The Calm Before The Holiday Storm

My wife made the comment just this morning: “Can you believe it’s just a little over two weeks until Thanksgiving?”

After decades of going through this ritualistic season, you’d think we’d be better at it. But like clockwork, you’ll hear the same things, year after year:

  • “It’s too early to decorate for Christmas”
  • “I’m waiting until after Thanksgiving.”
  • “Your holiday party is that night, too?’
  • “Outside decorations are up. That’s all you’re getting this year.”
  • “When are we getting the tree?”
  • “Are we doing cards this year?”
  • “When’s the mail deadline?”
  • “I haven’t had time to shop!”
  • “I’m so stressed out!
  • “How am I ever going to get all those presents wrapped?”
  • “I can’t believe it’s over.”

Seriously, you’ve heard ’em all before. But I do have to say, in spite of our really busy personal schedules with work tossed in, I think I’m doing a decent job of actually enjoying the holiday season. I do have over-achieving as a goal, but somehow each year I pull it off and it’s just about time to fire up the engines again.

Here’s my collection of annual holiday “duties” I thrust upon myself. (because I know that one day, I’ll look back and remember when I used to do all this)

The N.A.C.C. Julebord–I began attending this when I married Victoria, the uber-Norwegian. It’s an annual lunchtime gala at the Seattle Golf Club that is decadent and extremely fun. Within a couple of years, the elderly emcee had to give up the microphone and I was called into service. I think this is my 6th Julebord (pronounced YULE-uh-BOARD). It’s actually a pretty cushy gig and let’s me get being a goofball out of my system. I do a brief monologue at the beginning which evolves into me doing a parody song about something. Then it’s just keeping the event moving along, with songs, door prizes and a tad bit of drinking.

SANTA CLAUS ARRIVAL AT BOTHELL’S COUNTRY VILLAGE SHOPPING CENTER–I believe I’m in my 14th year (at least) of hosting this event. My evening duties begin at 6pm when I stroll the village dressed up like a town crier, “Hear ye! Hear ye!” bell and all, announcing that Santa Claus arrives at 7pm.  Back when I started, Santa’s sleigh actually flew in on a wire, but eventually, the liability became too much. I’ll never forget the year that someone parked right in the flight path and I led the crowd in a “Tow that car!” chant until they eventually did. Longest 25 minutes of my life. The event means even more to me because we’re down to the final two Christmas’s where I’ll be doing this. The village has been sold and after the 2018 Santa arrival, the place will become history.

THE NORWEGIAN LADIES CHORUS OF SEATTLE HOLIDAY CONCERT–What I love most about this is I just have to show up. I usually go up in the rafters and videotape the concert and, much like country village, this could be a limited-time tradition. Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church in Ballard–where we were married–is going to be undergoing a massive renovation in the near future, which includes taking down the choir loft.

Those first three events happen in order on the first weekend of December–Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I also take on–

MY ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CD–The days of it actually being a CD are limited as well. In fact, only a select few will be burned this year, as the world moves towards digital music. This will be my 17th edition of “HO HO BROTHER”, which features fun, festive and funny Christmas songs, along with some original comedy bits from either my radio past, or new ones. If you’d be interested in getting this year’s collection, just let me know and I’ll put you on the naughty list.

MY ANNUAL CHRISTMAS MUSIC VIDEO–This is probably the most ambitious thing I do and I need to get going on it. I hooked up with a young singer named Alana Baxter some years ago and we have done a series of silly Christmas songs, complete with video. Now, since she has relocated to Hawaii, it’s made the task even more challenging. So what we did last year was to record this year’s song. I’ve got her voice track.  I’ll just have to round up some video and be creative and then we’ll have another one to add to the collection. Her song is also usually included with my Christmas CD collection. If you’d like to enjoy some of our previous works, here you go!

“It’s Silent Night”           “He Rides a Sleigh”            “I Won’t Hate You Very Much Tonight (It’s Christmas)”           “Where are You Christmas?”

Add to all that the holiday shopping, the annual parties, a Bothell Wine Walk, watching some favorite Christmas movies, getting out the Christmas cards (we’re STILL doing that) and everything else that crops up and yes, we are heading into one, busy, festive season.

But as I said, there will come a time when I’ll be reflecting back on these days and all of this will be nothing more than my ghosts of Christmas past.

So, I’m just going to enjoy the heck out of them while it’s all a part of my present.

Ho, friggin’, Ho!

Tim Hunter

A Visit From #1

christmas-tim

For as long as I can remember, watching “A Christmas Carol” has become a mandatory experience every December.

Last night, we watched the George C. Scott version. Christmas cannot arrive without experience my favorite version with Alistair Sim. The Jim Carrey animated one was better than I thought it would be.  There’s also the original 1938 rendition with Reginald Owen. Patrick Stewart, there’s a Mickey Mouse version, even “Scrooged” with Bill Murray dances around the plotline: a jaded person is changed by being visited by three spirits. (four, if you don’t include the messenger, Jacob Marley)

Spirit #2 was sent to make Scrooge more aware of the world around him in the present day. Spirit #3 had the job of showing him what would happen if he didn’t change his ways. The best job of the trio–Spirit #1. In the days before home movies, he showed Mr. Grumpy Pants those special moments of his life that he had pushed away.

I like to imagine the stories that Spirit #1 would show me, if he ever pays me a visit:

The year of the train set.  When my parents decided I was old enough, they went to Sears and bought a scale model train set. I don’t remember if it came on the board, but my dad took a sheet of plywood, mounted the tracks and painted grass and a lake in the middle so that I could watch it go ’round and ’round.

The year of the bike. I was old enough to ride, so the Sears replica of a Schwinn Sting Ray (can you tell, we were a Sears family) showed up one year, compliments of Santa. It’s a stretch, but I can remember using the planter out in the front of our house to gain my balance and launch off down the street.

The year of the no hockey set. I remember clearly asking Santa in my letter for a hockey set. You know, those table-top things that you played by sliding rods and twisting them. It looked so fun on TV. The kids were smiling and laughing. But Christmas morning, no hockey set. Thinking about it, that could have been one of my uber-naughty years. Never mind.

Going to church. Yeah, we spent a lot of time there. Every Sunday. Every Advent service. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day. I have to say, there’s nothing more torturous than waking up to see what Santa brought you, seeing a pile of presents under a tree and then having to wait until after church to open them. It did make the gift-giving last longer, I suppose.

The Snow Man Family. We lived in southern California. I’d bet that we spent most of our Christmas Days in 70-degree weather. But one year, my dad bought some designs (kind of like McCall’s for men) that you glued on to plywood and then mounted in your front yard.  He made a snowman, snow woman, two snow kids and a snow dog. And to make it even cooler, he bought fiberglass snow.  You’d roll it out on your lawn and it would look like snow. Well, it did the first year. You couldn’t walk on it, or it would get the snow dirty. And even then, after a couple of seasons, it looked more like old snow and we eventually tossed it out and just planted the family in our grass.

I’m excited because a couple of decades ago, I bought the same pattern, but never got around to making my own Mr. & Mrs. Snowman. In between all the madness this year, I’m attempting to bring them to life by this weekend. I’ll let you know if I succeed next week with pictures.

The Holiday Food. OK, we ate well as kids, especially in the Christmas cookie department. My mom made some incredible treats, and I’ll try to remember as many as I can:

  • Chow Mein Noodles. Sounds weird, but imagine chocolate or butterscotch-covered chow mein noodles with Spanish peanuts thrown in. Pretty tasty.
  • Coconut Balls. Chocolate-covered shredded coconut and I seem to remember an edible wax being put in the chocolate to help it firm up. No wonder I can put a wick in my mouth and it’ll burn for a week.
  • Peanut Butter Rolls. Taking a break for a moment from covering everything in chocolate, these were made with powdered sugar and mashed potatoes. Then, once you have that rolled out, you spread peanut butter on it, roll it and then slice it. The peanuts gave it protein, so it was a healthy snack.
  • Pfeffernusse. I think that’s the name. Kind of a ginger-bread cookie, apparently German-style, covered in powdered sugar. They weren’t my favorite, but I believe it was my grandmother’s recipe, so I had to honor the tradition. I should be thankful I wasn’t Norwegian. It could have been chocolate-covered lutefisk.

As for the main course in Christmas dinners, it was either a turkey or some kind of special Yugoslavian ham that dad was able to get through his work connections at United Airlines.

After growing up and having a family of my own, I did experiment one year when I was going through a serious Dickens phase, and actually prepared a Christmas goose along with oyster stuffing. It became known as the year nobody ate except me.

The Doll House.  Now, I’m one of the parents. The Great Idea Department thought it would be a wonderful surprise for our daughter, Christina, to wake up to a spectacular new doll house. I mean, on the box, it was beautiful. But to aid in the surprise, we waited until the kids went to bed before opening the box to assemble it.  That’s when we realized it was more of a model, than a toy. I’m talking individual shingles that each needed to be glued to the roof. I believe we went to bed that year around 3am.

OK, the ghosts of Christmas Present and Future got tired of waiting and left. But actually, who needs ’em?  If you live in the present, that puts Ghost #2 out of work and really, Ghost #3 is just trying to scare you from a worst-case syndrome. If you’re living in the present, as you should, you’re in control of your life and the future will happen as it should.

Thanks for letting me drag you along through these holiday home movies and may I encourage you to set up a meeting with Ghost #1. I’ve already nabbed him for another appointment next week. Grab him before he gets too busy.

Merry Christmas.

Tim Hunter

 

 

Christmas Is Up To You

Santa in Hammock

I’m guessing that, with Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, this blog is probably my last in 2014. I’m pretty convinced the world won’t spin off its axis, that it’ll still rain in Seattle and you’ll have watched at least one of the versions of “A Christmas Carol”. (the 1952 Alistair Sim version is really the only version)

So, with that buried deep in my sub-conscious, I’m being more observant of all the things going on around me. I’ve thought about going several directions with this piece and I’ve decided to go in all of them.

Today, I was at the Post Office, trying to get out my parents and sister’s Christmas package in the mail so that it would arrive before the big day. I walked in, saw a HUGE line at the in-person desk (with only two clerks), but there was a six-person wait at the automated machine. No-brainer. I get in the line, waited….and waited for my turn. I was almost there, when the person ahead of me informed me that the machine was full and could no longer do packages.

So, I headed over to the in-person line, which was even longer than when I first arrived. About ten minutes into that, the person who had been in front of me in the other line came over to give me the good news: the machine was working again AND there was no one in line! By the time I had taken care of the postage, I was in and out of there in less than 25 minutes. These days, that’s pretty good.

To my next story.

Without going into the “who”, I saw an acquaintance yesterday that I knew had been having health issues. Here it is, the “happiest time of the year” and she was one of many people having to deal with real life. This particular friend had spent last week getting medical treatments. This week, she was home, but you could just look at her and know things weren’t right.

The other day, I got a call from a friend, going through her first Christmas without her husband of 38 years.

Then there’s the tradition that was rekindled this morning, when I record “A visit with Santa Claus” with my radio buddy Bryon Mengle for his radio station back in Iowa. Something that I wrote and that is most likely heading to next year’s Christmas CD.

That’s another cool tradition. For the 14th year, I’ve put together a compilation of Christmas songs and comedy bits for a CD I call, “Ho Ho Brother.” This year’s edition is “Ho Ho Brother 14.” In all those years, I’ve only used the same version of a song once. Otherwise, every collection is different. I thought, for a while, about just offering it as an audio file, as CD’s are this close to extinction, but I know too many people on my list that still use that technology.

I’m rambling. But where I’m heading with all this is that Christmas happens during life. There will be ups and downs. I’ve got a dad who is failing in health and may not see another Christmas. This is the year to make it count. To enjoy every carol. To watch the amazement of kids when they meet Santa or rip open that present on Christmas Day. To realize that being happy and hopeful and full of dreams is a much-preferred way to live.

As I wrap this up, terrorists from North Korea forced Sony Pictures to stop the release of a movie. A fictional tale of an attempt on the leader of North Korea, but an idea that was crushed by international bullies.

So, what’s next?

I’ll tell you what’s next. Next Wednesday night, millions of kids around the world will find it hard to sleep because they don’t know what Santa will leave for them and what he’ll put in the stockings they left out.  Will he take a bite of that cookie they left on the hearth? And drink the glass of milk?

It’s Christmas. Let it be a magical time for you and yours.

And then, come December 26th, we’ll get back to dealing with all that real world stuff.

Merry Christmas.  See you all next year.

 

Tim Hunter

The Immaculate Misconception

Shelley baby

It’s nothing new.  Go back to the Charlie Brown Christmas special of the 1960s and you’ll hear Linus complain about the over-commercialization of Christmas.

What’s true now, was true then and has probably been the reality since Christmas began, YOU determine just how commercialized it gets.  When it rains outside, its raining, that’s it.  It could be pouring in Tacoma and drizzling in Everett, but there you sit in-between, in your house, dry as a bone.  It doesn’t mean it isn’t raining, it’s just not a part of your experience at the time.

Use that analogy with Christmas.  Are more people using the holiday to boost their business?  Absolutely.  Does it affect me?  Only if I allow it.

When you say “commercialize Christmas”, are you thinking that anything that encourages spending more during this time of year is wrong?  I can hear Joseph saying to the Three Wise Men as they pulled up, “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not commercialize my son’s birthday.  By the way, he’s not really my…..oh, never mind.”  Or, the more recent, “Don’t bring that tree in this house!  You’re commercializing Christmas!”

Who gets to draw the line when it comes to excessive celebration of the holiday?  Is it wrong to look forward to that Christmas episode of “Modern Family?”  Should I boycott the “Holiday Zoo Lights” at the Woodland Park Zoo because animals having Christmas lights is over-doing it?  My view— bring on the 5-yard penalty for excessive celebration.

I’m a firm believer that there are two Christmases.  One, a celebration involving a jolly height-weight proportionally challenged nice guy who is the center of the celebration.  The other, a reminder about an event thousands of years ago that changed the world.  I also am a big believer you can easily embrace both.  Again, it entirely depends on you.  Go with the extremes, find the middle and that’s usually where you’ll find me.

Do you see just the exploitation or the celebration?  The generosity or the opportunism?

Christmas happens inside you. The feelings, the strength, the excitement of the day and the season around it can be so uplifting if you allow it.  Those stores open on Thanksgiving, trying to fan the flames of commercialism, don’t affect you if you aren’t there.  Choose to embrace those moments that sooth your heart: stopping at the mall to watch kids visit Santa, dropping just a few coins in the kettle of a volunteer bell-ringer, opening the day for someone with their arms full of packages.  December 25th can be just another day or a focal point where you reboot your outlook on everything.

Christmas is out there. It’s up to you what and how much you bring in.  My suggestion–see the good and grab as much as you possibly can.

Merry Christmas.

Tim Hunter