Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Auntie Alison's Christmas Spectacular

Well hi there.

I admit, I am a little woozy from all the Bailey's I've had tonight. Although I must stay vigilant enough to keep the kittens from destroying the Christmas tree. Which is in my bedroom! And taller than me! And makes my bedroom smell like a pine forest! 
Just LOOK at this damn tree.
Try to ignore the bad lighting job though. 

I'm not sure when I turned into such a Christmas nut; it sort of crept up on me slowly. I should say that I'm actually more of a Christmas anticipation nut, since most of my joy is actually derived from the weeks leading up to Christmas rather than the actual day itself, culminating in the rapture that is Christmas Eve. I swear I feed on the excitement that's floating around in the air. The joy sharply diminishes for me once The Big Day actually rolls around. 

Christmas Eve always means dinner at my mom's with a loveably ragtag collection of Christmas orphans and eccentric friends (last year it was at my place, but the same principle applied.) I highly recommend gathering together  a small group of people who've never met before and watching what happens. It's always been sweet, odd, and sometimes really fun, depending on who all gathers at my mom's place since it's never the same two years running. A couple years ago I randomly invited a woman I only slightly knew from my days up north because she happened to be in town; she turned out to be a delightful addition to the party. One year it was the couple who were my bosses in Barkerville, plus a roommate (and ex) of mine; another year an Israeli Jew who is a theatre lighting designer-slash-Christmas orphan... The point, of course, is not to simply collect amusingly eccentric people, but to mix things up a little but (or a lot) every year. Fresh blood is essential. After all, do you really want to hear Uncle Albert's off-colour stories for the 10th year in a row? You do not. 

I am extra-lucky, because I get three weeks off around Christmas, so I have plenty of time, if not a great deal of money, to really get into the spirit of things. (Perhaps too much, if my tightening waistband is anything to go by.) It also means that I am soppily yearning for my boyfriend to whisk me to a cozy bar for hot toddies after a frosty walk, whereas he is trying mightily to squeeze money out of his online gallery  and ship out last-minute parcels before business drops off. I can sit on my bed drinking Bailey's, blogging, and listening to Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas album for the eleventy-millionth time by the light of my adorable Christmas tree (true fact: I am doing all of those things right now.) 
But hey! My sweetie managed to squeeze in some time with me today, and we took an ear-freezing walk along the Fraser River while the sun and the temperature went down together, and airplanes roared across the river at the airport. We even managed hot, alcohol-spiked coffees at the Milltown Bar. Because you know the best thing that's happened so far this Christmas season?

Well now, hold up. We have to backtrack a minute. You see, every Christmas aficionado has a very specific list of things that make their season perfect. For example, some people's Ideal Christmas List might include: 

  1. Listening to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" on repeat, plus swooning over every Christmas album Michael Buble ever made
  2. Watching Love, Actually with a box of Kleenex at the ready
  3. Getting 'lucky' at the office Christmas party
  4. Plastic christmas trees that fold up neatly into a box for the other 11 months of the year
  5. Spending Christmas Day surrounded by every.single.member. of their extended family, even though they don't actually like many of them, because It's Christmas And That Is Tradition 
  6. Flying off to a hot country where Christmas may or may not be celebrated at all.
And while I am not here to judge you for any of those choices (just kidding! I am so judging you right now!) my Ideal Christmas List includes:
  1. Listening to Wham's "Last Christmas" on repeat (even this version, which is twisted magic), and also lots of classical Christmas carols from the land of my people, which is England, of course. Because other than Wham!, Christmas music should have stopped being written at around 1920.
  2. Are you fucking kidding me, Love, Actually? This movie is so gross on so many levels that I won't even go there. (This Jezebel article does go there. Brilliantly.) My favourite crappy Christmas movie of choice is The Family Stone. Diane Keaton being tough and funny and tragic! Sarah Jessica Parker as an uptight, neurotic bitch! Rachel McAdams as the tomboyish  family rebel! The gay couple consisting of a deaf guy and a black guy who adopt a baby for maximum political correctness! As you get drunker: Scrooged. If you really overdid it: Bad Santa. 
  3. I don't mean to brag, but my office Christmas party was spent not with Bob-from-Accounting drunkenly trying to slip his tongue in my mouth under the mistletoe; but instead with some of the coolest musical cats in town. My boss told me repeatedly how great she thought I was; we ate a shit-ton of delicious nibbles; and the night culminated in a drunken jam in which I played the ukulele bass, the vibraphone, and the djembe, because my 'office' is a kick-ass music school. 
  4. I want my tree to smell so good, the cats are drawn to it like moths to a green, needly flame, compelled to nibble at low-hanging branches until I forcibly eject them from my room. Plastic's what your credit card and yo' mama's face are made of. Not my tree. 
  5. This year, my Christmas Day will be spent with my boyfriend, and my boyfriend's female BFF,  a cool kitty who pours the vodka with a terrifyingly liberal hand. 
  6. My roommates/brother and sister-in-law have actually done the tropical-country-Christmas-thing on several occasions, and they loved it. I admit I was in Hawaii one December, and really enjoyed watching the Christmas deccos vying for attention with the palm trees, but when I jetted back home into a cold snap (this was about 3 years ago), I was delighted. Christmas means one thing. And guess what we got this year? 

SNOW. In Vancouver. Can we take a moment to appreciate just how rare this is? 

Jay takes a moment. While standing on some snow. In minus-4 degree temperatures.
A huge sacrifice on his part, this walk, considering he was a) incredibly busy and
b) is one of those Vancouverites who actually loves the warm and rainy weather. 
The morning it snowed last week, I actually got dressed and went out at 7:30am just so I could coo over the freshly-fallen white stuff and stumble around in it for 90 minutes. The fact that it's still here, kept here by a freakish cold snap, is a bloody Christmas miracle. It won't be here by the 24th, I've reconciled myself to that. But it's enough that it came, and that it stayed around for a while, which warms my Ontario-born heart even as it freezes my fingertips. 

But wait! It gets better! Is all this Christmas making you jaded? Are you feeling frazzled? Spending too much time at the mall? Lost the magic? Auntie Alison has some suggestions for you:

Music? Watch my friend (and fellow-Reptiles band member) Noah Walker drift moodily around Metrotown Mall while lip-synching his song, "Shortest Days of the Year". This one's for all the cynics, as Noah sings lines like "It's just the shortest days of the year/That's all this ever really was", and other myth-busting reasons why Christmas is really NBD, all while sneakily shooting a music video in one of Vancouver's busiest malls as passers-by do the totally Canadian thing and studiously ignore him. 
Also? live music, people. I saw a carol concert by musica intima last night that just blew me away, and they have several more concerts this month. Do yourself a favour and buy tickets now. I have several friends who dislike Christmas carols because they have no faith and dislike organized religion. To me, they're missing the point. I know that Christianity has visited terrible atrocities on the world. It's also given us some of the most incredible art, architecture and music in existence. This is the sound of pure wonder. Is it diminished because I don't happen to believe in the mythology that inspired it? Not to me. 

Decorations? IMHO, few stores do Christmas better than Welk's on Main Street. And if you're looking for genuine vintage touch, slip across the street to Baker's Dozen Antiques and pick up a few slightly battered glass ornaments from the '40s, '50s and '60s. 

Shiny balls at Baker's Dozen. You know you wanna.
Performances? Vancouver is lucky enough to have two productions that tip their hats to tradition while also being straight-up wacky Vancouver. 
Bah! Humbug! sets Dickens' A Christmas Carol in the Downtown Eastside, which would be genius enough. Add in beloved performers like bluesman/actor Jim Byrnes and sets designed by local artist Richard Tetrault and you've got grubby, gritty magic. 
The East Van Panto has also become a tradition, skewering all our east van obsessions: yoga, biking, organic food, political correctness... the list goes on. With music by east van's Queen of Quirk, Veda Hille. 

Shopping? I know. I haven't walked around in your shoes, 'cause I just have to buy prezzies for a couple of people. Literally. But dude. If you're still buying 30 presents you've gotta ask yourself why. And if you really can't cut back on the number of gifts you have to give, then for god's sake do the duty-buying online (I love these guys for fun stuff) and get thee to a craft market for all the stuff you're buying for peeps you actually love. There are so many, all around town, starting in November. 
Heaven. For me, anyway.

I have friends who are indifferent to Christmas, or even actively hate it. They have really good reason to, some of them. They've been traumatized by abuse; worn down by family obligations/discord or by overwork; made weary and wary by loneliness and isolation. I acknowledge their distaste/loathing, but while I hope I can be sensitive to their feelings, I will not be ashamed of mine. 

I am also very aware that all and indulgence is a huge luxury denied most of us; also that things like drinking water, safety, and basic human dignity are things denied many of my fellow humans while I go to carol concerts and get misty-eyed over manipulative seasonal commercials. 
I am hesitant to suggest too many organizations without being better-informed, but I donated to Doctors Without Borders this year, and I hope to be able to negotiate the thorny path of charity more often in the future, as my own earnings modestly increase. 

At heart, I am a pagan. I worship lights, music, friends, food, trees, mulled wine, lazy days off, snow... and the sense of wonder and magic that lies underneath all of those things as we fight through the coldest, shortest days. If those things don't do it for you, don't summon a shiny feeling in your soul, then I wish you the strength and the imagination to find something that does. 

Merry Christmas, whatever that means to you. 

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