The week leading up to Thanksgiving is the time when the sunlight takes on its pre-solstice quality, where it’s never quite direct, and becomes a kind of twilight by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The weather really takes a turn for the cooler side, and it becomes hot chocolate time. My ideal cup of hot chocolate consists of a generous portion of peppermint schnapps. This is also the time when egg nog appears on store shelves. I’m always astounded at the number of people who despise this heaven in a cup, or those who cut it with milk. I even know someone who mixes it with 7-Up. Friends, the only way to drink egg nog is pure and ice-cold. If the snot-like consistency makes you squeamish, it is permissible to stir in a spoonful of your favorite brown liquor (I prefer E&J brandy for this purpose. A bourbon or blended whiskey is also acceptable.) For those with unlimited budgets, Budd’s and Southern Comfort produce top-notch nogs. Producer’s Dairy and Crystal offer good mid-priced brews. Avoid thin, under-spiced store brands.
I usually take an hour or two in the days before Thanksgiving to watch two classic Thanksgiving-themed TV episodes: The Bob Newhart Show episode where everyone gets drunk and orders Chinese food (“More moo goo gai pan”) and the Cheers episode that culminates in a food fight. Since I have both shows on DVD, I no longer have to sit in front of Nick At Nite or Fox 40, waiting and hoping for these to air. (Not that Fox 40 ever shows Cheers anymore. God, no. Not when there’s a quadruple helping of Everybody Loves Raymond to be had! Jesus, what a repugnant pile of coyote shit that show is. And I don’t think Nick At Nite even exists anymore.) Two or three days before Thanksgiving is time for a screening of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, which needs no introduction as the Best Thanksgiving Movie Ever (see the Holiday Comedy article in Issue 2 of the Idle Times zine for more eludication.)
Thanksgiving itself is usually pretty low-key with me. I’m very thankful for everything I have, blah, blah, blah, but the strongest feeling I have toward Thanksgiving is that anyone who refers to it as “Turkey Day” should be shot on the spot. Sometimes my extended family has a big get-together, sometimes they don’t. I could always take or leave the Macy’s parade. (I dig the big-ass balloons, but the song-and-dance stuff isn’t my bag.) Because of the hit-or-miss attitude of my family over the years, back in my married days I was content to let the wife dictate Thanksgiving plans, since her family got together annually without fail. (Hers being a family of mostly non-drinkers, I was forced to operate the car bar, a large ice chest full of Moosehead or Heineken in the trunk of my car for the exclusive, secretive use of myself and other like-minded members of the holiday gathering, parked beyond the puritan gaze of party-pooping teetotalers.) When I do manage to get to my extended family’s Thanksgiving, it’s usually a fairly laidback, booze-and-football oriented type of gathering.
At this point, everything begins gearing toward the Mother of All Holidays, Christmas. Although I am a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, I enjoy Christmas to an irrational degree. The week after Thanksgiving is when I begin making my Christmas music mix. Ever since I discovered free Napster back in 2000, I have been downloading holiday classics. The CDs I made for various family members have been praised as the best selection of Christmas songs they’ve ever heard. Classic and contemporary, I appreciate it all. I even like the Jesus songs. (Except for that super-maudlin “Christmas Shoes,” a vile, oozing canker of a song that makes me wish the songwriter and/or performer a painful death via impalement, disembowelment, or surprise attack by large tropical rodents. Not in keeping with the holiday spirit, so I simply avoid the damn thing.)
Now in the age of iTunes and 24-hour Christmas music stations on the radio, a little steam has gone out of my yearly project. Instead of mix CDs, I try to create the ultimate Christmas iTunes Playlist. Building on the previous years’ work, I add, subtract, re-listen, and re-evaluate. Is Perry Como’s or Bing Crosby’s version of “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” the “definitive” version? My latest addition to the mix: Phil Spector’s 1963 A Christmas Gift For You, featuring the Ronettes and the Crystals doing high-volume “wall of sound” versions of Christmas songs. Highlight: Darlene Love’s rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. I admit all this with a mix of pride and embarrassment. (One of the most embarrassing purchases of my life: 99 cents for an iTunes download of a children’s chorus singing “Up On The House Top”.)
The Friday after Thanksgiving is the day for putting up the Christmas decorations (except for the tree, which goes up the second weekend in December.)
My birthday comes within a week or week and a half after Thanksgiving. I’m generally pretty uncomfortable at parties, and haven’t had a birthday party since I turned 11. These days it’s just a quiet dinner with family, a few new DVDs and books, and back to business as usual. I try to downplay it…but not to the point of missing out on the new DVDs and books. As I’ve come to appreciate Christmas more for its atmosphere and high spirits, my birthday is really the only time I get to rake in a few things I haven’t yet bought for myself that year.
Part 3: Christmas — coming soon