December diversions 2008

December is a tough month. Whatever your holiday or celebratory inclinations, stress begins to swirl like a snowstorm from the last bowl of turkey soup to the first fizz of New Year’s champagne. Every day seems a race to the end of the month, rushing from one paid day off work to the next with a checklist of extra tasks piling up in the middle. We are surrounded by gift obligations, decorations, parties, cards and calls to peripheral relations. I try to remember themes that matter: children, generosity, joy, redemption, baking; but the years in retail have accumulated and clogged the fun. I have become a curmudgeon. Like Scrooge, that literary king of December naysayers, I tend to say, “Bah Humbug” and reach for any spiked beverage with a surly grimace.

But this year I have decided to make a concerted effort to be chipper. There has already been too much gloom in 2008. In the spirit of Stella’s gift ideas, I am making a list of diversions I know will cheer me up this season. I am sharing it with you, my TGW friends, just in case you might need a lift as well – feel free to add your own ideas:

Remember that Obama won the election. Every day gets closer to the end of Bush.

Watch Vampire Movies. There are two out right now. Both have their charms. “Twilight” is best watched with girlfriends of any age and preferably late at night in a half empty theater where the group can whisper a running commentary, alternately snorting and giggling.

“Here he comes! God, he is so cute!!”

“Jacob has very white teeth.”

“Her dad is kinda hot.”

“He is really playing the piano you know, he is a trained concert pianist in real life.”

“Why is her mouth always open like that?”

“I heard they used a dummy for this scene, look at his legs, they are dummy legs. See how they are bent all weird like that?”

“I love this part, could he be any cuter?!”

“That is him singing, can you hear it? He has a cute voice.”

The other vampire movie is Swedish, “Let the Right One In.” This is best watched with your most intellectual talky friend during full daylight because it is creepy and you will need lots of therapeutic verbal processing afterwards. The film shows us a love story more Renfield than Romeo, drawing from deeper pools of collective darkness than its American counterpart. More subtle and yet jarring, “Let the Right One In” is the better movie, but Edward is still the cuter vampire.

Listen to Nat King Cole. Every band on the planet has recorded a Christmas album. They compile these random attempts and sell them everywhere from Starbucks to Old Navy. In my opinion, most are awful. This year I am banning all updated music and only listening to Nat King Cole. Really, who else do you need? Occasionally Bing. And Odetta. Maybe Burl Ives. But only songs from the “Rudolph” show. And some Medieval madrigals, although I listen to those all year round.

Enjoy food that is only relevant in December.Think about it, when except in December do you eat those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey’s Kiss stuck in the center? Candy canes. Anything with powdered sugar. Mulled wine. Ginger bread. Pistachios. Chex Mix. Ribbon candy. Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. Eggnog.

Go Shopping. This is the year to wander around the mall. Inventories are high, prices are low and sales people are just happy to have jobs and grateful that you stopped by. Customer service should be unnaturally wonderful this year in spite of less staff on hand. Store associates are lonely; they want to talk to you. Wear something interesting, a cool scarf, handbag, shoes, a drooling baby, give them any excuse to spark a conversation. You are sure to be greeted like visiting royalty.      

Drive around and look at Christmas lights. I suppose you can stay in the city and pretend to be interested in some tasteful municipal tree lighting, but the suburbs are where it’s at. Giant inflated characters that quiver and glow at night only to sink into puddles of technicolor nylon during the day. Icicle lights dripping from eaves, twinkle lights wrapped around glittering baubles on the trees branches and porch wreaths as big across as a New York City studio apartment. My favorite yards include a nativity scene in naturalistic Renaissance tones flanked by a cartoon Santa and his eight flashing reindeer. Usually there is a plastic elf or choir boy for good measure. This is America where crass commercialism and sentimental religiosity dwell in peace and harmony at least one month a year. Good thing Nat King Cole has Jesus music and Santa music and cocktail music all on the same CD so I can have the proper soundtrack as I lurk through neighborhoods. In December you can slow to a stop in front of a particularly festive array and no one will call the police.

Send a Holiday Letter. Here are the rules: limit yourself to one page, no smaller than a 14 point font and you must include at least six cultural references that your Aunt Millie will not understand. Resist the urge to use the phrase, “it was a busy year . . .” Never collage pictures. Never talk about cool things that you know none of us have ever done. It makes us hate you a little. Always include a reference to your pet by name so that your peripheral relations can’t quite remember if you have an extra child they must have read about in the last Holiday letter.

Watch stuff on the Internet. These Gap commercials, except for the unfortunate pairing of Sarah Bernhard with the Dixie Chicks, make me happy. The new Harry Potter 6 trailer almost makes up for holding the movie until summer.  Almost. And you can watch all season 2 episodes of The Sarah Connor Chronicles for free!

Stare at my real tree. I am worried that my real tree is not an environmentally responsible choice. But I am not ready to give up this holiday bad habit. I love the smell. I love how we water it and praise it for “drinking” the water. I love my ornaments. I love that we move everything around our house to make room for it. In the end the tree becomes a metaphor for the season. It is a pain and I will be picking up needles until June, but when I sit on my sofa and gaze into the mix of silver and light and hanging memories, it is magical. I become Scrooge at the end of the story, seeing visions Christmases past, present and future. Family and friends gathered, wrapped bursts of thoughtful affection, books read aloud, carols hummed, teenagers dozing, candles flickering, board games, and Cracker Jacks in my stocking. Trite? Yes. Am I in a better mood? Definitely. 



35 responses to “December diversions 2008”

  1. Remember that Obama won the election. Totally. I am pining for it to be the end of January already. Though the weather is very nice today, and will probably not be at the end of January, so that’s something.

    Watch Vampire Movies. My brother took his kids to “Twilight” and told me not to bother, so I’m not going to. *But*: have you seen Herzog’s “Nosferatu”? Man oh man, that would be a great movie to watch this month. (Tonight I’m going to watch “The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner”, lacking in vampires and in Kinski but plenty of Herzog.)

    Listen to Nat King Cole. Eh. He moves me I guess but I don’t really need to go out of my way to hear him. Alternate proposal: listen to John Fahey. Or, go check out Pet’s Choosday Chunes — every Tuesday she posts some great playlists, and she’s promising to devote December to Christmas music.

    Enjoy food that is only relevant in December. Soup has relevance beyond this month, but it’s especially nice this time of year.

  2. LP says:

    Ah, Pandora, a lovely post as always. I’m feeling particularly enamored of our Western ways since my two weeks here, so everything on your list sounds more wonderful than usual.

    If you live in or near LA, add to your list a visit at 7 or 8 p.m. to the Grove. Snow machines atop the buildings spew real snowflakes out over the insanely delighted masses. Really, you’d think they were spitting out money for how much joy they create. Paired with a glass of wine at an outdoor table (with heat lamps, of course) overlooking the dancing fountains, a campy and fun evening.

  3. Dave says:

    We saw “Let the Right Ones In” and it was totally creepy and good. My boyfriend the horror movie junkie pronounced it one of the best vampire movies he’d ever seen. Kind of a downer, though, and lots of blood.

    For an inoculation against your own family dramas, go watch “Rachel Getting Married.” I was expecting a moderately light dark comedy and instead got a baroque verité smack to the head. You feel like you’ve actually spent the weekend at a wedding with a really complicated family.

    Pandora, your suggestion to go shopping and be treated like visiting royalty is so completely foreign to my experience and inclination that I don’t know where to begin.

  4. Scotty says:

    I love this post.

    We’ve finally gotten our “winter” weather in SoCal — low to mid 60s during the day and 50s at night. So we get to enjoy one of my favorite holiday guilty pleasures: the smell of wood-burning fireplaces as we walk the dog in the evening.

    As far as the gift giving frenzy goes, Swells and I have been working hard to not get swept up. We set a super low gift-price limit, which I think is kind of exciting.

    And my personal favorite: single malt scotch. My favorite is Laphroaig (pronounced la-froig) Every glass smells and tastes like a fire-lit room in a remote farmhouse — a holiday must!

    For those who’ve never seen it, your mention of a real tree reminded me of this video short, which was introduced to us last year by Tim and Parrish.

  5. Dave says:

    The times had an article this week about a number of 12-year-old single malts for the benefit of anyone who wants to buy me presents this year.

  6. Jane says:

    umm…yeah…not sure why half the comment turned green…slightly odd…

  7. Dave says:

    Misplaced tags, Jane. It happens to all of us eventually.

  8. Marleyfan says:

    – Make real-wood fires in the fireplace.
    – Going to grandma’s on Christmas Eve for the family party.
    – Most people in good moods, and being nicer to each other.
    – The anticipation of children waiting for Santa to bring presents.
    – Being able to give someone a gift he/she will really like
    – Snow,Snow, Snow
    – The classic animated clay Christmas specials on TV.
    – Receiving slipper-socks from my grandma, and pretending how excited I am, and lying about how the socks I got last year are worn-out.
    – New Years Eve party with friends.
    – I love the holiday season.

  9. lane says:

    This year I am banning all updated music and only listening to Nat King Cole. Really, who else do you need? Occasionally Bing. And Odetta. Maybe Burl Ives. But only songs from the “Rudolph” show. And some Medieval madrigals, although I listen to those all year round.

    this cracked me up.

    you try to draw a hard line in favor of Nat but then backstep and say well . . . all this other stuff too.


  10. amare stoudemire says:

    My favorite seasonal activities include The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, figuring out how to get the whole family up to the mountains so the kids can play in some snow, and hosting my wife’s side of the family for the big holiday meal.

    This is fun on a bunch of levels as I haven’t yet shaken the years of being the shady boyfriend trying to steal their beloved niece or cousin away so to play the role of patriarch feels like I’m getting away with something.

    Plus, my house = my rules so the drinks will flow, which makes us all that much more agreeable. Wait until I do my Gary Cooper speech from Meet John Doe!

    Obama’s win is another blessing here, I’m in the best mood of late and look forward to dealing with right-wingers (related or otherwise) with a great deal of magnaminity (and a pleased, yet condescending, smile)

    Vampire movies? Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction is interesting if you like his stuff and Guy Maddin’s ballet version (yup, you read that right) is an acquired taste but very moving in its way. Based on what you all have said, I’ll add Let the Right Ones In to my queue. Thanks for the tip.

    Music? I’m old school-Bach and Handel.

  11. Scotty says:

    Marleyfan, you are one of my holiday favorites — such a great attitude about everything. My holiday wish is that all breeders were like you.

  12. Kate the Great says:

    I love you, Pandora. You should accept my friend request on Facebook.

    Okay, Friday Fluff:

    Who here likes Egg Nog?

    And who hates it?

  13. go watch “Rachel Getting Married.”

    What Dave said. This is an awesome, awesome movie. Even if my personal Rock n Roll idol were not featured in the reception scene, it would still be — Robyn’s presence is the gravy.

  14. Egg nog: do not particularly like drinking it unless I make it, which is itself hella fun.

  15. Jane says:

    Eggs are good, especially in scrambled form.

    Nog is a fairly good character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

    Egg Nog? bleh.

  16. Rachel says:

    Incidentally, this is pretty terrific.

  17. Rachel says:

    Hey, where’d my other comment go? Spam filter? I gave a shout-out to Charlie Brown Christmas music.

  18. LP says:

    Egg nog = blech.

    Hot cider = yum.

    Hot cider + rum = double yum.

  19. Natasha says:

    LP, did you ever notice that Captain Morgan gives you the strangest dreams?

    In Moscow, we start with the regular Christmas, then comes the New Years Eve — one of the biggest holidays of the year, then comes the Orthodox Christmas, then the Old New Years. We lighten up on the drinking and eating by then, of course…well, some of us. Here though we get the best of both worlds:
    •All the Christmas parties
    •Logging onto Facebook on the holiday morning and being in all of the friends’ houses all at once.
    •Texting to invite the lonely friends, who are not doing anything and are too shy to ask to come to our place.
    •The biggest New Years bash at my house with music, dancing, lots of Russian Standard or Gray Goose. Five of my close girlfriends including myself cooking in the kitchen and catching up (weirdly, always the men’s favorite sight), lots of food, noise and happy people. Parting until morning, sleeping, waking up hung over and going back to step 1.

  20. Marleyfan says:

    12. Scotty- This morning on CNN, it was reported that recent research shows that happiness is contagious. Do you feel happier?

  21. Marleyfan says:

    I just set up a facebook account: Look up Gary Smith + Wenatchee. No pictures on it yet (I’m waiting for my kids to help my with that part). Send me a friend request…

  22. Scotty says:

    21: like you couldn’t believe, ta hee hee.

  23. lane says:

    egg nog is delicious

    with rum is good, but it thins it out, unspiked is so nice and boogery thick

    i know, not everyone’s thing

  24. PB says:

    Whee! Comments are the best diversion of all!! Thank you for all your ideas.
    #3 – Dave I have said this before and I mean it, we must go shopping together, you are not frequenting the right establishments. And if they are not nice to you, I will beat them up.
    #4 – Every glass smells and tastes like a fire-lit room in a remote farmhouse – this is lovely.
    #6 – Jane – thank you – I am blushing (in green).
    #13 – You are my friend! Really, really, I have had some computer issues!! I will make it official right after this!
    Eggnog? Only with Rum and yes, lane, so boogery.

    PS doesn’t ANYONE else think Edward is cute – am I the only old lady who went to oogle? me and some guy and his kids (such the wrong demographic)?? Come on – fess up – who else went??

  25. I am finding myself thinking this evening of a post one of the Whatsiteers did a few months back, when I was newer to this site than I am now, about living in their house, with pictures of their house in southern California somewhere that had a lovely concrete or stone patio in the back yard and a sort of minimalist southwestern decor. Are you that person? Or do you know of which person I am thinking? I wanted to link to the pictures of your house because a passage I am reading just now seems sort of like it could be filmed in that location.

  26. (Passage in question is at the top of my blog now, under the heading “Cinematic”.)

  27. lane says:


    I think you are confusing Rogan’s house diaries which is in southcentral LA and Trixie and Farrell Fawcett’s house in philly. the house in philly had the photo’s of the patio.

  28. That is exactly what I’m doing.

  29. Natasha says:

    The Modesto Kid, are you in South. CAli? What are you reading?

  30. Natasha, I am in northern NJ. Grew up in central CA though, with a fair amount of time spent in Los Angeles where my grandparents lived. I’m reading Saramago’s “The Stone Raft”, an unusual book in which the Iberian peninsula breaks away from the rest of Europe and becomes a free-floating land mass. I thought this description of two men sitting in a back yard at night could have taken place in Mr. Fawcett’s back yard. (Although it only works for that particular passage taken by itself; in the previous chapter José’s house has been identified as having two stories, and later in this chapter there is a reference to the yard being packed dirt; neither detail fits Mr. Fawcett’s Philadelphia manse.)

  31. Hm, this is frustrating: Now I know what post I’m looking for but I am still managing not to be able to find it. Can anybody shoot me a link? Kthxbai.

  32. LP says:

    Here ya go. Posted by Mr. Fawcett’s dear partner, Ms. Honeycups.

  33. Ah that’s why it’s not on his author page. Thanks!

  34. Robert says:

    Ray Charles has a kickass xmas album.