Happy Holidays! A Special Post Dedicated to My Family and Friends

Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope your butterballs are roasting in the oven, your presents are wrapped and under the tree, and your choir has sung all those beloved Christmas carols off-key. I’m writing this in the comfort of my friend Tani’s mother’s home in Rochester. Different from my hometown establishment, but nonetheless cozy and warm. Tani and her mother have been a wonderful support system since I moved to Minnesota, and because I can’t fly back for the holiday season, they have invited me to their place. They are truly two Godsends in my life, and I’m grateful for their hospitality and love.

As already established, I’m about two thousand miles from my hometown of Hanford, California. I have missed two family Christmases at this point, and I can’t help missing my family and friends within our time apart, especially around the holidays. I wish them a safe and pleasant Christmas, and I send lots of pleasant, festive cheer their way. Despite missing them dearly, I’m grateful of the new Christmas memories I’ll make here in the Midwest and stories I will cherish over the years. In an effort to ward of the holiday blues, I’ve decided on a whim to list my favorite holiday traditions. I hope it will remind you to appreciate your traditions and possibly consider new ones. Though if you want to keep chugging that eggnog from that inherited punch bowl, I’m not stopping you. Have at it.

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5). “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW DON’T @ ME

I can’t not love this film. Sure, it’s dated, cliche, corny, and the message can sometimes feel contrived and forced, but C’MON! James Stewart is at it in one of his most melodramatic roles (cutting it close to Hitchcock’s Vertigo) as George Bailey. Additionally, Donna Reed as his devoted wife adds to the film’s heart, how the ones we love never truly give up on us and love is a everyday struggle to uphold. I suppose those themes, devotion and reliance on the unshakable bond of family, win me over.

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It always warms my heart every time I watch it, and those themes are heartfelt and resonate with anyone who has questioned the impact of his/her existence. Again, particularly when Clarence leads George through his gloomy alternate reality, the story’s moral can be heavy-handed. Well, so is A Christmas Carol, which It’s a Wonderful Life is arguably its loose, modern retelling. It’s a Christmas fairytale relying more on emotionality than the actual story, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that. How else did The Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables gain their popularity? I’m just saying their are worst Christmas-themed films. Say, a seventy-minute snoozefest of Kirk Cameron preaching to Darren Doane in a cramped SUV.

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The film’s legacy as a Christmas classic is sound and mild-mannered, and it doesn’t annoy me like Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story (though this one is pretty funny). It’s not cynical, shallow, mean-spirited, or emotionally-manipulative. Well, okay, maybe the latter adjective is sometimes true, but the film as a whole is still timeless to me. I’ve yet to grow tired of James Stewart bellowing “MERRY CHRISTMAS” with infectious exuberance, so for now, I’m still tuning in.

4). Mannheim Steamroller’s 1984 Christmas album

It’s not truly Christmas until I hear the first cheesy, synthesized chords of “Deck the Hall”. No, really. The world can have Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, but I refuse to delve into my inner Clark Griswold until I hear Mannheim Steamroller.

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And what’s more Christmas-y than an ‘80s pop-ballad cover version of “Deck the Hall”?

I suppose I like this one because I’ve heard it every single Christmas as a child. I’m certain most of our traditions are linked somewhat to their repetition, especially the ones that irritate us. Mannheim Steamroller is the “cool” equivalent of David Hasselhoff wrapped in a Trapper Keeper. It’s not too serious yet not ridiculous as most trends. The act’s rendition of “Deck the Hall” is dated, sure, but it’s a glorious blend of cheese and sincerity that’s too infectious to rebuff. In addition, “We Three Kings”, the “Coventry Carol”, and another pop-ballad rendition of a beloved carol (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”) help this album stand out from the white noise of Christmas albums that artists are obliged to make. Along with the Chipmunks Christmas record and a Straight No Chaser album from a decade ago, this is what plays in my house. Outside the house, an occasional track makes an appearance in some department store which is fine with me. I can only withstand a certain amount of Mannheim Steamroller.

To be fair, however, I understand why people wouldn’t find Mannheim Steamroller appealing during the season. It’s dated. It’s a specific taste. Arguably, it isn’t as timeless as I would hope, but I have no shame. It’s treasured too much to consider it a guilty pleasure. Absolutely no guilt. And I’m okay with that. Listen to what you prefer, whatever fills you with that seasonal cheer. Just don’t mind me as I nod along to the “Coventry Carol” in my own holiday bubble.

3). Enchiladas

This is a recent one, but it’s one I instantly associate with Christmas. In the middle of college, I decided to become a pescatarian (no meat except seafood), and my parents searched for something to make as an alternative to the staple ham-and-turkey spread. That was my introduction to mashed-potato enchiladas.

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It’s a simple recipe, and it’s not a spectacular extravaganza. Just mashed potatoes wrapped in corn tortillas with spicy enchilada sauce. My mom usually brushes it off as some cheap dish, yet I’m a fairly simple man. Somehow, she added her personal touch to this common Hispanic cuisine. To quote the Beatles, love really is all you need.

Eventually, they changed the recipe to diced potatoes, onions, and cheese, which works just as well. I’ve never look at enchiladas the same way since. That’s not an exaggeration. Every time the word “enchiladas” surfaces in any conversation, I’ll think about that recent Christmas when my mom made mashed-potato enchiladas. At the very least it’s a delicious meal that’s satisfying and doesn’t have meat in it. A strange recipe, sure, but it was made of love. Love is all you need, folks. It can’t be said enough.

Try it, if you’re searching for a culinary adventure. Love it or hate it, it’ll certainly be an unusual dish.

2). Can of Olives

I’m certain there are some traditions, in every family, that are obscure enough to defy explanation. Reason and origin are unnecessary don’t think about it just eat it or drink it keep smiling keep shining do what you must and don’t mind me rambling on about random stuff mind the gap…

For my immediate family, this is the one. Every Christmas, my parents would give my brothers, my sister, my niece, and me a can of olives. To this day, I don’t know why this tradition exists or who started it. I’m certain I asked my parents at one point, but I can’t remember their answer. As much as I want answer, and I’m sure it isn’t as significant as I expect, I prefer to remain clueless.

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I mean, they’ll make excellent toppings to my enchiladas, but I find more comfort in the gift itself than the intent or purpose. It has been two years since I’ve received a can of olives for Christmas, and I’ve noticed the slight void induced from that unfulfilled gift. Heck, I’ll probably purchase a can at Hyvee just so I can reminisce about my youthful days when I would open that cylinder present and listen to the sloshing can as I shook it, too young to understand the tradition. In a way, perhaps that’s why I’m okay not knowing about the tradition’s origin. It’s my feeble attempt to hold onto a sliver of my youth. And with that can grasped in my hand, I’ll reiterate Patti Smith’s angsty mantra of retaining my vivacity, how I’ll always be so young.

1). Picking Oranges

The most impressionable tradition this time of the year.

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My church has a line of orange trees lining the part for of the property’s cement wall separating the adjacent neighborhood. I’ll never forget those gorgeous green leaves and the faint scent of the orange blossoms throughout the year. I would always anticipate Christmas morning when my parents and I drive to the church, admire the serene stillness of the day, families snug in the houses with their floors flooded with torn wrapping paper, and here I am, trekking through the chilly December air for those tempting citrus orbs.

We would usually take two or three bags, whichever amount we could eat. And these are not the softball-sized oranges you would find in Target or Hyvee. These are mush-ball, larger-than-your-hand sized oranges. Not to mention sweet, juicy, succulent, and tasty. Similar to the mashed-potato enchiladas, it’s simplistic, yet it’s a treasured memory. Even as I write this, I look forward to the next time I wander to that line of trees and those branches laden with juicy oranges. I hope my family keeps up with this ritual and fills the house with a citrus aroma lasting through January.

So there it is. My five favorite Christmas traditions. With that said, Merry Christmas to you all, stay safe and warm, have a glass of champagne for me, and don’t eat too much fudge.

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And may God bless us. Everyone.

AR

Born and raised in CA. Film, literature, music, poetry, mostly gay/queer/GSM topics. Stick around if I haven’t bored you yet.

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