and "He's a friendly Bumble."
Bela Lugosi talking about a "three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich . . . with arsenic sauce."

What do all of these things mean to me? In some small way and definitely in a collective sense, they mean Christmas.

Not the Christmas that Linus speaks of when he asks to bring the house lights down. Not the story of Jesus. That is a separate matter, intertwined within the entire fabric of my memories of childhood Christmas and all of those traditions and rituals that encompass the month of December.

Everyone has some kind of Christmas tradition. For people of a certain age, some of it involves those classic TV animated specials--A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (where the mouse has to help rebuild the town clock to sign for Santa--remember?) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I watched them all as a kid, every year. I've watched them many times since as I have gotten older. It is a different feeling now, certainly. Watching it alone at my home or trying to get Ariel interested . . . it's not the same. Maybe someday Ariel will appreciate these shows. I know that she likes them--she sings the Rudolph song all the time now and she always laughs at the funny things that Snoopy does, but she insists on calling him "Snoofy."

If I watched these shows with my brothers or my sister, it would be an entirely different experience for me. We would appreciate the humor in Rudolph because we have common memories. They would, I am sure, remind me of how badly the Abominable Snowman terrified me when I was young.

All families have traditions. The one I grew up in certainly did and the one I am growing up into now is creating them. Some are transfers from Tegan's childhood or mine. Some are created new.

I love putting our Christmas tree up because it reminds me of how many times I did it as a kid with my siblings. How we competed to put up one or two ornaments that were special to all of us and how we always made sure that we got to place that one ornament that was seen as ours alone. I look at my family tree now and I see a shared history. So many ornaments given to Tegan over the years by her aunts and uncles. So many that we have collected in recent years from our church ornament parties.

When Christmas eve arrives, I always want to stay up late and then drive around in the quiet of the darkened night, because my family stayed up late and then went to Midnight Mass to celebrate and worship. On the way back to our house, getting sleepy, but also kind of excited about the presents the next day, we would quietly drive through the neighborhoods . . . looking at the lights that decorated people's houses. Maybe some family will drive by our house this year as Christmas approaches.

I don't' know how many people will listen to Ray Conniff's Christmas Album but I always do. Recorded in 1965, it is one of the squarest collections of whitebread Christmas songs you could ever imagine. But I have so many memories of digging that album out of my parents bookcase on Christmas Eve, turning on the turntable, and laughing as I and my brothers and sister made merciless fun of "Here We Come A-Caroling" or "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" or (possibly the worst/funniest of all) a white Gospel version of "Go Tell it on the Mountain." This album is so important to me that I took a cassette copy of it along with me during my only Christmas in Hawaii. (That trip introduced me to the equally-square but wonderful Bing Crosby rendition of "Mele Kalekimaka.")

My experience of Christmas wouldn't be the same without these things. While I see them differently now that I used to, I try to hold onto some of those feelings from when I first had them. I hope my kids can someday look back on Christmas with similar memories.


lulu said...

They will. Part of the responsibility of being a parent is to make sure they will experience, and then remember, Christmas as a magical time. We must not get so "busy" that we forget this more secular part of Christmas is very important to kids. Our kids will not be well served by our laziness and cynicism!

As for Tegan's seeming lack of interest in our favorite Christmas shows, blame it on VCRs and being able to gorge on those same shows at will. I remember 4 channels. I remember the NBC peacock and the special music announcing a special program. I remember making those shows an event because that was it! If you missed it, better luck next year, chump! If we treat those shows as special and put the videos of them away until Christmas (or don't buy them at all, making the watching of them on TV the family ritual that they were meant to be),they will love them just as we did.

flipper said...

You are amazingly non-cynical on this issue, and I admire you for it. Is that what having kids does to you? :)

(The Abominable Snowman scared the crap out of me, too.)

Anonymous said...

Doooooo - Wah
Doooooo - Wah
Doooooo - Wah

Dave - wonderful summary of the childhood Christmas memories. I am pleased to know that you and I remember things the same way, despite the age difference. Eight years can be a big gap between siblings but not when it comes to Fred Waring, Christmas lights at 1:30 AM, and Yukon Cornelius. I am also glad you dig Mele Kelikimaka - I think I may have sent that tape to you in Hawaii but you were probably deeply immeresed in it through local sources anyway.

PS - "Ray Conniff's Christmas Album - Here We Come a' Caroling" is available for digital download on iTunes for the bargain price of $9.95.