Christmas Things: 2014 Edition

I want to tell you I am one of those charming people who decorates like Martha Stewart has successfully funneled her corporate, omnimedia, craftista mojo into my very essence, like one of those alien face suckers. But that would be a lie.

I don’t know how to be a) inhabited by the ghostly apparition that is Martha’s perfect life (but we all know that’s a joke, honestly, as it sounds like her jail time was a lot like what Lucille Bluth experienced in Arrested Development, if you know what I’m talking about) and b) Martha has “elves” and I have children. They’re like chest bursters of a sort, since they’re live biological children with thoughts and feelings of their own, and they screech and scuttle about the place too. (#preteens) And they’re also not worried about getting fired for failing to fluff up the decorative taffeta ribbons just right. And while I think my children should be worried about being yelled at in a dripping acidic tone, what can you do, but shake your head and search for more effective approaches?

You know, reevaluate what is really important in your life. Unlike the guy who was mad at me for not moving fast in the slow lane this past Sunday because traffic in the passing lanes didn’t go fast enough for him either. So he flipped me off twice. Nothing brings out the “good will and peace to all mankind” in others quite like the Christmas season, I tell ya.

Anyway, given the number of jerks who are using Holiday stress as a reason to do what they do probably the other 365 days of the year, it got me thinking about that old time cheer and what never fails to lighten my spirits.

Other things you should know? Don’t expect a She and Him Christmas album. Because for me at least, listening to She and Him is like browsing a Target Holiday flyer while drinking a Starbucks mocha-frappa-something or other with whip cream and sprinkles inside a Target Superstore, complete with all that perfect holiday cheer pasted up on the walls to say nothing of the music bouncing around those boxy ceilings. You’re just surrounded by all that “atmosphere.” It’s that kind of experience for me. But that is a personal bias, I’m willing to admit. It’s perfectly fine to like those two in combination, I prefer them separately, but just know that kind of aesthetic is not what shapes this list. Although if you like Burger Records, there’s a couple of treats in here for you.

Movies

1. Bridget Jones Diary: it’s because it starts with the ugly, ubiquitous Christmas sweater, let’s be honest. I’m not single, but so help me, I feel for each of you trying to make it through the holiday without smug married couples being assholes to you. I might fall in that category, I’m not sure. Some would say if I had doubt, then I’m probably complicit somehow. Anyway, Hugh Grant plays himself it seems, ah, the indiscretions of a youthful-ish (although not in the later BJD movies, which I recommend not wasting your time on), dickish, totally untrustworthy playboy figure.

ALSO! Let’s not allow Renée Zellweger to be over shadowed by said megalomaniac, her acting very much brings to life the sometimes clueless, spitfire that is Bridget’s character, especially considering Zellweger’s recent retort in regards to public speculation of her “beauty” routine as of late – “Perhaps you might have noticed…” —  indeed. This is for people who miss the Zellweger of Christmas past.

Um, what else? Colin Firth is the consummate, prim lawyer, I guess. I don’t know many English barristers. I assume many are more dynamic than this dashing Mr. Darcy archetype reboot. But he might do it for ya if you’re an Anglophile and have it hard for dudes who look like they went to Cambridge or something, studied super hard, all while suffering the inevitable side effect of constant sexual frustration, in what is so obviously their reproductive prime, and who probably developed a masturbatory habit for whatever fetish it is they indulged regularly and fervently. So pious is this character of noble intentions, it’s hard to imagine him walking around without the giant stick up his “arse”. I think Bridget even comments as much in her diary. Anyway, this Darcy has his own “darkish” secret too. And the movie’s ridiculousness demands that he openly longs for the free spirit, sometimes clumsy, golden girl (Bridget Jones of the naked paddling pool incident by way of the Elizabeth Bennett of yesteryear) to set their boring little world on fire as the year drags on from start to finish, picture chestnuts crackling with the heat of unresolved sexual tension as feelings are blurted out awkwardly, but sincerely. Cue the end of that movie, complete with the next ugly Christmas sweater, as it’s the holidays again. Obviously, for this reason alone it’s going to start my list off  because it’s very seasonal like that.

 

2. Love Actually. Word. I remember last year there was this needlessly huge “Internet” debate about it being a either a really great or a really terrible movie. Apparently it couldn’t be this “just” OK one. I say never mind all that, can we just talk about the cast? Stellar. Truly.

So, Colin Firth makes a second appearance on this list, this time as a prim writer with yet another giant stick up his arse and he is a stuttering communicator in this one as well (off topic the King’s Speech was a fairly decent movie.) Who else shows their face? Hugh Grant, only this time he is marginally a little less lecherous, but still kind of pervy and bumbling as a newly elected British Prime Minister, and there are others for sure. For example, there is a Bad Santa-like Billy Bob Thorton type, for sure, as Thorton plays an American President who is searching for weapons of mass destruction where he shouldn’t be lookin’. And he’s a bit of good-old-boy, bully too. Shocker. Tell us what you really think of American Presidents British filmmakers.

But the real acting duo that stands out to mind is Liam Neeson and Thomas Sangster.  I have never felt so sad, yet alternately hopeful for any set of characters quite like these two. The stepfather’s utter anguish at losing his wife and raising her son, in between the heart wrenching moments when he is trying to share his grief with a not quite all-sympathetic, mostly emotionally aloof friend, is something alright. It makes my little Grinch heart almost swell three times bigger.

Yet in these lost, deeply personal moments of grief, there’s a comedic contrast set into sharp relief: the stepfather’s anxiety with the thought of his stepson using hard drugs, like heroin, at the tender age of 12 to cope with his mother’s death. And while the stepson’s story arc doesn’t quite plummet into a tale like Trainspotting, it is still total agony. Really. But you’ll come away laughing. So hey, little nugget of what the Greeks call catharsis is your reward for following that story line. And the stepson’s issues are not at all unique, hence the whole reason the movie is sequenced like it is. Their story also yields one my favorite scenes of all time, hand-to-heart. Maybe I just like their story because it is equal parts comedy and tragedy, with the Beach Boys and other music thrown in to punctuate both this sense of despair and yet youthful hope.

Although like She and Him, high art this movie is not. And the cheesy shit may annoy you depending on your mood. I mean, the film makers kill it by giving the stepfather a trophy wife type later on – um, spoiler alert? (It’s been out for ages and long enough to have Internet wars about it, so essentially: I’m not sorry.) Basically what the stepdad gets is a token piece of ass for having suffered like Job, while not denouncing love per se. Which honestly, is slightly repugnant considering the grief he experiences in the beginning has to do with losing the wonderful person his wife was, not what she looked like primarily. #tonedeafmomentsthisyuletideseason #justlikereallife

 

3. Scrooged. I like Bill Murray. I can’t stomach his bullshit in every movie, so while I know of and have even seen the first ten minutes of Broken Flowers, I’m not finishing it anytime soon. You can only watch a milk toast sort of lost boy schlep through life for so long before you get really, really bored. Although I have so many favorites where he plays lead, and in this one I find his roguish brand of Peter Pan-boyishness amusing. Especially when he is dealing with unpleasant reminders of death – from the decrepit scene of a mouse diving in and out of rotting corpse heads (never mind he wanted to staple antlers into the skulls of real mice for his reproduction of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol) to the manifestation of Death itself, with all the Jim Henson-eqsue “souls of the damned” puppets bouncing around that ribcage. Which is befitting of the season, if you ask me, for what’s a little light without the dark, honestly?

 

http://cinemadetroit.com/2012/12/21/cscrooged/

What I want to do when someone tries to share an IPA with me. Screen cap via: http://cinemadetroit.com/2012/12/21/cscrooged/

 

And this isn’t even taking pagan rituals, holidays, and other world mythologies into account. Plus the way that Murray shoots at his former boss, who is too preoccupied with his Bacardi and Tab to care about Murray’s half-ass attempts to kill all the fun of the afterlife, is summed up best with Murray worrying his lower lip like a kid concentrating on the end game and repeating ineffectually “bang, bang” after he runs out of bullets to kill the grisly specter. This is very much a product placement wink and a nod 80s movie too, if you know what you’re watching for – like literally. The 80s. They thought they were so clever, didn’t they?

4. Nightmare Before Christmas. It seems so appropriate given my general feelings for most holiday seasons, especially this one. Maybe all the recent news churning through the 24 hour news cycles have darkened my perspective by more than a few shades too.

Other reasons this ends up on the list: because the naughty types don’t intend well for dear Old Santa. They have quite the memorable ditty. And this is a million times better than Tim Allen’s craptastic flick about another transfigured Santa spirit.

 

 

5. Speaking of spirits who undergo a bit of good old fashioned transfiguring, have ya ever heard of Hogfather? It bothers me a bit that it’s produced for Sky News, so what can you do but get Terry Pratchett’s book and read/listen to that? You should probably check your local library too. I’m sure they’re decorated up for the season! Holiday cheer is like a win-win in this last scenario.

Or you can watch it in parts on Youtube for free in a bit of the old two-fingered Brit salute to Rupert Murdoch, who owns Sky News, unless he’s got shares in Google and is making money off some clicks. I don’t know. I was going to Google it. But then I remembered it’s much easier to type 100 words a minute on a slow day than it is to bother to read and research for everyone reading this little online zine of sorts and essentially do their homework for them.  And since I think everyone should learn something new through their own wit and compulsion, like taking up a new hobby or being inspired into an impromptu act of volunteering, although you may not want Santa’s job, not even once, I’m going to say read up on that on your own time. Also while Hogfather doesn’t really foray into Krampus territory, it does kind of edge close enough to it in some ways. And you might find that remotely satisfying.

 

 

Books

Since I mentioned books in #5, might I suggest: David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice? Anyone who knows, me knows I like bourbon. And do it I love it on ice? Yes. Yes, I do. I also like Sedaris’s brand of dark, sardonic humor. Yet there is a sweetness to his prose, to say nothing of his attention to detail. He really lets ideas sink and seep. Permeate as they penetrate, if you will or as you like it. Would you call it a kind of cadence of cordiality? Undoubtedly. The only thing that could make this collection of twisted holiday stories even more darling is the idea of Kevin Spacey, in his role as Francis J. Underwood – a genteel senator from South Carolina by all accounts, reading these vignettes to you in that giving drawl that pulls you under for a spell.

“All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.”
David Sedaris, Holidays on Ice

Just don’t get on any trains with him. Underwood, I mean. Not Sedaris. Sedaris would be totally great to read on little commutes either on buses or trains. Or maybe during a boring lunch hour. His stories whip by like a short ride home, think: 10-20 min bursts. If you’ve got an extra long ride, let’s say you’re flying home for the holidays – then yes, you could probably read the entire book. If you’re flying internationally, I think this slender tome is a quick read that even the slowest readers will probably zip through it in four to six hours, so you may need other books or diversions on hand too. But that said, Sedaris is very intentional with detail, for these are set pieces and he intends for you to be drawn into this curious world of holiday shenanigans. You may have also heard him narrate bits of it on NPR. Just don’t walk off any subway platforms or in front of any buses when you’re reading this and you should be fine.

P.S. there is an audiobook too.


Music

Speaking of audio: I “love” Christmas-themed music in the same way I don’t particularly care for Enya. Surprised?

Yet I have a family and they want me to pretend as if it might possible to “get into” the holiday spirit. And if what I’m feeling is genuine, and it doesn’t feel like it is killing me with overtly saccharine sentiments, then it doesn’t really feel like a chore to get into a mindset that digs Gingy-themed things.

 

Fred and Friends. This is where you find these things. You're Welcome.

Fred and Friends. This is where you find these things. You’re welcome.

 

Again, not really good at the “faking it till you make it” – espoused by a would-be protege of Martha Stewart on that one reality show she did for awhile. Martha ditched that shit too and in that episode said apprentice/wanna-be “elf ” was sent packing home. Apparently even somewhat “pitch perfect” lives still demand you feel something about what you are doing in order to achieve success, at least in their company.

So what a fitting twist that Hour Of The Time Majesty Twelve (HOTT MT) had their cover of Enya’s Ebaudae included in Burger Records’ Soundcloud stream/holiday compilation.

Starbucks easy listening, contemporary hits suggestions these are not. Not that I’m judging harshly, despite what I said about She and Him, when the album pushers at Starbucks asked Valerie June and Jim James to contribute to their Valentine’s Day compilation earlier this year, it’s not like I was totally immune from this prepackaged, panel tested, and corporation-approved collection. Still didn’t buy it though. And I don’t think I’m listening to it enough to payout even ten cents on Spotify.

That said, Burger Records is for people who like psych rock, folk, pop, who also sometimes dip into the world of hiphop, or get into sometimes synthed-out shiz (this link is for people that like indie tributes to the Velvet Underground), all funneled through a low-fi aesthetic. Reverb is a hallmark of this label too. Garage Rock, some of that as well. Is it punk fueled? Sometimes. Although their punkish stuff usually has an ear candy, poppy vibe – that or whomever is reposting/posting material on the label’s account really digs it. But that’s not what I’m embedding in this list. Rather, I’m amused, after listening to their 2014 roundup, that all of the “Christmas” songs I like most are not actually Christmas songs at all. However, they do fit the following tags: psychedelic, experimental, reverby, dreamy, and doo-wop. They’re also covers.

 

 

For people who want a mix of Kermit the Frog, bluesy folk rock, psychedelia, with some Christmas-themed lyrics, and all that, plus some weird instrumental tracks. See this list too.

 

Bonus stocking stuffer suggestions for December in the OKC metro.

1. Shop local at 2nd Friday Art Walk in Norman or at the 2nd Friday Art Walk in the Plaza. In that vein don’t forget the Holiday Pop Up shops in Midtown either. The Blu Garten is nearby too if you get hungry. And they rotate them out throughout the month as well.

 

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2. Do you have New Year’s Plans? You might consider this burlesque event. If you can’t make it, consider reading Adele Wolf’s “Speaking with Legends” series. Adele Wolf Burlesque and Variety Show also hosts Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art Show events.

 

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3. Other weird non-traditional suggestions?

The Boom holds a great “Gospel Sunday Brunch” and Reduxion Theater’s “Jane Austen’s Christmas Christmas Cracker” runs till Dec 20th and encourages cosplay.

 

This unique, live theatrical experience promises to delight and charm you from start to finish. Sit back and enjoy the pageantry, mischief and frivolity of a Christmas party thrown by Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra in 1796 England. Or take part directly in the action, by dancing and socializing with our Regency costumed characters. Audience cos-play is welcomed!

“This unique, live theatrical experience promises to delight and charm you from start to finish. Sit back and enjoy the pageantry, mischief and frivolity of a Christmas party thrown by Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra in 1796 England. Or take part directly in the action, by dancing and socializing with our Regency costumed characters. Audience cos-play is welcomed!”

 

4. Also if you’re not quite a Grinch at heart, you might consider volunteering your time. It might be as simple as volunteering a few hours to work for the Homeless Alliance or taking on a short stint as a foster home for a pet that needs a place to crash before it can be adopted out to its forever home.  There is also donating coats or hosting donation drives for the Infant Crisis Services. And if you are looking for gifts to give kids with lists, there are kids in foster care who could use a few wishes granted. Or maybe even a temporary home for the holidays.

 

There are places in Norman to drop off donations for Infant Crisis Services too. This photo originally appeared on our 365 Things to do in OKC  and 365 Things to do in Norman Facebook pages.

There are places in Norman to drop off donations for Infant Crisis Services too. This photo originally appeared on our 365 Things to do in OKC and 365 Things to do in Norman Facebook pages.

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