Rerun Junkie–Favorite Christmas Episodes

Bah humbug.

Yes, we’re all very aware that Christmas isn’t my favorite time of the year. Too many years working retail and running the holiday gauntlet have put a permanent crimp in my holiday spirit. And that goes for my reruns, too. I find most Christmas episodes to be too saccharine and overly-sentimental. They run that commercialized holly jolly through the society-approval filter and trim it with some moral lessons and it’s just enough to be nauseating.

However, there are a few episodes that have captured my heart, either because they forego these tropes, skewer them, or dress them in a silver pantsuit that’s absolutely to-die-for.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, The Golden Girls– The women are all planning on spending Christmas with their families. The bemoaning of the commercialization of Christmas leads them to exchanging homemade gifts, including Rose’s whittled maple syrup spigots and Blanche’s “Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar, opened the night before they leave. On Christmas Eve, Blanche and Dorothy show up at the counseling center to pick up Rose, who is working a morning shift, only to be held up by a Santa (Terry Kiser), who demands they all celebrate Christmas together. Thanks to Sophia, they’re able to get out of that jam and to the airport, only to see their flights home cancelled. Later, at a diner, the women realize that they already are spending Christmas with family.

The ending is a bit sweet, what with it snowing in Miami and all, but Rose hitting “Surfin’ Safari” on the jukebox instead of a Christmas song saves it. Though I’ve always found it bizarre that they decorated the house, tree included, even though they wouldn’t be there for Christmas, I’m glad they did. They have some really lovely decorations and the tree is gorgeous. And Blanche’s pantsuit is fabulous.

“The Christmas Show”, The Monkees– The Monkees, in their forever pursuit of the next gig, end up getting hired to mind Melvin (Butch Patrick), a disgruntled forty-year old trapped in a twelve-year old’s body, while his aunt is away on a Christmas cruise. Turns out, Melvin isn’t much for Christmas. When the boys try to get him into the holiday spirit, they end up blowing through all of their money and aggravating Melvin to the point that he goes home. It’s only then that Mike realizes what’s been missing the whole time.

It could be a typical “lesson of Christmas” episode, but it’s The Monkees. They don’t do typical. Instead, they do madcap that involves them chopping down their own tree (while apparently stoned), Peter wrecking a department store while shopping for toys, Micky and Davy dressing as Santa and his elf and going down the chimney, a happy ending, and capping the whole thing off with an a capella version of “Riu Chiu”. It’s zany and sweet and the crew getting their time in front of the camera during the credits is a lovely gesture.

“Dear Sis”, M*A*S*H– In a letter home to his sister, Father Mulcahy expresses his frustration in not feeling very useful. Most everyone in camp has the holiday blues, but it seems that it’s hitting Father Mulcahy the hardest as nothing he does is really helpful. He even ends up decking a combative patient (who hit him first, so he had it coming). It’s only during the Christmas party in the mess tent that Father Mulcahy realizes that he has made something of a good impact, first when Charles thanks him for having his mother send him his old toboggan cap, and then later when Hawkeye singles him out during a toast.

M*A*S*H did several Christmas episodes during its eleven year run, but this one stands out to me for several reasons. One, it centers much of the episode on Father Mulcahy, which didn’t happen very often. Two, instead of singing a traditional Christmas song, Hawkeye leads everyone in singing a lovely version of “Dona Nobis Pacem”. And three, the episode ends with one of my favorite lines from the series. As the party is broken up by incoming casualties, the voiceover reading of Father Mulcahy’s letter to his sister says, “You know, sis, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel useful when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

“The Christmas Story”, Dragnet– A local church’s baby Jesus has gone missing from its nativity scene and Friday and Gannon are on the case. The statue has little monetary value, but it’s sentimental value can’t be measured and the parishioners would be very sad to go a Christmas without it. Being diligent detectives, Friday and Gannon follow a tip provided by an altar boy (Barry Williams) that leads them to a suspect (Bobby Troup), but he only borrowed a friend’s car and got into a little fender bender; he didn’t take any baby Jesus. Dejected, Joe and Bill go to the church to let the padre know they didn’t find the baby Jesus, but they’d keep looking. Just as they start to leave, a little boy pulling baby Jesus in a wagon comes into the church. It turns out that he’d prayed to baby Jesus for a new wagon and promised Him that if he got it, he’d give Him the first ride.

I’m not one for religion. I tend to cringe and shy away when people ram home the “Christ” in Christmas. But this episode is an exception and it’s all in the handling of the case and the ending. Our detectives are pursuing this matter seriously, as they usually do, but the justice is less nabbing a thief and more doing right for a congregation. The little boy who took the statue was fulfilling a promise, something that is more in tune with the holiday spirit than any of the sappy treacle that often gets splattered on the screen.

“Christmas with the Addam’s Family”, The Addam’s Family– It’s the common holiday problem that all sitcom parents face at one point or another: Santa. Pugsley and Wednesday are told by the Addams’s unkind neighbor that Santa doesn’t exist. The family bands together and elects Uncle Fester to play the role to restore the children’s faith. When he gets stuck in the chimney, each member of the clan takes it upon themselves to prove that there really is a Santa.

This could easily be a mediocre, overly-sweet episode, but this is the Addams family. This delightfully loving family is weird and wonderful and only they could pull off a Santa overload with such sincerity.

“Operation: Silent Night”, Magnum P.I.– While ferrying Magnum, Rick, and Higgins to their various destinations before he catches a flight home to New Orleans, T.C.’s chopper crashes on a deserted island that the Navy uses for target practice. Though Rick is convinced they’re all going to die, everyone else is pretty confident that they’ll get off the island soon enough. T.C. works on the chopper while Higgins forages for food and Rick and Magnum gather firewood for a signal fire. They end up discovering a downed Japanese WWII plane, which Higgins salvages to create a boat, which later sinks. Rick falls in a bog that he thinks is quicksand, which causes him to imagine his own funeral. T.C. despairs over his inability to fix the chopper and as such, he’ll miss his flight home. And Magnum, who was going to play Santa to some orphans, dons the outfit once again and provides the group with a Christmas tree to boost their spirits. All the while, the guys are unaware that off-shore, a Navy commander (Ed Lauter) with no Christmas spirit is about to bombard the island for practice.

What I love about this Christmas episode is how it’s so tangentially related to Christmas. There are obvious Christmas references and elements (Magnum dressed as Santa is hard to ignore), and there’s even a Scrooge in the form of the Navy commander insisting that his crew do drills on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. But the episode isn’t dressed up in garland and lights and bows. There’s no heavy-handed true Christmas spirit bashing us over our heads. It’s four friends coming together in a difficult situation not because of some of magical holiday emotion but because that’s just what they do. There’s also the nod to another December holiday celebration. In addition to Christmas, T.C. also celebrates Kwanzaa, which he educates Higgins (and the audience) about.

Okay, I might have gone on a little long, but don’t for a minute think that’s because I’m having a change of heart about Christmas or Christmas episodes.

Oh no. Does my heart look three sizes bigger to you?

The Definitive Grinchmas Post

grinchmas2013The purpose of this post is to concisely explain Grinchmas to anyone who might be curious as to what I’m talking about when I refer to it on Twitter or Facebook (because I’m usually not being an actual Bah Humbug when I talk about it) or tell folks to Rob Whoville instead of one of the standard December sayings. It might also be used as a sort of blueprint in case anyone else would like to celebrate or create their own December holiday alternative.

The Origin of Grinchmas (in a nutshell)– I created the holiday in reaction to the material gluttony of Christmas and the Christians telling me I HAD to say “Merry Christmas”, but shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate it because I’m not Christian.

How I Celebrate Grinchmas:

-I bid people “Rob Whoville” instead of saying “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”, or any of the other standard phrases. When the Grinch robbed Whoville, the reaction of the Whos made him realize that Christmas was about more than presents and his heart grew three sizes that day. “Rob Whoville” means more to me than “Merry Christmas”.

-My Grinchmas decorations (which curiously look a lot like Christmas decorations) are put up on December 1st and come down on December 31st, completely contained within the month of December.

-I make as many Grinchmas gifts as I can. The few Grinchmas gifts I buy are bought with gift cards that I earn through a market research program (and those gift cards are specifically for Grinchmas; I don’t consider them mine to use for myself for the most part). The only money I spend on Grinchmas is for any materials I might need to make gifts.

And that’s about it. That’s how I roll in December. It’s the way I prefer to celebrate the holiday season. I can still blend in and do Christmas with my family and friends and such, but for me, doing Grinchmas is much more fulfilling. Instead of going through the motions like I used to do, the motions now have some meaning.

Grinchmas is a made-up thing and I’m sure it will continue to evolve with the years, but these are the basics, the FAQs, if anyone ever asked me about it. I’ll add to this post if I need to.

I don’t think I’ll need to.

My Yearly Descent Into Madness aka Christmas Season

Merry, Merry Christmas

Oh yes. That time of year after my beloved Halloween ends and the jolly faithful completely skip over Thanksgiving and go right to shoving tinsel down my throat.

That time of year when Christians start screaming at me to say “Merry Christmas” but then tell me I’m not allowed to celebrate THEIR holiday (though if I’m going to be honest, folks on my FB started that crap in September; you know who you are). Nothing puts me in the mood to love my fellow humans quite like it.

That time of year when my horror films are replaced with saccharine holly jolly flicks about what a wonderful time of year it is. Six weeks of syrup drizzling all over my channels.

That time of year when Christmas songs start creeping into the playlists on the radio and in stores, gradually building until that’s all you hear because somehow people think that six weeks of this music will put everyone into the spirit instead of driving folks, particularly the poor folks working in retail, to homicide.

That time of the year when most people become obsessed with shopping and deals and getting and spending. So this is more retail PTSD, but when you’ve dealt with as many nasty, rude people as I have all for the sake of some joyous gift-giving holiday, your dislike of crowds, shoppers, and materialism becomes part of your fight-or-flight response.

That time of year when I’m subjected to false-cheerfulness and ho-ho-ho and very special episodes and endless commercials for toys and elves and Santa and white chocolate and peppermint in EVERYTHING.

Oh yes. That time of year.

I wish we could keep Christmas in December so I can eat my damn Thanksgiving turkey in peace.

The Night Before Grinchmas

Grinchmas 2012When I first started doing the Grinchmas thing a couple of years ago, I didn’t realize it would become an actual thing. At the time it was a reaction to all of the Christians demanding that I say “Merry Christmas” and then telling me I wasn’t allowed to celebrate their holiday because I didn’t belong to their religion (note: I have never had a Jew do this to me; apparently it’s a Jesus related thing). So I started telling people Rob Whoville! instead because I wanted them to embrace the meaning behind the month of December, let their hearts grow three sizes, and stop being dicks.

Yeah, that effort has pretty much been ignored as I ended up shaming a bunch of people on Facebook for crying persecution and saying they’re not allowed to say “Merry Christmas” DURING HANUKKAH. Seriously. It’s things like this that just aggravate my spiteful spirit. The more you say I have to, the more I do the opposite.

Anyway, that’s not what I meant about Grinchmas becoming a thing. It’s become a thing FOR ME.

Without much intention, I’ve found myself attaching behaviors and beliefs to the concept and forming traditions in regards to my made up holiday. Giving of myself is a big part of it. It comes from being broke. I can’t buy wonderful, awe-inspiring gifts and frankly, I shouldn’t have to. Instead, I give little things that I think someone will like and/or use. I want to give useful things. I want to make things for people.

This year, if I didn’t make the gift, then I bought it with Amazon gift cards I’ve been hoarding. Or I spent as little as possible on ready made items to assemble into a gift. That’s right. I tried to not spend any actual money on anyone. I wanted to give as much from myself as I could without coming across as stingy or cheap or in general an asshole.

Now, I probably will anyway. People are so conditioned in this day and age to go broke proving their love for friends and family by buying them as much as possible. Because I didn’t, I’m going to look like a dick. The exception might be my nieces because I’ve been giving them various handmade items for Christmas most of their lives. They’re used to Aunt Kiki not spending money on them, but spending time and creativity on them instead. (Besides, those kids are spoiled anyway; they don’t need me spending any more money on them.)

I’m not knocking anyone else’s holiday celebrations. If it makes you feel good by going into debt for your loved ones, then hey, rock on. I don’t pay your bills. Everyone should get to celebrate the way they want to. I’m just saying that with Grinchmas solidifying into a real holiday practice for me, I’m going up against what is considered normal and proper for the holidays. It’s not going to be understood by most people.

I’m going to be labeled a cheap asshole for celebrating this way. That’s what I’m saying.

And I’m kind of “Oh well” about it. Because it means something to me.

Grinchmas is just as made up as any other holiday. I’m just the only one practicing on it.

The moral of the story is December holidays are about more than free stuff, but in the end, we all like free stuff, so just be happy if you get free stuff from me. It means I care.

Twas the Night: Five Things I’d Leave Santa

When I was a kid we left cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. My cousin’s son asked if they could leave Santa chicken nuggets and chocolate milk this year because he’s probably pretty tired of eating cookies. One adult friend of mine suggested leaving Santa beer and pizza. I’d go with that.

But my cousin’s little boy had a good point: Santa is probably tired of cookies and milk. For all we know, he could be lactose intolerant by this point. It’s time to shake Santa out of his cookie boredom. So here are five treats that I’d leave Santa on a night like tonight.

1. Hot cocoa and brownies. A nice chocolate fix to get him through a long night of present delivering.

2. Steak and mashed potatoes. At some point, a guy needs something substantial on top of all of those cookies.

3. Pixie Stix and Mountain Dew. Because sometimes a guy needs something stronger than a chocolate fix to keep his energy up. Mainlining sugar and caffiene is the best next step.

4. Beer and chicken wings. I imagine Santa needs something adult from time to time. (Besides, I imagine by now that the reindeer pretty much know where they’re going and what they’re doing.)

5. Ginger ale and Pepto. He’s been eating all night. He’s probably got a massive case of indigestion by the time he hits Nova Scotia.

So, for Santa’s sake, what new goodies would you leave for him on Christmas Eve?

‘Tis the Season.

The Holiday Gauntlet

Every year I run the holiday gauntlet. I’m sure lots of people do it, but this isn’t about them; it’s about me.

The gauntlet starts with Thanksgiving. I attend dinner with my dad’s side of the family at my Aunt Jo’s. Some years I’m responsible for shuttling the nieces down, too. It’s a nice way to ease into the craziness that follows in the weeks to come.

From that point on, it’s a matter of wrangling presents, buying them if I can afford it or making them if I can’t, wrapping them, mailing them, piling them up with the rest of my Christmas paraphernalia in the corner of my room. This likely takes me until the week of the holiday because I’m lousy at coming up with gift ideas in a timely fashion, and if I do come up with something, then I tend to misjudge the amount of time I have to get it. Somehow, I always managed to squeak in under the wire.

My middle niece was cursed with having her birthday exactly a week before Christmas. My mom doesn’t put out any Christmas decorations until afterwards so she can have the day and of course, I’m there for it to give her present and enjoy some cupcakes. It’s like a warm-up.

The week of Chrstimas is probably my most dreaded week of the year. It’s the logistics of trying to squeeze in as many Christmases as necessary so everyone is satisfied (this happens when you have divorced parents, divorced grandparents, and traveling grandparents). One year, I ended up doing six Christmases in four days. It was a nightmare and I’ve resented Christmas ever since. Typically, though, I usually have no more than three. Last year, I only had two. This year I’m only having two. It’s like a vacation only having two.

Part of the headache of doing the Christmases is the traveling. A trip to my mom’s is usually no big deal, just a twenty minute drive. A trip to my Aunt Jo’s is about the same amount of time, but in the opposite direction. But there have been years in which I drove to my mom’s on the 23rd and 24th for Christmases and then on Christmas drove north to her house, picked up the nieces, drove south to my Aunt Jo’s, had Christmas, then drove north to take the girls home, then drove south to take myself home. The entire Christmas ping pong trip ends up being about 150 miles. It’s a lot of driving for a day full of food and presents and sometimes crappy weather.

Sure, other people drive that distance in a day. My grandparents pretty much have to in order to make their Christmas rounds. But, I think it’s more exhausting to drive it like a fish on speed trapped in a small bowl.

After the mania that is Christmas begins the slow cool down. New Year’s Eve is a raucous affair for a lot of people, but for me, it’s a quiet business of a marathon of some sort (last year it was Mystery Science Theater 3000) with some snacks, sparkling grape juice, and a friend or two. Nothing big, nothing drunken, nothing fancy. Just a quiet ringing in of the New Year.

My oldest niece’s birthday is January 11th and, you know it, I’m there for cupcakes (or cheesecake) and presents. It’s the last trip I have to make and by that point, I’m tired of driving 51 North.

The gauntlet ends on my birthday the next day, January 12th. My mom usually just lumps my birthday in with my niece’s, which has led to some interesting birthday cakes over the years. I can’t blame her. By that point, all of my friends and relatives are tired of celebrating things. Even if I had the energy to do anything special, I’d most likely be doing it alone. The last time I went out on my birthday, I was twenty-six and ended up puking at the bar, so maybe it’s just best I’m too tired to do anything anyway.

It then takes me until Thanksgiving to rest up for the next run.

This is why the people who love Christmas baffle me. I think of them like I think of people who enjoy running marathons; it’s hard for me to enjoy anything when I’m struggling so hard just to breathe.

Despite the craziness and my Grinch-like demeanor, I do enjoy the quiet, sweet moments with family and friends. And the food. And the free stuff.

Rob Whoville!