Merry Christmas, Now With Music

Trans Siberian Orchestra

Trans Siberian Orchestra

I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas to end what has generally been an awful year. So I think a bit of uplifting music is in order for this magical day.

I first heard of the band “Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) from some people in my carpool, about eight years ago. Hearing them rave about this group got me curious, and I purchased my first TSO album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.” I was immediately hooked. I’ve since picked up two other albums by this group, (one Christmas album, and one rock opera) and I remain in awe of the power of their music.

The two TSO Christmas albums mix renditions of classical Christmas music mixed with their original work. Their music speaks to me in a way very few singers do.

I joined the Navy at the ripe age of 17 and celebrated my 18th birthday in Navy Boot Camp. I ended up stationed on my first submarine in San Diego, California, on the opposite side of America from the rest of my family. After several years other members of my family migrated out to California but for the first few Navy years, I spent my holidays alone. Christmas was usually the loneliest holiday as all my married shipmates spent the day with their families, which left single folks like me to fend for ourselves. This meant Christmas in the barracks or (once I turned 21) at the designated local bar. Some years I volunteered to take a duty day for one of my married shipmates so they could be at home, and I could spend my day onboard my sub around the only people I then knew. 

The TSO song “The Old City Bar” brings me back to my early Navy days of not having any family around. I can’t listen to it without bringing back strong memories of my first few Christmases in the Navy. For this Christmas, after a horrendous year that was witness to the wholesale government-directed looting of our country and citizens taking increasingly sharp sides over who we are as a nation; I think this song is worth listening to.

So here is a live rendition of TSO’s incredibly powerful Christmas song “The Old City bar.”

Merry Christmas everyone. May the coming year bring us peace. 




The Trauma of Jingle Bells

Santa Claus Hat

Santa Claus Hat

This is a story about being permanently traumatized by the Christmas song “Jingle Bells.” Actually, it wasn’t so much the song itself, but the events surrounding the playing of “Jingle Bells.”  Fair warning; this “Jingle Bells” Christmas story involves topless women and beer but is otherwise considered Family Safe, unless you don’t want your kids to grow up to become sailors. 

Christmas of 1995 I was on board the Aegis Cruiser Port Royal (CG 73), on deployment in the western Pacific. This was my last deployment, in fact I already had my retirement papers approved and scheduled to transfer off in a couple of more months. The ship pulled into Hong Kong, then still a British colony, for Christmas liberty. As luck would have it, my in-port duty rotation left me free on Christmas eve, so with my buddy Joe we headed over to the mainland district of Kowloon to explore. 

This was my first time in Hong Kong, but Joe had been there before and knew the good places to hang out. After a few hours of gratuitously playing tourist, we headed over to the “Red Light District,” famed for its topless bars and other sailor hang outs.

I quickly learned that “topless bars” in Hong Kong meant something very different from the US. Here in the US “topless bars” involve mostly youngish women dancing on a stage in various stages of undress in front of men drinking alcoholic beverages.  Apart from the alcohol, women help separate men from their money by allowing the men to slip dollar bills into the minimal G-strings panties the women wear. Dance music normally comes from a jukebox, paid for by the men, which is another way for the bar to separate men from their money. 

Or so I’ve been told. 

This is not how topless bars in Hong Kong worked back in 1995. The topless bars were typically run by elderly women referred to as “Mama-San,” allegedly a respectful title for women who ran topless bars and other dubious types of establishments. The other members of the bar staff were young women wearing form-fitting shorts and tops that displayed their mostly ample figures. Mama-San would serve drinks from behind the bar while the young women would sort of “prance” on a small stage behind the bar, fully dressed, to music coming from unknown sources within the bar. 

The only person who ever took off their shirts were the Mama-sans.

Now, as a certified old person I respect that there are older women who look awesome without their clothes. However, the Mama-Sans I met in 1995 Hong Kong were not among them. The Mama-Sans would only take off their shirts if there were customers in the bar, and when the bar was empty would get dressed until the next customers ventured in; possibly as a means of sparing their skin from excessive public exposure. 

As this was Christmas eve, and Joe and I were starting the bar circuit early, we wandered into these topless bars as the only customers. As the bar’s Mama-San saw us walking in she would quickly strip off her shirt and the young women would hop on the stage. Music would magically start playing, and the women would start to prance. We’d order beers and sip them while topless Mama-San leaned up against the bar and chatted with us in Chinese-flavored English. The music would play continuously and young women were obviously in good shape, as they could continue to prance on their stage for as long as we were in the bar.  

At first the music tended towards Chinese versions of then-current US pop music, which wasn’t bad. But as the afternoon worn on, the bar music changed to “Christmas” music, chief among them being “Jingle Bells” sung by women in Chinese-flavored English. The repertoire of Chinese-Christmas music was apparently quite limited as “Jingle Bells” played about every third choice, and I honestly don’t remember the other songs. 

By late evening, apparently in honor of rapidly approaching midnight hour, all the bars started playing “Jingle Bells” on continuous-loop and the bar women all donned red and white Santa Claus hats.

By midnight we had hit probably a dozen different topless bars, having a beer or two in each one  along with bar snacks composed of Chinese mystery foods. In each bar the scene was the same.  I began to feel as if I was in a scene from the movie “Ground Hog Day.” While walking between bars we could hear “Jingle Bells” blaring from the establishments. The world was shifting around me and my mind started going numb.

At some point that night the excess beer, elderly topless Chinese women wearing Santa Claus hats, young fully dressed Chinese women wearing Santa Claus hats, and Jingle Bells sung in Chinese-flavored English playing on continuous loop overloaded me and the space-time continuum converged with alternate parallel universes and permanently etched my psychic. 

To this day, I cannot listen to Jingle Bells without reliving a Hong Kong topless bar Christmas extravaganza. 

 

Updated: December 29, 2016




A Christmas-Time Vacation

Vintage Travel Poster Puerto Rico

Vintage Travel Poster Puerto Rico

Winnie and I decided we needed to do something different for Christmas this year. Our Christmases past have normally revolved around either staying at home in quiet celebration, or visiting family. This year, we gave each other a Christmas vacation trip to Puerto Rico.

Traveling at this time of year has typically been difficult for us as Winnie worked many years in retail. More recently she was working as a Personal Care Assistant (PCA), and neither job offered much chance for a holiday season vacation.  This year, she took a leave of absence from  PCA in early October, and didn’t see herself getting a new assignment until after the holidays at the earliest. So in early November we made plane and hotel reservations for a four night stay in old town San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

I found a decent hotel right in the middle of old town San Juan named “Da House,” which had decent reviews and affordable prices. I quickly learned that Christmas in Puerto Rico was peak tourist season and pricing reflected this. Winnie did some research on flights, and found us non-stop red-eye specials from Dulles International. Our schedule had us leaving Monday December 19 at about 10:00PM, arriving Tuesday December 20 at about 3:20AM. We’d leave Saturday December 24 – at about 3:00AM and land back in Dulles at 6:20PM.

It was a way to get there and back, and reasonable rates. 

Beyond these basics, we didn’t make any plans as we (I) prefer to take things as they come when traveling. That usually works out ok.

Arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Da House Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Da House Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

So Monday December 19 I did a day’s work at the office, came home, loaded up the car and we headed to Dulles Airport. We lucked out  with non-flight-canceling weather and our plane took off as scheduled. Winnie can literally sleep anywhere, anytime; but I cannot. So she slept well on our fight while I alternately dozed and stared out the plane’s window. We landed right on schedule, got our checked bag, and caught a taxi to our hotel. I had called the previous day to confirm that the front desk was a 24/7 operation, so we had no problem getting registered and to our room. Where-upon we got to bed at about 5:00AM.

We (I) dragged ourselves out of bed a few hours later, washed up, and went exploring in search of food and adventure. The front desk manager had given us a tourist map of the old town area when we checked in, and we saw we were literally in the heart of everything old town San Juan. We found a restaurant a few blocks from our hotel and had brunch at a lovely , then headed back out to explore.

Castillo de San Cristobel and Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Winnie at Castillo San Cristóbal

Winnie at Castillo San Cristóbal

We were right next to the Castillo de San Cristobel (San Cristobel Castle) National Historic Site, which loomed over that entire part of old town. So we headed there next. We ended up spending the day exploring first the San Cristobel Castle, then Castillo San Felipe del Morro (San Filipe del Morro Castle) at the opposite end of old town, and everything in between. 

This fortress system is incredible, easily surpassing every fortress complex I’ve seen anywhere else including in Europe. Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, we walked around the entire structure. I was a picture-taking fool of course, and Winnie was seriously enjoying herself as well.  Once we wore ourselves out walking and taking photos, we found a small restaurant and had dinner. I investigated the local Rum Punch, and determined that what the Puerto Rican version of this drink lacked in the variety of fruit juices was more than compensated for by the amount of rum it included. 

Beach Day

Boca de Cangrejos Beach, Puerto Rico

Boca de Cangrejos Beach, Puerto Rico

Wednesday we hit the local beaches. Boca de Cangrejos Beach (offering rest rooms and life guards) was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. I had really wanted to do some bicycling on our vacation trip, but lack of planning caught up with me. Tuesday evening I had called a local bicycle rental outfit that delivered bicycles, and discovered they didn’t have much in the way of not-reserved bicycles. Winnie has short legs and needs a small bike. This was peak tourist season for Puerto Rico. They did have a couple of bikes available on short notice, and met us Wednesday morning on a no-commitment basis to see if the bikes would work for us. Unfortunately they didn’t have anything that worked for Winnie.

So we walked to the beach. My excellent sense of direction took us the wrong way and turned a 30 minute walk into three hours. On the flip side, we saw a lot more of the old town area and Castillo de San Cristobel. Winnie wasn’t too pissed… We finally found the beach and spent the next several hours in the water and laying out in sunny 80+ degree weather. 

We caught lunch at a local hamburger place that was an adventure all in itself, and back to the beach for a few more hours. Then back to the hotel to clean up. We tried to reserve a rental car for the next two days but I quickly learned that every rental car on the island was already booked, on account that this was peak tourist season for Puerto Rico. So we made reservations for an eight-hour tour of El Yunque National Forest and Luquillo Beach for the next day through “E&B Tours.” Then we found a local supermarket and Winnie stocked up on fruit and healthy snack foods for us. We bought take-out and had dinner on the fourth-floor rooftop terrace of our hotel, enjoying the night breezes and views of old town.

El Yunque National Park and Luquillo Beach 

Thursday morning our tour guide picked us up nearby our hotel precisely at the agreed-upon 9:00AM time. Our vehicle was a one-ton van holding a max 14 people, and we ended up with 12 and our driver/tour guide.   Once we had all fellow adventurers on board we barreled on down to El Yunque National Park rain forest.

El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the US National park system, and a relatively new acquisition to the National Park system. We started at the visitor center, where our guide told us to check out the center and come back to the van. 

La Mina Falls, El Yunque National Park

La Mina Falls, El Yunque National Park

After the visitor center, we drove up to the top of the mountain, turned around, and came back to the trail head for La Mina falls. Our driver/guide let us out and pointed up the trail, explaining the falls and wading pools were a 20 minute hike up. So our group headed up and did find a beautiful small falls with wading pools at two levels of the falls. 

Our group hung out for a while, taking pictures of the falls and each other, while trying not to fall on the muddy trails and rocky wading pools. We finally made it back to the van, wet and charged up from the experience. Our guide then brought us to Yokahu Observation Tower for a visit and more pics. After we had our fill here we pulled into a local roadside “restaurant” and souvenir shop. I had a local Puerto Rican dish of rice with chicken and beans, pretty tasty, while Winnie had a tamale-looking Puerto Rican specialty.  After our lunch break we continued heading back down and stopped at La Coca Falls for more photos. This falls was right along the road so we didn’t need any hiking, just fighting other tourists for photos on the rocks of the falls.

After La Coca falls we headed down to Luquillo Beach, a 20-some minute drive from the park. Once at the beach our driver/guide announced we had an hour and forty-five minutes to hang out at the beach, and left us there. Winnie and I spent the time in the water, laying out on the (warm) sand, and hiking along the surf line checking out the scenery. At the appointed time we returned to the van, waited for the rest of the group to arrive, and returned to our hotel. 

Cruise Ship "Norwegian Gem," San Juan piers

Cruise Ship “Norwegian Gem,” San Juan piers

We cleaned up, rested, and went back out for dinner. We found a lovely outdoor seating area to eat, then walked around and explored the night-time old town area. The cruise ship terminal was close by and we spent some time admiring the majestic ships tied up at the piers. Afterwards I spent a couple of hours up on the roof-top terrace drinking beer and again enjoying the night breezes and views of old town.

Homeless in Old Town San Juan

Friday morning we had breakfast at a wonderful quirky restaurant called “Carthage Express.”   The food was excellent and served by a scale model railroad train that ran on a track around a central seating area. Background music was Arabian Rai, and the decor was strongly Arabic. We ended up talking with the owner for a bit, who explained his model railroad system as a German-made “G” scale system.  He was obviously, and justifiably, proud of his restaurant.

We had to check out of our room by noon, but our flight wasn’t leaving until 3:00AM the next morning. So we went back to the hotel, packed up, and arranged for the front desk to hold our checked bag for the afternoon. Winnie and I went back to Boca de Cangrejos Beach and spent the afternoon swimming, laying out, and having a beach picnic. That afternoon we picked up our check bag at the hotel, had dinner, and dragged our luggage back to an ocean overview to once again enjoy the evening air. About 9:00 we caught a taxi to the airport, worked our way through the USDA/TSA security gauntlet, and found our gate.

Once again the weather Gods were smiling on us and there were no flight delays home. We landed right on schedule at 7:20AM Saturday morning to rainy 38 degree weather, about 12 hours after enjoying warm sand Caribbean beaches. 

I decided that we really needed to make a Puerto Rican trip again. 




A Very Charest Christmas

We had a very different Christmas celebration this year. In the past we’ve normally celebrated Christmas at home, with the exception of a few years in a row when we went up to Mom’s house in New York. Staying at home was the preferred option as the Charest family is currently spread out from Washington, California, Tennessee, Northern Virginia, and on out to Wales. However, this year the stars aligned and we all descended upon Tennessee for a family reunion Christmas celebration.

Mom moved down to Tennessee this past summer to be around my sister Melinda and her extended family. My brother Howard, with his wife Pam and daughter Katie, decided to fly into Tennessee for a few days over Christmas to visit. Then my other brother Jeff, currently studying at Cardiff, Wales, also announced he was coming back to the ‘states for Christmas. From there, it was a given Winnie and I would be coming down to Tennessee also.

We drove to Mom’s new house in McMinnville, Tennessee, Tuesday December 23. It was a pleasant 11 hour drive, but the time change to Central time caught us by surprise so we actually drove an hour longer than planned. By the time we arrived at Mom’s house Howard’s family and Jeff were already there. My sister Melinda and her husband Lazlo live right across the street from Mom and Howard and Pam was staying with her. Jeff was staying with Mom, so we all got together and had an intro reunion that evening. It was the first time since Dad’s funeral in 2004 that all five of us were together at the same time.

The next day, Christmas Eve, started slow with everyone sleeping late and then a lazy breakfast, then doing gift wrapping. About 10:00 Melinda, Howard, and Pam congregated at Mom’s house and we did the best Charest imitation of getting organized. Melinda explained that her daughter Melissa was hosting Christmas Eve dinner for all but didn’t know what time the party was starting. Winnie and I, along with Howard and Pam, needed to do a little last minute shopping. Mom and Melinda needed a few last-minute grocery items for their baking. So, after considerable discussion, we decided Winnie, Howard and I would go shopping while everyone else stayed behind doing other stuff. When we left at 11:30 we still didn’t know what time Christmas eve dinner was going to start.

We drove around the bustling metropolis of McMinnville (population 13,605 and most famous for it’s water tower) looking for stores. We finally got everything we needed about 2:30 and were deciding to head back when Pam called Howard. It seemed the Christmas Eve party had started at 1:00, we were already late, and anyway why were we gone so long! We headed back to Mom’s house, finished wrapping our gifts and signing cards, then convoyed over to Melissa and Eric’s house.

Melissa and her husband Eric, along with their two children Eric and Alyssa, live on the outskirts of McMinnville not too far from Mom and Melinda. By the time we arrived most everyone else was already there and the last couple of stragglers arrived about 30 minutes later. By then, our family reunion/Christmas Eve party was pretty much in full swing.

Oldest and Youngest Member of the Family

Oldest and Youngest Member of the Family

 

Melissa and Eric are great hosts who know how to throw parties, and this was quite the party. We counted 30 people ranging in age from Mom at 87 to one year-old Uriah, Elizabeth and Bly’s son. Altogether, we had four generations of family.

Melissa and Eric had put together a non-traditional Christmas eve dinner of Mexican food and it was great. We ate, people mingled around and us out-of-towners got reacquainted with our family. I had seen most of my Tennessee Nieces and Nephews at February during the wedding of Melinda’s youngest daughter Abigail, but Winnie hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of years. While people ate I moved around taking pictures.

Renee Getting The Family Organized

Renee Getting The Family Organized

 

After everyone was finished eating, Renee, one of Melinda’s daughters, did her best drill-sergeant imitation of getting everyone organized for a family portrait. It took awhile as organization isn’t a particularly strong trait in our family. I set up my camera and tripod on timer mode while Renee herded people into position.  Once everyone was in place I took a set of photos with all involved displaying the proper levels of seriousness as suited the occasion.

Handing Out Christmas Gifts

Handing Out Christmas Gifts

 

After the photos the older kids started handing out gifts. There were plenty to go around as everyone had brought gifts for the rest of the family. We alternately watched people opening their gift and opening our own. The little kids of course had the most fun. No one was in any great hurry and with thirty people opening gifts it took a while.

After we opened our gifts we took some more photos of individuals and small groups. Then Melissa announced we were going to be treated to a Christmas Eve show that her and a few other ladies had put together. It turned out to be an enjoyable 30 or so minutes of lip-syncing, dancing, and costume changes to the movie music of “Frozen.”

It was approaching midnight by the time the show was over and most people started leaving. A small hard-core group led by Howard announced they were going to play a game of “Risk.” This was in keeping with the finest family traditions started many years earlier by Howard, who coincidentally normally won. Winnie and I headed back to Mom’s house and left Jeff behind to try his luck.

Christmas Day was another slow morning and late breakfast. We sort of had plans to visit property Melinda’s oldest son Terry had recently purchased, and then visit property Melissa had purchased nearby Terry’s place, but nothing was firmed up yet. About 10:00 events started to come together and by 11:30 Melinda, Jeff, Winnie and I were on our way to Terry’s property with Terry and family coming there to meet us.

Terry had explained his land was in a rural area, but rural means different things to different people. To this native New Yorker and life-long city dweller, rural means anyplace with cows. We started seeing cows right outside the McMinnville city limits and drove for another 20 minutes to the town of  Woodbury (population 2,680 with no water tower). We were supposed to meet Terry and family at the town’s only McDonald’s, but they hadn’t arrived yet and Melinda thought she knew how to get to Terry’s place so we kept on going.  We drove through Woodbury and turned off the highway onto a paved two lane road that quickly became one lane. The road took us past small homesteads with assorted cows, horses, goats, donkeys, and chickens, then came to a fork. One direction had a homemade street sign “Redneck Ridge,” and the other fork became a gravel road. Melinda wasn’t sure which way to turn, and I no longer had cellphone service to call Terry, so we waited.

Entering The Cave

Entering The Cave

 

Terry and family arrived a few minutes later and cheerfully waved as they sped by onto the gravel road. We followed. The gravel road quickly became narrower and looked like someone’s unkempt driveway. Then it became a dirt road. Terry stopped at a gate, unlocked it, and we kept on going. We finally stopped at a wide spot and parked. We all piled out of our cars, made our greetings, and Terry proudly pointed out the entrance to the cave that was part of his acreage. We got outfitted with flashlights and walking sticks, I grabbed my camera gear, and we descended into a nice limestone cavern.

We spend about an hour exploring underground. Most of the time we were walking in the stream running through the cave so by the time we got back out our non-spelunking grade shoes were pretty soaked. We regrouped by the cars, then Terry and Summer along with Winnie, Jeff, and I hiked out to explore the above-ground portions of their acreage while the rest stayed with the cars.

We spent another pleasant hour hiking around enjoying the beauty of this property. Terry and Summer showed us where they plan on building their house and showed us the final set of building plans. We made our way back down to the cars and said our goodbyes. Terry and family headed for home and we headed over to Melissa’s property.

Once back out on the main road we regained cellphone service and called Melissa to let her know we were on our way. Following Melinda’s somewhat erratic directions we drove back through Woodbury and made several turns onto progressively smaller roads until we arrived at another gravel driveway, then followed it to Melissa and Eric’s property.

Riding An ATV

Riding An ATV

 

Lazlo, Howard and Pam were also there and we spent some time driving around Melissa and Eric’s property in ATVs. I’d never driven an ATV before and it was an interesting experience. Melissa showed us a small pond tucked away back in their woods that was guarded by a large common snapping turtle, very much awake and watchful despite the winter cold.

By now it was getting late and my feet were freezing cold from being wet. Winnie and Jeff were in the same shape and we needed to get back while Melinda wanted to stay longer. So we made our goodbyes and headed back to Mom’s house.

Once back we dried off, warmed up our feet, and helped Mom get Christmas dinner prepared. Melinda, Lazlo, Howard and Pam all arrived about 6:00, just as the food was ready. We finished out our Christmas Day eating and talking.

Friday Melinda played tour guide, taking us up to the Hurricane Bridge recreation area by Center Hills Lake, back down along Carney Fork River to Rock Island State Park and back to Melissa’s house. Another game of Risk was in full swing so Winnie, Melinda and Pam picked up Mom and went out for pedicures and hair-dressing while I hung out at Melissa’s place watching players slowly get squeezed off the Risk board. later that evening we all regrouped in Murfreesboro for a late showing of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”

Saturday morning Winnie and I packed up and were back on the road at 8:00AM heading for home .

So Christmas 2014 consisted of a family reunion, spelunking, hiking, driving ATVs, exploring central Tennessee, and watching the final installment of “The Hobbit.” Along with lots of eating and talking and gift-giving and playing Risk. All-in-all, this was one of the better Christmases I’ve had.

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Bowie and Cosby Sing a Christmas Song

Music Inside

Music Inside

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I’ve just learned the singers behind one of my favorite Christmas songs.  So, in the spirit of the Christmas season, I thought to share this with my many (more than three) readers.

I’ve heard this song every Christmas season for years now, and never thought much about it other than it was a pretty song.  This morning I happened to stumble across a short news article about the history of this song and the singers, and learned that they were none other than David Bowie and Bing Cosby.  Being the inquisitive person I am, I went and found the history on the ever-wonderful Wikipedia, then found the original TV special on the also-wonderful YouTube.  So, without further ado, here is one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” as sung by a most unlikely duet.

YouTube Video: Bowie and Cosby sing Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy
Merry Pre-Christmas Everyone!  May your shopping days be filled with bargains galore, and your travels be good.



The Never-Ending War on Christmas

Snowmen Nativity

Snowmen Nativity

Once again Christmas time is approaching.  Houses in our neighborhood are all decked out in colorful lights with inflatable ornaments sitting out on snow-covered lawns.  The stores are full of holiday shoppers making retailers smile while dreaming of big holiday bonuses like kids wishing for candy-apple treats.  Our TV screens are aglow with the many incarnations of Santa Claus telling the viewers in TV land just how great of a gift their trinket would be for that special someone.

So who’s winning the War on Christmas?

Besides all the general merry-making this time of year, we also have our right-wing brethren ranting about the “War on Christmas” that heathens, Liberals, and other evil-doers are committing in the name of destroying all that is good and holy about our most holiest of Christian traditions.

However, a quick trip to the ever wonderful “Wikipedia” gives us these gems about the Controversies of Christmas Pasts and the truth about the war on Christmas.

Puritan era

The first documented Christmas controversy was Christian-led, and began during the English Interregnum, when England was ruled by a Puritan Parliament. Puritans (including those who fled to America.) sought to remove elements they viewed as “pagan” (because they were not biblical in origin) from Christianity (see Pre-Christianity below). During this period, the English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas entirely, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it “a popish festival with no biblical justification”, and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior. The Army was sent to raid homes and confiscate any cooked meat. This led to such resentment that it provoked riots in Kent, leading to the Second Civil War and the Siege of Colchester.

So, OK then.  Back in the 1650s in Jolly Ol’ England, the War on Christmas seemed to be a pretty hot time, what with soldiers breaking into people’s homes and taking their roast beast right off the Christmas dinner table and all.  I can see this leading to a deeper level of warring and stuff.

Then we have this:

Protestantism

Prior to the Victorian era, Christmas in the United States was primarily a religious holiday observed by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. Its importance was often considered secondary to that of Epiphany and Easter.

As was the case with other Christian holidays, Christmas borrowed elements from Pagan peoples, including yule logs, decorations such as candles, holly, and mistletoe. Christmas trees were seen as Pagan in origin. Cited as proof is Jeremiah, 10:3-4, which states, “For the customs of the peoples are false: a tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an ax by the hands of an artisan. People deck it with silver and gold they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.” The Advent period (originally a fasting period meant to point to the Second Coming of Christ), and gift giving (invented by Martin Luther to counter St. Nicholas Day, 6 December) were also Pagan in origin.

During the various Protestant reformations, these paganizing elements were a source of controversy. Some sects, such as the Puritans, rejected Christmas as an entirely Pagan holiday. Others rejected certain aspects of Christmas as paganizing, but wanted to retain the “essence” of the holiday as a celebration of the Christ’s birth. This tension put in motion an ongoing debate within Christianity about the proper observance of Christmas.

Leave it to the Protestants to figure out how to ruin a good time.  But, it seems the War on Christmas kept right on going.

19th century

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Charles Dickens. In A Christmas Carol, Hutton argues, Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Modern celebrations of Christmas include more commercial activity, compared to the more religious celebrations of the past.

Historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United States was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to re-focus the holiday from one where groups of young men went from house to house demanding alcohol and food into one that was focused on the happiness of children. He notes that there was deliberate effort to prevent the children from becoming greedy in response.

So, thanks to Charles Dickens, we went from a celebration where folks spent all day sitting in church on Christmas Day, to a celebration where people went house to house asking for free booze and food.  Until some undoubtedly well-meaning do-gooders put a stop to all that stuff so as not to set bad examples for the children.  Of course, it had to be New Yorkers…

And today, we have the modern era with such notable luminaries of civil discourse and rational discussions as Bill O’Reilly claiming:

[…] that any specific mention of the term “Christmas” or its religious aspects was being increasingly censored, avoided, or discouraged by a number of advertisers, retailers, government (prominently schools), and other public and secular organizations. A variety of Christians and non-Christians alike have agreed with these claims to varying degrees.

I guess the fact that Christmas hasn’t necessarily always been a major holiday, and in fact is not even celebrated by every Christian sects (at least not on December 25), and that even the way we celebrate Christmas has changed dramatically over the centuries, doesn’t seem to matter to our purveyors of reason and rationality screaming about the war on Christmas.  It’s all about equating what is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace with finding ways to get people hating on each other.

Now that is obscene.  But, it seems that things today are about the same as they ever was…

Here’s to a merry Festivus everyone, with peace on earth and good will towards men.

 




A Few of My Favorite…Christmas Songs

Chinese Christmas Elf

Chinese Christmas Elf

Well, it’s that time of year again.  The time of year when everyone suddenly finds value in acting good and nice towards their fellow persons.  Almost as if someone like Santa Claus was watching.  Besides the delightful (not!) cold weather, we have the wonderful opportunity to listen to yet another go-around of music designed to get us into the holiday spirit.

A lot of readers write and ask me what my favorite Christmas songs are.  Other readers ask what my least favorite Christmas songs are. Well OK, not a lot of readers ask, because I actually don’t have a lot of readers of this fine website.  But I know if I did have a lot of readers, they’d want to know.  So, as a preemptive strike at the very heart of anti-Christmas forces everywhere, here for the first time ever in print is my list of most favorite and least favorite Christmas music. With a little bonus selection tossed in as a holiday treat.

Most Favorite, in no particular order as I’m not that obsessive:

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
Elmo & Patsy

 Dance of the Snowflakes
The Nutcracker Suite

 Babes in Toyland/March of the Toys
Victor Herbert (1903)

 Angels We Have Heard on High
Traditional French carol (Les Anges dans Nos Cam pagnes); translated from French to English by James Chadwick in Crown of Jesus, 1862

 Run Rudolph Run
Chuck Berry

 Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
Brenda Lee

 Feliz Navidad
José Feliciano

 Jingle Bell Rock
Daryl Hall And John Oates

Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
John & Yoko And The Plastic Ono Band With The Harlem Community Choir

 Ave Maria
Franz Schubert (1825)

 Old City Bar
Trans Siberian Orchestra

OK, that’s eleven, one more than the traditional list of ten best. Not that I don’t like a lot of other music, I just happen to enjoy these a lot.

For my least favorite Christmas music, we have:

Jingle Bells
James Pierpoint (1857)
I actually used to like this song until I spent Christmas Eve bar-hopping in Hong Kong back in 1995.  I spent the entire evening listening to recordings of this song played over and over again, sung by apparent young Chinese women attempting to sing in English.  At most bars, this song was accompanied by a few of the young Chinese barmaids attempting to dance to it, wearing Santa Claus hats, while mildly drunk.  Then taking a break and serving beer.  Somewhere during the evening I became permanently traumatized. Ever since; when I hear Jingle bells I have flashbacks…

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Gene Autry
Old and tired.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Andy Williams
I mean.  Please.  Give us all a break…

Santa Baby
Eartha Kitt
Lady.  Just get a rich boyfriend and LEAVE SANTA CLAUS ALONE!!!

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
John Rox (1902–1957)and performed by Gayla Peevey (10 years old at the time) in 1953
The tune is kind of catchy, but this little kid would be in for a rude awakening if he actually did get a hippo.  Do you really think he’ll clean out the litter box…?

Any Christmas Music by Madonna…

 

OK, that’s five songs plus.  In the spirit of the holiday season, I really can’t list many more.  There’s a lot of artists who’ve ruined otherwise great music (but still made a lot of money on their album).

As for the promised bonus, I give you a YouTube rendition of Los del Rio with a Macarena Christmas special.  Just because.

Merry Christmas Everyone.  Enjoy shopping, stringing up Christmas lights and decoration, filling the house with good cheer, and generally getting ready for the holiday season!

PS:  For those diligent readers who just can’t get enough Macarena, I present to you the original Los Rios Video of this classic song (English version):

 

 




Christmas At Mom’s House

Christmas Celebrations

Christmas Celebrations

Winnie and I just returned from Christmas at Mom’s house in Burlingham, New York. It was a nice Christmas, and a pleasant but quick trip.

We didn’t plan the trip until the Friday night before Christmas. I have the entire Christmas week off. Winnie is now working retail at a large department store, and NO ONE can expect to get time off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s if they want to continue working there. Winnie still likes her job there, so really didn’t want to quit…

But Winnie was able to switch days with a co-worker so she had the Tuesday after Christmas off, and didn’t need to go in until 3:30 that Wednesday. Just enough time. We left Sunday night when she got off, and we arrived at Mom’s house about 1:00AM.

We spent the two days there doing what we usually do at Mom’s – eat, talk, eat, watch TV, eat, and go to Middletown for shopping and sight-seeing. Christmas day we opened our gifts about noon, then had Christmas dinner. I walked a bit outside taking some photos and exploring the nearby woods.

Tuesday we went to the Gallaria Mall in Middletown for lunch and window shopping. Then back through Pine Bush and had dinner at the “Cup and Saucer” dinner there, named after the town’s claim to fame as the UFO capitol of the world. A nice diner, one that I hadn’t even seen before but learned it had been around for several years.

Wednesday morning we left at 7:00, and drove straight through to Virginia. We stopped briefly at a rest stop near Promised Land, Pennsylvania, to see the snow. Yes, we actually saw some of the elusive white stuff here, about one-half inch, and drove through snow flurries for about one hour. This was the only snow we saw the entire trip. We made it back to our apartment about 2:00, just in time for Winnie to get freshened up and off to work.

I can report that Mom’s dog “Sammy” is still hanging in. He’s 15 now, and getting a bit slow, but still a great little dog.

All-in-all, a nice trip. We now know that Mom is only a 6+ hour drive away, which is good to know as she prepares to sell her house and move out.

 




And A Very Merry Christmas to All!

Christmas Celebrations

Christmas Celebrations

Just a short post this Christmas Eve to wish all our many readers (many => more than three) a very Merry Christmas!

And now for the usual caustic commentary you all know and love, 

Christmas is not my favorite holiday. There are two holidays I enjoy more. My favorite is Thanksgiving, closely followed by New Years.

Even though I’ve learned that Thanksgiving is not the unique American holiday I once thought, I still enjoy it for the symbol of blessings. Despite the best efforts of marketers, it’s still a non-commercial holiday. Thanksgiving remains, for me, the essence of what a celebration should be; a group of family and friends coming together to have a big meal, enjoy each other’s company, and spend just a minute or so thinking about their blessings of the past year.

New Year’s Eve has is my second favorite holiday because it’s come to symbolize another year of resilience.

These past years have been personally horrible. Making the adjustment from military to civilian life starting in 1996 was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Shifting from one dead-end job to another, earning less than what I earned in the military became mind-numbing. My divorce in 2001 knocked me down hard. Getting re-married was a blessing, but then I fought the INS for nearly two years to get Winnie here, feeling very much alone in that fight most of the time.

Topping off my run of horrible years was living through hurricane Katrina mere weeks after Winnie arrived, followed by the year-long storm recovery. Followed by moving away and now living in a strange place, trying to make new roots after ripping away my past.

So New Year’s Eve has come to be my celebration of resilience and hope; my personal celebration that no matter how much of a beating I had taken during the year, I was still standing and still able to fight another year. Along with resilience has been my hope that the coming year just had to get better.

Christmas has always been a holiday for families with young children. As I get older, I feel the lack of children more acutely. Yes, Winnie and I are working on correcting that lack, but it hasn’t happened, yet…

Meanwhile, I don’t feel much of that “Christmas spirit” these past years. The Christmas shopping crowds irritate me, and anyone who claims people are just a little nicer during the Christmas season have never been to a department store that time of year.

Christmas cards are difficult, because I really want to tell everyone I send a card to everything what’s happened to me the past year, and know everything that’s happened to them. But the best i can do is write a brief newsletter, hitting the highpoint, and hope they’ll do the same. Which usually doesn’t happen.

Gift-giving is also very difficult for me. Our family lives scattered all across the country and we see each other at best once every several years. We are almost never able to get together during Christmas holidays. So at Christmas time I don’t know what the other family members are into; what music or books they enjoy, what little something they’d really, really like but would never buy for themselves, nothing.

So I end up mailing out store gift cards each year, which in my hierarchy of gift giving is like a cold pickle, compared to the warm fuzzy of watching someone open a brightly-wrapped package and seeing the flash of happiness in their eyes.

And the blatant hypocrisy of some people is almost breath-taking. I truely don’t like people who for 11 months out of each year could care less about helping others. Then suddenly, right after Thanksgiving, they go into a frenzy of selfless charity, screaming to anyone who will listen that only “you” can help a poor child have a nice Christmas.

They amass huge amounts of money in an orgasm of selfless good deeds and fund raising, and publicly anoint some Terribly Poor Family with a wonderful bounty of toys and food just in time for the Most Magical Event Of The Year.

Then these wonderfully selfless people, flush with their 30 days of good deed doing, spent the next eleven months ignoring those Terribly Poor People. While bragging to anyone who’ll listen just how much Good Deed Doing they Performed during the past Christmas.

Some would call it the “Magic of Christmas.” I call it making points with Santa Claus. But that’s just me.

But for all the annoyances, all the things that I don’t like about Christmas, there is one part about it I do like. It gives a group of family and friends another excuse for coming together to have a big meal, enjoy each other’s company, and spend just a minute or so thinking about their blessings of the past year.

And so for that, I wish everyone reading this, my friends and family, all the people I know and care about (and even a few I don’t care about), I wish a Christmas that brings peace, happiness, good times with their family and friends, and the blessings of gaining their hearts desire. Along with a bit of mulled cider, a bit of fruitcake, and a chance under the mistletoe with their true love.

Merry Christmas!