Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 26, 2007

Highlights From Our Christmas Carnival

Some great little things about Christmas this year:

1) Wacky, irreverent Christmas rock and roll from days of yore on the drive home last night. It was featured on a special “Christmas A’ Go-Go” installment of Little Steven’s Underground Garage, the syndicated radio brilliance of Steve Van Zandt (of Springsteen’s E Street Band). The Sopranos may be gone, but this paisan from Jersey still keeps the surreal spirit of Christmas like no other.

2) A sweet and honest column from Garrison Keillor, at In fact, from here, you can click to read three great weeks worth of Christmas columns and snarky Keillor social commentary.

3) James Taylor at Christmas, released last year… especially the songs “River” (a Joni Mitchell classic), “Some Children See Him”, and “In the Bleak Midwinter” — all three fairly obscure choices, all great songs. Even the other old standbys here have interesting arrangements. I saw half of an interview with James on Tavis Smiley a few months back (on PBS) … he’s a remarkably humble guy, and pretty wise by now, given the many ups and severe downs of his 35-40 year career.

4) Last night’s big family get-together, with aunties, cousins, and kids of cousins, and even the typically cranky great-great aunt in a cheerful, amused mood. Featured snapshots: playing carols on guitar with cousin Dan (he covered my ass, since I’m slow on the changes); teasing Mom about her providing a quarter-stick of butter for over thirty people; gathering the grandkids for a photo and then watching them scatter again within twenty seconds of the photo-op; making snide comments with my brother-in-law about the bookshelf contents, and our parents’ generation of hack writers (including Tom Clancy, Jacqueline Susann, and Erma Bombeck [yeah, she’s funny, but probably severely dated by now] ); teasing cousin Tom about his highly unexpected third child (now on the way). Quote of the night, from my 7th-grade nephew Bill: “This isn’t a circus, this is a carnival. Carnivals are more orderly.”

5) Warm, home-made rolls, fresh from the oven this afternoon, compliments of my wife. Mmmmmmmmm!

6) Very little outside responsibility, for once. Somebody else handled the church pageant, we’re not hosting much family (except my sister-in-law Holly, an easygoing guest), and we didn’t go overboard on shopping for gifts. Who says we have to obsessively make ourselves miserable, just to have a little shot at some idyllic, unreachable “comfort and joy”? The 1994 Star Trek Generations movie, with Picard’s ridiculously sappy “perfect Christmas” in the Nexus as his version of heaven, is all the proof I need that we should lower our holiday standards. (Gawd, that movie sucked, didn’t it?!) Contrary to what Billy Crystal once said on SNL, “It’s better to feel good than to look good.”  

7) A quiet Christmas morning, with Graham actually taking time to enjoy each of his gifts a bit, instead of just throwing one aside and rushing on to the next one. The highlight for him: a simple $10 LED flashlight that he can wear on his head, and a package of solar system planets he can hang from the ceiling in his room. My sister Laura says no, he won’t be an astronaut… he’ll be the Ed Harris guy, the mission control specialist telling everyone else what to do.

I suppose seven’s a lucky number, so we’ll stop there. Have a safe, happy and restful holiday. And if not, may Jesus help your “bleak midwinter” pass as swiftly and painlessly as possible.

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