Great Pumpkin

Among the few things I still enjoy about Halloween is watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on TV.  They usually run it a couple of times, but this year I had my wife record it on DVR so that I could watch it on the weekend when I knew I would have time to enjoy it properly.  I know that I could have watched in online, but it wouldn’t be the same experience as seeing it on a big screen TV with a bag of potato chips and a tall iced tea.  All in all, I suppose it’s become one of my guilty pleasures.

We are now just a couple of years away from the fiftieth anniversary of this classic show.  I wish Charles Schultz had lived long enough to witness that milestone.  Not many performances, live or animated, on the big or small screens, can boast of that magnitude of longevity.

I was pleased to learn that ABC continues to bring in ratings and advertising revenue from “Great Pumpkin” (although not from my wife and I, as we fast forwarded through the commercials, thank you very much).  Well, duh, if it were otherwise, the show would long ago have faded into history and ended up as the subject of an obscure trivia question on Jeopardy.

I noticed the hash tag in the corner of the screen and then read online that the show received a fair bit of traffic on Twitter.  I don’t think anyone could have imagined Twitter, the internet, DVRs or big screen TVs back when the show first aired in 1966.  I am pleased to see that the best of popular culture survives the tests of time and technology.  And I hope that, generations from now, the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the Baby Boomers continue to have the opportunity to usher in the holiday season with “Great Pumpkin” and still find it to be a treat rather than a trick.

A few of the lines in “Great Pumpkin” strike me as rather forward thinking and ahead of their time.  I am particularly thinking of the scene early in the show when Charlie Brown can’t believe that Linus is actually writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin again.  When Linus describes his beliefs regarding the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch and bringing toys to all the girls and boys, Charlie Brown shakes his head and mutters “must be denominational differences!”  Remember, this was written a good forty years before the concepts of political correctness and multiculturalism entered into the public consciousness and vocabulary.

I get a particular kick out of the way that every major character in the show nurses his or her own favorite fantasy.  We may feel sorry for Linus spending the night in the pumpkin patch and having his most fervent hopes dashed once again.  But what about Charlie Brown?  He, of course, is the perennial loser.  He believes that:

  • this will be the year that Lucy finally allows him to kick the football (before falling flat on his face yet again)
  • he will collect lots of goodies when he goes out trick or treating with all his friends (and then ends up with a bag full of rocks)
  • he has finally come up in the world in that, for the first time in his life, he has been invited to a party (before Lucy disabuses him of this foolish notion, noting that his name must have been erroneously taken from the “list of people not to invite”).

But what of little Sally, who remains (at least for a while) loyal to Linus, as both of them freeze out in the pumpkin patch?  Just as Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin, Sally believes in Linus (and thereby loses out on both candy and the Halloween party).

And what about Snoopy, the World War I flying ace, who believes that his doghouse is a Sopwith Camel and that he can chase down the Red Baron?  (At least until he is shot down behind enemy lines in France.)

Even Lucy, smarter than all of them combined and forever cast as the villain, opines that one’s Halloween costume should be diametrically opposed to one’s personality.  The joke, of course, is that she dresses up as a witch.

I like the way that Schultz has Linus compare and contrast the Great Pumpkin with Santa Claus.  Just because GP isn’t as well known as the jolly man in red, he muses, doesn’t mean that the flying squash is any less deserving of his loyalty.

Let’s hear it for equal opportunity cultural myths.

I can hardly wait for the airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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Bridges and Ferries

November has always been one of my favorite months of the year, despite the bad reputation it gets for the bare, leafless trees and the cold winds that serve as harbingers of winter.  To me, November is all about celebrations.

When I flip up the October page of the calendar and stare at glorious November, a goofy grin appears on my face.  The holiday season hath begun!  I feel no compulsion to wait until Black Friday.  I now feel license to put on the holiday music without feeling like an utter goofball.  Granted, I’ve been known to do this in March or August if the mood strikes, but then then it’s a guilty pleasure.  Now I can finally feel appropriate.  And so I revel in the Home Alone soundtrack on my headphones, the precision of the orchestration so incredible that, if I close my eyes, I can see John Williams waving his baton at the horns and strings.

For me, November is a month of anticipation.  As a kid, I would relish the approach of Thanksgiving, an opportunity to stuff myself with abandon.  And right after that, we’d be celebrating my father’s birthday, and you know what that means.  Cake!

Now that I am once again a member of the workforce, November is prized (at least by employees of the State of California) as the only month in which the calendar features three paid holidays.  First, we have the day off for Veterans’ Day on 11/11, then we have not one, but two days off for Thanksgiving.  This represents the only time of year at which I have four consecutive days off without the necessity of burning a vacation day.  That’s just enough time to celebrate with my wife’s family here and then head down to the Central Valley to celebrate with my own family as well.

December may be feted as the premier holiday month, but we state employees have only a single paid holiday then, on Christmas Day.  In every place I’ve worked, there has always been much discussion about the possibility of cadging days off for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  Some of my employers have allowed staff to leave two or three hours early on those days while being paid for the full day.  A few have even expressed their holiday generosity by granting staff a half-holiday, a full four hours off.  I’ve also worked in 24/7 businesses where such largesse is not possible.  That’s when the jockeying for vacation days begins.  Those with seniority put in for those days at the earliest possible opportunity.  When I was a manager, I would have staff make weak attempts at reserving Christmas Eve off some six months in advance.  I’d have to tell them to see me again in about four months or so.

This year, holiday scheduling turned up as a staff meeting subject back in September.  It’s not the eves of Christmas and New Year’s that are the issues this time around, but the days after those holidays.  The calendar informs me that Christmas and New Year’s each fall on a Thursday.  That means that the corresponding Fridays are regular workdays.  Hence, the mad scramble to lock down vacation days and secure two consecutive four-day weekends.

It seems to me that the logical thing to do in this situation would be to treat Christmas and New Year’s just as we do Thanksgiving:  Give everyone a paid day off on the day after.  Say “happy holidays” with the gift of a pair of long weekends and plenty of time to spend with family and friends.

The French have seen the wisdom of this course of action stretching back decades.  Any time a public holiday falls on a Thursday, the next day is a holiday as well.  They call this maneuver faire le pont (“making the bridge”) and refer to the extra day off as le jour férié (“the ferry day”).

I think the French have the right idea.  We often call upon “bridges” and “ferries” not only as a literal method of making physical crossings between the mainland and the islands, but also as a metaphor for making connections between people in a multicultural, multilingual world.  And as we approach the time of year when we bow our heads in thanks and celebrate the joys of family, I urge that more employers consider creating those bridges and ferries that will give their loyal employees the concentrated time off they need to recharge their batteries and remind themselves why they are working in the first place.

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Christmas in September


Hey!  All you last minute procrastinators had better get on the stick.  There are only 102 days left until Christmas.

Before you start pummeling me, allow me to assure you that there is evidence aplenty of the impending arrival of Santa.  In fact, word on the street is that the big man has put on mandatory overtime for the elves on account of the lateness of the hour.

I don’t know what it is that has led me to begin humming bell songs.  You know, the ones about jingle bells, silver bells, carol of the bells.  Ding dong.

At first, I thought it was just the festive atmosphere surrounding preparations for my grandniece’s upcoming birthday party that was getting to me.  She’ll be two years old, so this Christmas will be the first time she will really be able to appreciate all the hoopla.  Last December, she was barely a year old and I don’t think she was able to understand too much about what was going on.

I guess it’s probably the snow that did it.  Sure, here in northern California, the mercury has climbed over 100°F daily for weeks and all of us are dripping sweat and wilting like buds that are past their primes.  But I hear the Rocky Mountains had a pretty good snowstorm last week.  Fellow blogger Trouble Face Mom of Calgary, Alberta (yes, that’s Canada) thoroughly entertained me with her tale of how she dealt with three consecutive days of snow.  She was starting to get depressed, considering it’s only September and officially still summer.  So her family took the only logical course of action.  They put up the tree, roasted a turkey and had Christmas.

What really got to me, however, was a visit to Sam’s Club.  We needed to pick up hot dogs and buns for a church function.  But mostly, it was a water run.  You see, water is always on our minds these days.  Between the ongoing drought, the forest fires and the heat wave, some days water is all we think about.  And when we’re not thinkin’ it, we’re drinkin’ it.  The water here is contaminated, so we purify tap water and still have to buy bottled water.  Cases and cases of it.

I did a double take right after pushing a shopping cart into that cavernous warehouse.  There it was, right in front of the checkout registers.  Artificial trees all lit up in red and green and gold.  The regular green kind and the ones with fake white needles that are supposed to look as if they have been snowed upon.  Globular ornaments that looked like miniatures of the big balls from Wipeout.  Flocking.

You read me right.  Flocking, for heaven’s sake.  Faux snow.  In September.

I know, this is California, we need fake snow because we never get any of the genuine item.  I’d be happy to just get a little of our “poor man’s snow.”  You know, that wet stuff that drips from the eaves and causes (gasp) puddles.  I have it on good authority that the proper name of this substance is “rain.”  This is how I know:  There was a sign posted on the local frozen yogurt shop yesterday, offering a 10% discount on all froyo purchased when it is raining.  Believe me, they don’t have to worry about losing so much as a penny in receipts.

So yes, I do realize that we are supposed to have Thanksgiving and Halloween before José Feliciano begins singing “Feliz Navidad.”  The back to school sales are still going on and the stores are just now beginning to pull out the dusty boxes full of cardboard pumpkins and Indian corn.

My father insists that, back in the day, it was against the law to so much as mention the C word before Black Friday.  So you tell me what a ubiquitous box store is doing with the PVC and LED Tannenbaum displays in mid-September.  The least they could do is wait until after Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, don’t you think?

Well, there’s only one possible explanation for this madness.  Clearly, the stores are trying to remind us to get crackin’ before it’s too late.

After all, there are only 102 days left until Christmas.

Ten Decembers


Inspired by the DP Challenge Ghosts of December 23rds Past and particularly by Jeni’s delightful post Nine Decembers on Joy and Woe.

December 1977

No room at the inn.  Transferred colleges and couldn’t get into the dorms, so lived in a tiny hole in a decrepit, single room occupancy hotel in downtown Albany.  Took the bus back and forth to campus, five miles away, even when the temperature was below zero.  Glad to go home for the semester break.  Bundled up and walked a mile to the record to store to buy the double album Barry Manilow Live to bring home with me.  Planned to take Amtrak down to the Hudson Valley, where a friend would pick me up.  Had to take a taxi across the river to the train station in Rensselaer.  Had the hotel bellhop call me a cab and carry out my luggage.  Became frightened when he started to yell at me.  Later realized I was supposed to give him something called a “tip.”

December 1978

Slacking and slouching my way through college.  Finally got into the dorms and hated living with a bunch of creeps. Accidentally bumped into the dorm Christmas tree and knocked it over.  Hated taking political science courses to please my parents, who wanted me to be a lawyer.  Allowed my mother to talk me into taking Constitutional Law.  Hated it with a passion but was afraid to drop it.  Plowed through piles and piles of mimeographed cases, understanding next to nothing.  Final paper was due right before Christmas, but I put it off until it was too late.  Stayed up all night to try to put something together.  Couldn’t.  Wrote a note to the professor explaining that I am a square peg being forced into a round hole.  Walked across campus to the PoliSci office and gave the note to the secretary.  Told her to tell the prof to just fail me and get it over with.  Walked back to the dorm and went to bed.  Went home for winter break the next day.  Shouted “I hate the Constitution!” in front of my parents, earning a tongue-lashing from Mom.

December 1979

My parents had recently won some money in a lawsuit and purchased a Honey motor home.  The thing slept eight, got nine miles to the gallon and drove like a tank.  Rode down to Florida in it with my parents and sisters.  It was my senior year of college and I figured this would be my last chance to do this.  One of my college friends had taken a shine to my sister, and she really liked him.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t Jewish and my mother was having none of it.  Mom and Sis fought and carried on the whole trip.   My sisters and I slept on chaise lounges on my grandparents’ lanai in Florida.  Sis cried all night and my heart ached for her, particularly since it was my stupid friend who caused this mess.

December 1980

After graduating college with a useless liberal arts degree in May, my job prospects were exactly zero.  My mother was working in Rhode Island, so I lived with her and started taking the courses I needed for a teaching credential.  Took summer and fall classes, but Mom quit her job in November and moved back to New York.  I moved into the dorms (where I lit Hanukkah candles but blew them out after about 30 seconds for fear they would set the curtains on fire or set off the smoke alarm), but when the semester was over in December, my parents said they were done with Rhode Island and I should come back to New York and look for a job.  A few days before Christmas, my father arrived to pick me up.  I cried as we drove away.

December 1981

Quit my first job.  Eleven months on the night shift at minimum wage was enough for me.  I had found another job, so I just called in and quit without notice.  It was a weird feeling, half guilt, half liberation.  On Dec. 8, started working at a huge, stinking chemical plant that I will call Carcinogens R Us.  Thought I had won the lottery because I was making union wage, $8.07 per hour.

December 1982

Threw a thirtieth anniversary party for my parents on Christmas Eve.  Tried to keep it a secret, but then learned that they were planning to fly to Florida for Christmas and had to tell them.  Invited distant relatives whom we hadn’t seen in forever.  Most of them came.  Spent a lot of money on catering but had no music.  My girlfriend, who was also Jewish, kept asking me if this was a Christmas party.  Dumbass.

December 1983

In charge of the Christmas party for our section at work.  There were a hundred of us.  Arranged for the food, but there was no money in the budget for music.  Didn’t have any Christmas music because I still lived at home and, well, we’re Jewish.  Went through my collection of vinyl records and made a party tape using the cassette player on my stereo.  Discovered that a lot of people really hate Barry Manilow.  Was mildly embarrassed when my coworkers kept rewinding the tape to play Gloria Estefán singing “Conga” over and over again.

December 1987

Quit my job back in August to go to law school full-time.  Quickly found that I was in over my head.  I had begun exhibiting agoraphobic tendencies a couple of years before and started having full-blown panic attacks as exams approached.  At Christmas, foolishly decided to ride to Florida with my parents again, with yet another girlfriend along for the ride.  We were staying with my grandparents while the girlfriend was staying at her father’s house down there.  My sisters had wisely flown the coop.  Mom hated everyone on my father’s side of the family and hated my girlfriend even more.  She decided to take it out on me.  Endured ten days of listening to Mom scream, yell and curse at me.  Never rode to Florida with them again.

December 1988

My parents drove to Florida by themselves.  I stayed up at law school in Massachusetts.  I was renting a room along with several other law students in a huge house owned by empty-nesters.  They invited me to stay for their family Christmas and I eagerly accepted.  Their four children came home for Christmas with their spouses.  The depth of the pile of gifts around the Christmas tree staggered my imagination.  It took hours to open them all on Christmas Eve.  My landlord’s son-in-law referred to this exercise as “death by presents.”  I just called it awesome.

December 1990

Quit my job as a clerk (Do you see a pattern here?) when I realized the temp-to-hire position was all temp and no hire.  Also because I had failed the bar exam once already and figured I’d better study full-time for a couple of months if I were to have any chance of passing in February.  Also because I was sick and tired of the boss and his secretary imitating my parents by having daily screaming matches with each other.  The first Gulf War got underway in Iraq and I was horrified.    Wrote my first letter to “any soldier.”  Wrote an anti-war poem and had it published in “Yellow Ribbons,” a tiny local mimeographed piece of shit.  Wrote another poem titled “Daddy Hates Chicken.”  My agoraphobia worsened and I tried to stay at home as much as possible.  Of course, “home” was still my parents’ house, where I figured I’d have to live til I was old and gray.  Had multiple fights with my girlfriend (who still lived with her mother) because she didn’t know how to explain to her friends that I wouldn’t go places.  Memorized the causes of action for all the intentional torts and wrote one practice essay after another, lying on the blue carpeted floor of my childhood bedroom.



black ribbon

What a lovely Christmas Eve at my sister-in-law’s house.  My 17 year old niece and her friends played Twister out in the garage and then got on the karaoke machine to do their best rendition of “Mary, Did You Know?” and a number of popular country songs.  Two of my niece’s friends are sisters, and they brought over a kitten who, surprisingly, was not too panicked with all those people about.  Our tiny feline friend managed not to get her tail stepped on until she finally decided that discretion is the better part of valor and squeezed under the TV cabinet, where she hid for the remainder of the evening.

Aside from bite-sized Hebrew National hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough (I can’t bring myself to refer to them as “pigs in a blanket” since they’re kosher) and a ton of sweets, my sister-in-law made her excellent guacamole again.  We watched the movie “Elf” while we passed around microwave popcorn and the two babies in attendance.

My nephews spent part of the time assembling my grandniece’s Christmas gifts.  A large number of presents sat under the tree, and I suspect that most of them have the little one’s name on the tag.  Opening of gifts will proceed in the morning.

I was so glad to be able to enjoy this very pleasant antidote to an experience earlier in the day.  WordPress saw fit to Freshly Press what I consider to be an important blog, but one that is difficult to read without becoming overly emotional.  It is jarring indeed to realize that while we are enjoying our merry Christmas, there are families for whom that opportunity has been violently yanked away.

I highly recommend the blog The Parker Five, particularly the post Evil Did Not Win.  I won’t give away all the content here, but I will say that this blog is written by the parents of one of the children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut this time last year.  Please take a few moments to watch the video at the link above.  Have a box of tissues handy.

I cannot forget my personal associations with Newtown, as irrelevant to the tragedy as they are.  I had never heard of Sandy Hook School prior to the horrific events there, nor did I know anyone involved, but I did live about ten minutes away for several years before moving to California.  In fact, you could say that Newtown was something of a hangout for me, particularly the C.H. Booth Library on Main Street and the Newtown (Blue Colony) Diner, just off Interstate 84.  When I made a last-minute decision to leave the area in 1995 (to escape an unhealthy relationship), I had to leave most of my personal belongings behind.  Among the few prized possessions that I have retained until this day is a novel purchased at a book sale at Booth Library.  The diner served me countless breakfasts at three in the morning after I got off work.  And after I relocated to Waterbury and Hartford, I always appreciated the free coffee and pastries passed out by Newtown residents at Exit 10 to help keep travelers awake and alert.

Even though I had already been gone from the area for a lot of years at the time of the murders, I still get a spooky feeling that is hard to describe when I hear the place names, streets and landmarks associated with the Newtown tragedy.

I can’t begin to imagine the experience of losing a child in an instant, nor what it is like to have Christmas come around with an integral piece of your heart missing.  I’m not sure whether I agree with the authors of the blog that evil did not win this time around.  But even if evil took the battle, it has surely lost the war.  The support that has flooded into Newtown and the memorials throughout the world are proof of that.

Now that a year has gone by and the events of December 14, 2012 no longer make headline news, it is easy to forget.  We have experienced so many violent tragedies here in America in recent years (from Columbine to Virginia Tech to the Aurora movie massacre and beyond), that it is easy to become jaded.  We seem to have no choice but to harden our hearts to prevent going totally insane.

And so I respectfully suggest that there is a cure for this.  Subscribe to the Parkers’ blog to find out the real effects of gun violence on a family and a community.  Let them take you to a place from which there is no return.

In memoriam – Emilie Parker, age 6 (2006-2012)


Merry (Jewish) Christmas


So.  Christmas Eve already, huh?

Having grown up Jewish, I harbored mixed feelings about Christmas for many years.  Even now, after fifteen years of marriage to a Christian woman whose mother pastors an evangelical church, Christmas doesn’t come naturally to me.

As a child, my family did its best to ignore Christmas even though it was, of course, happening all around us.  We had candle-lighting and latkes on Hanukkah, but we kept it very low key.  None of this eight nights of gifts stuff that is so popular now.

We lived in a suburb of New York City that had a very large Jewish community.  The public schools remained notably neutral, with holiday decorations almost nonexistent.

Then, in my junior year of high school, my mother took a job in the central Hudson Valley.  We had only moved about fifty miles away, but it was a bit of a culture shock.  Suddenly, I was in a high school that had tinsel draped across the hallways, colored strings of blinking lights, Santas, reindeer and the whole shebang.  I was a little uncomfortable at first, but my heart sang.  This was just so beautiful and it made me smile.

This was a huge high school (it was a quarter of a mile from one end to the other and was populated by well over 2,000 students), and I had heard a rumor that there was one other Jewish student in attendance other than my sister and myself.  I never did meet him.

I kept running into walls that I didn’t know were there.

When a fellow student asked me which was my favorite Christmas carol, my answer was something along the lines of “Um…”  Does Maos Tzur count?

I tried out for and was accepted into the school’s musical theater production.  One day I noticed that everyone seemed to have disappeared before a rehearsal.  As I went around looking for my cohorts, I opened a door and found them all crammed into a room holding a prayer meeting.

I made an effort to explain about being Jewish, but it was too foreign of a concept to resonate with my fellows.  I did my best to fit in, which wasn’t too hard since the holiday season was upon us and I was thoroughly enjoying the Christmas spirit.  I tried to remember not to mention this at home.

When my wife and I were married, we made a conscious decision to “keep things neutral.”  No crosses or Stars of David.  No Christmas or Hanukkah decorations.  This worked out just fine for a number of years.  Then my wife’s niece came to live with us while she was in high school.  My wife felt she had to give her a Christmas and I completely agreed.  We unpacked my wife’s boxes of tinsel.  We found a tiny artificial tree that fit well in our apartment.  And I caught myself smiling again.

I have long believed in the value of multiculturalism.  When I first moved from the east coast of the United States to California, I didn’t know what a tortilla was.  But I learned.  Somewhere along the line, I also learned most of the words to “White Christmas,” “O Holy Night” and a lot of other Christmas songs.  And I don’t think anything of eating tacos with my kugel.

But you know what?  This past Sunday was the second consecutive year that I was present for the annual Christmas service at our humble little church.  And this was the second consecutive year that I represented our extended family by singing songs in Hebrew.  Last year, I stuck to Maos Tzur, but this year I performed an Israeli folk song and a much-beloved melody from our Sabbath synagogue service.  By the comments I received, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my wife and I traveled to the Central Valley to spend Hanukkah with my family.  And tonight, family and friends will gather at my sister-in-law’s house (with its beautiful Christmas tree) for popcorn, hot chocolate and Christmas movies.  Don’t be surprised if the board games come out and someone cranks up the karaoke machine.  In the morning, we will open gifts while the Christmas music plays from the docking station in the living room.  Later on, we will have Christmas dinner.

And I know I am going to enjoy every last minute of it.

Peace on earth, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Ten Christmas Favorites

xmas music

Today I’d like to share a list of my favorite holiday music, in no particular order:

Melissa Etheridge, “Christmas in America”

Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping” (guess I’m a sucker for happy endings)

Carpenters, “Merry Christmas, Darling”

Madonna, “Santa Baby” (clever remake of a classic)

Drifters, “White Christmas” (First released in 1954 and now familiar to many from the first Home Alone movie.  By coincidence, just today my New York City bloggy friend posted a delightful video of her daughter’s school group singing this.  You can check it out on Too Many Spiders.)

Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy” (from A Charlie Brown Christmas – I love this entire album)

Boston Pops, “Sleigh Ride” (Something about the horses’ hooves clip-clopping and the whip snapping takes you there.)

Dolly Parton, “Hard Candy Christmas”  (Okay, somewhat maudlin, but nowhere near as bad as “Me and Little Andy.”)

Toby Keith, “Santa, I’m Right Here” (It’s hard to believe this is from 1995.  If this video doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, you have a Grinch heart for sure.  Courtesy CMT and YouTube)

Kenny Rogers & Wynonna Judd, “Mary Did You Know?”  (My wife introduced me to this several years ago.  Just gives me chills every time I hear it.)


And a runner-up just for whimsy:  “Have a Funky Christmas” performed by boy band New Kids on the Block.  (Thanks, Spotify!)  This tune now qualifies as an oldie, as it was released a quarter of a century ago.  Gah!  Now I really feel old.

Happy holidays!


The Day After Christmas


My niece and nephew picked out a lovely tree.

It’s definitely Christmas.

I know this because my mother-in-law has already baked a peach cobbler and a fruitcake today and also made up food boxes to provide Christmas dinner to two local families who are desperately poor, one with three children and the other with seven.

Pastor Mom had already purchased turkeys and made up food boxes for two other needy families.  But then this morning, the needs of two more families who are unfamiliar to us came to our attention.  My wife and mother-in-law took off on a moment’s notice for an unplanned Wal-Mart run.  We need a couple more turkeys and ten pound bags of potatoes.  Must get more oatmeal packets and cookies.

One of them reportedly had nothing in the house for the kids to eat.  We know that their Christmas dinner will come early and that they will have to work on finding additional food for the big day on Wednesday.

And I thought I had problems.

Funny how Christmas has a way of putting things into perspective.

I think it’s wonderful how Christmas is known as “the season of giving.”  We all wish to be wise like the three kings of Orient and offer the finest things we have to those in the humblest of circumstances.

Okay, some of us forget.  In the hustle and bustle of the days leading up to Santa’s arrival, we may focus on getting the perfect gifts for our loved ones wrapped and under the tree, or on beginning preparations for the perfect holiday meal.  I suggest that we ought to pause in our exertions long enough to think of those who have nothing.  Those who don’t have to worry about what’s under the tree because they have no tree and wouldn’t have money for gifts even if they did.  Those who, in another time, may have had the pleasure of bedding down with the animals, or say, enjoying yet another packet of Top Ramen for dinner.

I know.  It’s easy to become jaded.  We are subject to too many requests for handouts.  They come to the door, wheedle for contributions at work, ring annoying bells in front of Target.  We don’t have enough to even make the kind of Christmas we really wish we could for our own families, and now every time we turn around we have to deal with people trying to make us feel guilty enough to fork over what little we have.

We’re already under enough stress as it is, and we wish the beggars would just stop already.  Don’t they know we’re doing what we can?

Oh, and don’t even get started on the scruffy characters who stand with tattered signs at the end of the freeway off-ramps where they have a captive audience waiting for the light to turn green.  Half of them have bicycles or dogs or even jackets, for heaven’s sake, so you know they’re fakers who aren’t really homeless.  They hang out in the same spots all year, lying in wait outside the fast food restaurants, but then comes the holidays and they write Merry Christmas Please Help on their signs.  What do they think we are, idiots?  We know blatant guilt-tripping when see it.  They’re not interested in food anyway.  All they want is a 40 and a blunt.  Don’t waste your money on that heap of trash.  Look straight ahead and keep driving.  Society’s detritus spread out before us like some kind of freak show when all we’re trying to do is earn a living and get to school in time to pick up the kids.

Truly, we’re doing the best we can.  But people just don’t get it.  Talk about living in an acquisitive America with Christmas marred by commercialism.  Everyone wants more, more, more, even the filthy drunks and transients.

As for those truly in need, aren’t there programs out there to help them?  Where are the food banks and the churches?  Let them do their jobs.  Most of the beggars are addicts or mentally ill or the product of their own bad decisions, so they are beyond help anyway.  There’s really nothing we can do for them, so don’t waste your time and money.

Yes, the charitable organizations are running at full tilt.  The bi-county food bank is having a big giveaway tomorrow.  There will also be a free meal on the church lawn on Saturday (along with toys for all local kids who show up).  We’ll make sure that the members of our little community in need have a decent Christmas on Wednesday.

But it’s not Wednesday that concerns me.

It’s Thursday.

The day after Christmas.




Today was Friday, the thirteenth.

But now it’s midnight, and it’s the fourteenth of the month, so it looks as if I made it through yet another one of those scary, spooky days unscathed.  And with a minimum amount of blood to show for it.

I’m safe for another six months.  We won’t run across a Friday, the thirteenth again until June.

I don’t know what it is about the combination of this date and day of the week that makes people want to stay in bed and pull the covers over their heads.  It just seems so silly.  I think it must have something to do with all those Freddy-Krueger-in-a-hockey-mask movies my sisters went out to watch with their friends when they were teenagers.

The number thirteen is itself supposed to be unlucky — again for reasons that may be rooted deeply in historical (hysterical?) myth, but still unfathomable to myself.

I think thirteen is a beautiful number.  I hope that doesn’t make me evil or something.

In my faith, thirteen is the age of majority, the age at which young men achieve the status of bar mitzvah and are held to adult community standards of responsibility.  It is also the number of children fathered by Jacob in the Torah.

Thirteen is also a baker’s dozen (a thing of beauty in a bagel shop) and a prime number (a thing of beauty everywhere).

So I think that all those suffering from triskaidekaphobia are missing out on some good stuff.  But it always gave me a lot of laughs, growing up in New York City, standing in the elevator of a skyscraper and noticing that there was no button marked with the number 13.

The thirteenth of December puts us squarely in the middle of the Advent and is thirteen days until Christmas.  Which reminds me of the most hilarious version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” I have ever heard (performed by Indiana University’s a cappella group, Straight No Chaser), which you can listen to here.  Thanks to my wife for this one!

Meanwhile, I have Perry Como crooning “Home for the Holidays” through my headphones and I am looking forward to enjoying Christmas with my wife’s family less than two weeks from now.  Finally, we won’t have to drive 1,300 miles round-trip to pull off this trick.

And when I hear Doris Day sing “Be a Child at Christmas Time,” I will think of how blessed we are to be able to experience the holiday with my one year old grandniece.  She gets so excited any old time we walk through the door that I can’t imagine how she will react to dozens of gifts and a living room magically transformed into a sea of red and green wrapping paper.

Pass the fruitcake, please.


Festivus or Pfeffernüsse – Take Your Pick

festivus pfefferneuse

I learned something today.

I was listening to a local radio station in the car while my wife was in the post office when I heard the announcer say:  “Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Festivus and happy Kwanzaa!”

It was one of those taped greetings that are played throughout the broadcast, and I wasn’t paying close attention.  But once I had processed what I had just heard, I did a double-take.

Um, excuse me?  Hanukkah?  Festivus?

I’m sure this greeting was recorded weeks ago and was the radio station’s (weak) effort at being “inclusive.”  But really!   Hanukkah has been over for more than a week.  I wonder what kind of strange looks I would get if I were to wish someone merry Christmas sometime, say, during the first week of January?  I’d expect him or her to say “aren’t you a little late, bucko?”  I’ll have to do some experimental research on this one a few weeks hence and get back to you.

And what the heck is Festivus?!

Hanukkah is the winter holiday that I grew up celebrating, and it would be hard to reside in the United States and not be aware of Christmas.  Kwanzaa I learned about back in the nineties; after all, the seven-day festival was created by a college professor right here in California.

But Festivus — well, I have to admit that’s a new one on me.  Not being one who enjoys ignorance, of course I had to look it up.

I could hardly believe what I was reading.

Apparently, Festivus is a “fake” holiday based on “The Strike,” an old episode of the TV show Seinfeld.  I have to admit, I get a kick out of the phrase “fake holiday.”  While it falls short of oxymoron status, I believe it qualifies as a non-sequitur.  How can a holiday be “fake” if there are some who actually mark the occasion and participate in its traditions?

If you don’t know anyone who celebrates Festivus, that makes two of us.  However, a Festivus pole composed of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans is about to be
erected in the Florida State House alongside the menorah and crèche.  So you tell me who’s on first.

By the way, Festivus is celebrated on December 23 — coincidentally, also the date of National Pfeffernüsse Day.

Among those participating in Festivus are “secularists” seeking to call attention to their position that the U.S. Constitution requires a more complete separation between church and state.  Reports are that some atheists (I have recently started seeing the phrase “nontheists”) are adopting Festivus as an alternative to religious winter holidays.

Among the things I have learned is that the family of Dan O’Keefe, one of the writers of Seinfeld, had an alternative holiday tradition during his childhood, which he embellished for the show.  The rhyming tag line was “Festivus:  For the rest of us!”  The idea seems to be a parody of religious holiday traditions with particular emphasis on rebellion against the commercialism to which Christmas has succumbed.

The symbol of Festivus is a plain, unadorned aluminum pole, which appears to be an alternative to the candelabra of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and the Christmas tree.  In the Seinfeld episode, Frank Costanza says he “finds tinsel distracting.”  The starkness of the pole fits in with the theme of objecting to commercialism.

O’Keefe states that the family Festivus celebration of his youth also included “a clock in a bag,” the significance of which he cannot recall.

The “Festivus miracles” pointed out at the holiday dinner, a parody of the miracles in the Hanukkah and Christmas stories, can be any coincidental or everyday occurrence upon which one of those in attendance chooses to remark.

Festivus events appearing in the Seinfeld episode include “feats of strength” and the “airing of grievances.”  The former involves the head of household challenging a guest at the Festivus dinner to a wrestling match.  The holiday celebration is not done until one of the guests successfully pins the head of household to the floor.  As for the “airing of grievances,” those gathered are supposed to gripe about the specifics of each other’s conduct that has disappointed and annoyed them during the course of the year.

In light of the above, it appears that Festivus is not complete until invective is spewed, everyone is crying and someone is rushed off to the hospital for the treatment of wrestling injuries.  Sounds like good will toward men, wouldn’t you agree?

Et in terra, pax.



Chumley, Cheryl K., “Christmas secularists get 6-foot beer-can Festivus pole at Florida State House,” Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2013.

FestivusWeb – Comprehensive description of origin and traditions of Festivus, including song lyrics.  Includes the script of the Seinfeld episode “The Strike.”

Salkin, Allen, “Fooey to the World:  Festivus is Come,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 2004.

Wikipedia article:  “Festivus” –