Friday, December 28, 2012

A Quarter Century: Happy Holidays

*For suggested audio accompaniment to this post, click here.

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This post is admittedly a little late, and while I have skipped one or two holidays in this AQC series it seemed wrong to leap-frog Christmas.

The tricky thing about abridging 25 years-worth of XMas revelry is that "Christmas" is not just a single day but really encompasses the entire month of December.

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Take, for example, my 3rd grade production of The Nutcracker. It did not take place on December 25. But how, in a list of Christmas memories, could I not mention my starring role as The Mouse King? My performance was described by some as "brimming with emotional nuance" and "A tour-de-force of moral ambiguity."

When I was finally slain after a pulse-pouding, edge-of-your-seat duel with the titular hero, I kid you not, the audience wept.

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Or take the traditional shopping mall Santa experience. I never actually believed in the man (when you're the youngest of 5 children, the jig is pretty much up) but we would still, prior to Christmas morning, sit upon his lap and offer up our list of holiday wishes.

Christmas in the Wood home (like most holidays) was dictated by tradition. We would spend Christmas Eve at my grandmother's with my mother's side of the family, eating Oyster Stew and Spaghetti-O's and reciting poetry. Christmas morning we would line up on the staircase, youngest to oldest, and head downstairs to open our gifts. We would begin with the stockings, which were placed around the room in assigned seating, much like the dinner table, and then proceed to the tree. After the gift massacre was completed, we would typically put on one of the movies the family had received as a communal gift then head to my Aunt Barbara's for Christmas lunch with my father's side.

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We always had two trees: one upstairs that was more elaborate with a Christmas village and model train beneath it. The other downstairs for the actual gift-opening purposes. It sounds so cliche to say it, but I loved the crap out of that model train. I would play with it for hours, running my toys along it in some imagined Jesse James adventure and watching it spin lap after lap under the twinkling lights.

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There were a few years when we were younger that the family decided to do an impromptu dramatization of the nativity as part of our Christmas Eve celebrations. I'm sure you can imagine the quality when a group of two dozen children, ages 5 to 18, fashion a costume out of whatever items they can find around the house for a character they were assigned just 10 minutes before.

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Plus, it always meant that two of us had to play Joseph and Mary, or husband and wife, which still rubs me the wrong way. It was Utah, after all, not Mississippi.

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In a similar vein, every so often our local church would put on a "Night in Bethlehem" event instead of a run-of-the-mill Christmas party. We would fashion makeshift costumes of Israeli shepherds, Magi wise men (fun fact, the singular is "Magus") and Roman centurions and snack on pita bread and whatever "theme" food the group of middle-class Caucasian Mormons could think off.

Public displays of cultural ignorance were not as frowned upon back then.

Oddly enough, my family doesn't seem to have many (or any, that I could find) pictures of our Christmas with my dad's family, but in fairness that celebration didn't have the same pomp and circumstance of "religious observance" and "theatrical production." On Christmas Eve, once the Oyster stew was consumed, the poems recited, the dramatizations completed and the presents were opened, the adults would do whatever it is that adults do (read: be boring) while the cousins would crowd around my Uncle Chris and play Dark Tower, the greatest board game ever created.

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And of course, there was snow; feet of white powder in good years and a sheen of muddy sludge in bad years. When we were kids, that meant snowball fights and sledding off of the roof (again, in good years). As a slightly-older-kid, that meant shorter, angrier snowball fights and barefoot snow angels.

I grew up in an unincorporated area on the Wasatch Back, which literally means you couldn't go anywhere without passing through a canyon or over a mountain. I remember some years making the slow, perilous climb up Trappers Loop on the way to my grandmothers house, or one of our adult years when an unending storm forced us all to stay at my parents house for another day, and another, and another still. Eventually my brother had to go back to work and I drew the short straw of driving him there to meet his wife. But for three days it was like a snow day in elementary school with the whole family waiting it out, carefree and drunk with holiday spirit.

It's my favorite Christmas that I can remember.

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