How Christmas Stole Everything
Christmas has a way of hijacking everything it comes into contact with. If at any time one makes an association between any stimulus and Christmas, then that stimulus must be forever revisited at each and every Christmas thenceforth. Example: My family watches the same set of movies every December, in roughly the same order. New movies may be added and kept, but it's rare that a movie drops out of the loop. And so the list grows. It's not just movies, of course--music, books, food, smells; anything you remember about last year becomes incorporated into next year.
But it only works in the official "holiday season". I've had pleasant experiences in the warmer months (though rarely from mid-January through mid-April). But while I often remember them a year later-- and am sometimes even reminded by the time of year, weather, associated sight or sound, etc.-- I rarely have the urge to repeat them simply because I enjoyed it once last year. I never think "it's traditional" or "let's make it a new tradition" outside of Yuletide. Even the word "tradition" reminds me of Christmas. What I'm trying to say is that Christmas is this gelatinous beast who sits in the middle of winter, and anything you put near it is swallowed into its steaming, candy-cane-scented maw. All clear?
I suppose it's because it's really the only holiday most of us in the U.S. celebrate. Sure, there's Thanksgiving and New Year's, but by now they've attached themselves to Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa and they've all melded into one fat, lardy unit called The Holidays. Thanksgiving marks the opening of the Interdemoninational Winter Giftgiving Holiday Shopping Season, when you can unashamedly decorate your house and sing carols without disgusted passers-by complaining, "It's not even Thanksgiving yet!" It's also the cathartic first gathering of all the family members so that you can get your primary arguments out of the way and later enjoy Rudolph in relative peace. And New Year's is just a let-down delaying mechanism. On Boxing Day, when surrounded by toys you're already tired of, movies you gluttonously watched on Christmas afternoon, and the sugary powder on the bottom of the candy bowl, you can assuage your depression by thinking "Well, at least there's still New Year's."
I'm not really bothered that everything I do on or around Christmas demands repetition. It is irritating, however, that once anything becomes associated with Christmas, it loses all life of its own. You can't see snow without thinking "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," for example, but snow is certainly not limited to Yuletide here in the Northeast. Nor can I enjoy gingerbread, a perfectly delicious bread, without thinking about Christmas cookies. Not only must you repeat every experience you ever had one December in every following December, but you cannot enjoy it, or anything sufficiently similar, at any other time of the year, on its own terms, without being reminded of the holiday season.
Here are just some of the things Christmas has forever ruined for me.
Snow. As I mentioned above, it's impossible to see falling snow or a pretty, untouched white blanket without feeling Christmasy. Extra points for icicles, snowmen, and snow-topped trees, church spires, lamp-posts, and children. At least the more common sites of slush and dirty snowbanks are relatively untouched.
The color combination of red and green. They're complimentary, so they're always trying to get you to use them together in art class, but I want no part of it. I'm drawing a naked lady, not a naked Christmas lady.
Christianity. When I was about nine, I stopped going to church with my family, an obvious affront to my preacher father and religious education director mother that my parents were surprisingly cool with. The only exception I've made consistently is the Christmas eve service. Now, even the sight of a church from the outside makes me think "Glo-o-o-o-oria, Hosanna in excelsis!" Which I guess is not such a bad thing for me to be thinking about outside a church.
Oddly enough, Jesus doesn't make me think about Christmas, because Christmas is all about baby Jesus. They're clearly two different people.
Classical, spiritual, gospel music. By this time, even "Amazing Grace" and "Shalom Chaverim" make me think of Christmas, I guess because it's the only time of year I make any effort to think about songs with a kind of reverential bent to them. "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple" used to just make me think of Quakers, but I recently found out that that's got alternate Christmas words, too. Is nothing sacred?
Bells. Church bells are the most obvious connection, but sleigh bells also get a special mention. Plus those little ornamental bells that ring of their own accord when an angel gets its wings.
Reindeer. Not that I'd ever really be thinking about reindeer otherwise.
Evergreen trees, whose continued existence in the summertime confuses and infuriates me.
Mint or any of those sweetly-spicy flavors--nutmeg, ginger, allspice, etc.. Especially when combined with mulled cider. Heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves!
Walnuts, unshelled. Christmas is the only time my family goes to the trouble of cracking open nuts, and it's not because we have a nutcracker shaped like a guy like in The Nutcracker. Our nutcracker is made of metal and is not big enough to crack a whole walnut. There's just something about that time of year that seems to make us think that working for twenty minutes with our fingernails to get a tiny slab of nutmeat is worth the trouble. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Peanuts, the cartoon. Even "Classic Peanuts" has left most newspapers by now, so the only routine interaction I have with the Charlie Brown gang is the annual holiday special(s). Vince Guaraldi's music provides an extra-intense dose of holiday buzz, even the regular old non-Christmas-special Peanuts theme, which may as well be a damn carol by now. Which brings me to
Non-fusion jazz music, especially instrumental, especially piano. And, to some extent, all piano music. The kind of stuff you hear when you're Christmas shopping at Borders and you stop by the in-house cafe for a caramel and cherry soda and there's a few more things I've ruined for the rest of year.
Trains, especially steamtrains. I guess I could blame Polar Express (the book, which I enjoyed as a child, not the creepy dancing-conductor freakshow in theatres), but I think it goes deeper than that. I mean, how did the guy think to associate trains and Christmas in the first place?
Speaking of steam power, mid-eighteenth century London. It's just a Christmasy milieu. I dare you to think about a guy in a long black frock coat with a half-cloak, a top hat, and a cane, walking past horse-drawn carriages and women in big petticoat-covering dresses and warm winter bonnets, on a narrow, slightly snow-covered cobblestone street, past a clock tower, and not think of Christmas.
Candles. I can never have a romantic evening involving candles, even on Valentine's day or at a restaurant, without ending up trying to get my date to sing "Silent Night". Nothing kills the mood like a moment of prayer for peace on earth and good will towards men.
Warmth, both as in the feeling of sitting near the heater on a cold day and as in that fuzzy feeling that comes from opening your shut-up heart freely, and thinking of people around you as if they really are fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys, which I personally can't get without craving marshmallow Santas.
Eventually, so many things are going to be associated with Christmas that there just won't be anything else. At the same time, stores have been slowly moving back the acceptable start date for displaying Christmas decorations for years. Soon we'll have Christmas all year round. Personally, I can't wait, because I'd really like a caramel and cherry soda.