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This article can be found in Issue 4 of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: What Dr. Seuss and Clay Taught Me About Christmas
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As I got older, it was interesting to balance what I thought families did on Christmas with what actually occurred. I, of course, learned that there is no real uniform way to spend the holiday.
Sure, there are some families who deck the halls, decorate the tree, roast chestnuts on an open fire and gather around the piano to sing carols of Noel, St. Nick and winter wonderlands. But on the other hand, there are also people who take food to their room, watch football and spend the day doing their best to avoid the family.
Growing up, Christmas for me always meant two things: Chinese restaurants and movie theaters, two of the only places it’s possible to go on the holiday. Lo Mein on Christmas Eve and a matinee on Christmas Day is an annual tradition for many Jewish families.
Though Hanukkah is a gift-giving holiday in December, comparing it to Christmas is misleading. It just doesn’t have the same mystique – it’s eight days long, takes place on a different week each year and isn’t a work holiday. Hanukkah staples like candles and potato pancakes have their perks, but Hollywood doesn’t make movies about them.
That’s why I always watched Christmas specials and movies, along with my gentile brethren. Even though they didn’t necessarily apply to me, they intrigued me as a kid. In the days before DVRs, DVDs and the internet, I was fascinated with a show or movie that would only air once a year.
Today I’m all grown up, but I still enjoy these holiday traditions. Unlike many, I never had a real Christmas celebration as a child to prove that Frosty and Rudolph didn’t actually come over to the house. I never had to go through the experience of learning Santa didn’t exist because he never came to my house anyway. For me, he always was just the heavy guy in Coke commercials, which is what he’s remained to this day. Around this time of year, it’s nice to think that some things never change.
Marc Ingber is a journalist with Sun Newspapers, based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
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I’ve never conducted a survey, but it’s safe to assume that most people’s Christmas celebrations don’t resemble George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m 28 years old and never has a friend or co-worker recounted his Christmas holiday break to me with a story of every acquaintance he has ever known bursting through the door with wads of cash to save him from financial ruin at the last minute.
This doesn’t mean It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t any good. It’s rightfully considered a Christmas classic, and a sappy favorite of mine from when I was young. But much like a number of other holiday classics I watched as a kid, the subject matter was always a little foreign to me.
I suppose this is natural, considering I’m Jewish and my family never celebrated Christmas. The feeling I had watching movie or TV characters celebrate Christmas is similar to the feeling I have now when I see thousands of Europeans celebrating the World Cup – it’s cool that everyone is so excited and I can be happy for them, but it seems to have nothing to do with my life whatsoever.
Like many kids, I looked forward each year to watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and other Christmas TV traditions. The funny thing is that much of my adult knowledge of “Yuletide” traditions comes from these shows and the Christmas movies and songs I experienced as a kid. Unlike my non-Jewish classmates, none of my encounters with Christmas trees, lights, eggnog and the like came firsthand.
For me, Christmas as a family celebration solely existed in pop culture. When I think of the holiday, I don’t think of waking up extra early and running to the tree to open presents. I think of Macaulay Culkin putting Micro Machines on the floor in Home Alone to thwart would-be burglars or the Grinch sitting at the head of the table to carve the “roast beast”.
Not surprisingly, it can be dangerous to rely on Hollywood, much less cartoons or Claymation, for an accurate representation of Christmas. It’s sort of like watching a movie about high school kids when you are 8 years old – at the time it seems like a pretty accurate portrayal of adolescence. It isn’t until years later when you actually attend high school that you realize not all nerds wear cheesy glasses and not all football players are jerks.
The problem was, growing up I never had a real-life Christmas to dispel the Hollywood-created myths about it. I wasn’t a complete idiot – I realized no one referred to their holiday meal as roast beast or that they were visited by talking clay snowmen who told tales of glowing reindeer and misfit elves who dreamt of being dentists.
But I was never able to reconcile where the strange folktales ended and reality began. The classic Christmas songs, mostly written in old English vernacular, sure didn’t help. I’ve known the lyrics to “Deck the Halls” ever since I was a young kid, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn what a “bough of holly” was until I was 22.
What Dr. Seuss and Clay Taught Me About Christmas,
2010 Vhcle Magazine Issue 4, Life