Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Whatevermas

Coming from a culture where sticking your Xmas tree in the front window (usually behind the curtains) is as ostentatious as it gets, it was something of a shock to experience my first Christmas in Seattle. Most folk decorate the outside of their houses, as well as the inside. After dark, the streets are lit up like Disneyland on steroids. In one street, I saw a house with every possible incarnation of Christmas displayed. There were wise men and shepherds mingling with elves and reindeer, chatting under the palm trees. Santa and Mary were admiring the baby, while Frosty the Snowman was checking Santa’s sleigh for dog repellant. The whole scenario was lit up with a garish display of lighting that could have powered a small town in England. Everything that was above ground level was festooned in fairy lights, topped off with a large Star of David that faced up into the heavens. I guess they were covering all their options.

Some neighborhoods are so outlandishly lit up, they attract visitors from around the county in what could only be described as a “drive by gawking”. People use their seasonal notoriety to collect food for the poor, and ask that if you do drive by, leave some food in the bins provided.

I have lived in Seattle now for 14 years, after following my girlfriend (now my wife) back to her home here on the North West coast. If you can get past the (in your face) commercialism of Christmas, what is underneath this façade is a very comforting reaffirmation of family life. Americans are a very generous people and would think nothing of inviting you into their family to share their celebration. I keep mentioning Christmas, but of course it does not really exist anymore. Instead, we have time off from work for “the Holiday”. Cards don’t even mention Christmas. “Have a happy Holiday” or “Holiday Greetings” are more the norm. I might have missed something here, but did Christ get caught doing something naughty to have him removed from view?

The truth is, there are many religions, including the pagans who lay claim to this date, and they all must be given equal status in this country. While this is a laudable sentiment, I still feel a bit ambiguous greeting people with a “Ho Ho Ho, have a happy Holiday”

Shopping is a national pastime in the USA anyway, but around Christmas, it becomes frantic. Caffeine charged consumers in Seattle are buying everything that isn’t tied down. Folks used to wait until after Thansgiving before the rush started, but not anymore. We are all jumping the gun to get that extra special person the gift of their dreams. Several years ago, sickened by the amount of presents my new family bought each other, my wife and I resolved to make everything instead. Our workshop was turned into Santa Inc. and the production line was in full swing producing baskets, soaps, oils and ointments, chutneys and pickles, and all sorts of arty crafty ornaments and jewelry. One week before Christmas, we realised that most of the stuff would not be of much interest to the intended recipients, so we made a last minute attempt to buy stuff too. The outcome of our efforts resulted in two exhausted crafters and a depleted bank account.
The moral of this story is to just go with the flow.


  1. Very interesting. I think it is getting more like that everywhere. Nice to hear your side of things

  2. Nice post. I too agree that Americans are, overall a generous bunch and always prepared to jump on a plane to rejoin family for even minor celebrations.

  3. I like Americans I worked with them for years and have a lot of American cousins and friends. One of the best meals I ever enjoyed in my life was Thanksgiving cooked by my American colleagues..1984 Marbella LOL
    I am just sickened by the amount of spending and expectation of todays Christmas, and I hate decorating the year I didn't put up a decoration as the mice had nested in them urgggg. The last few years though we have invited all the neighbours in from all over the village for champagne and its wonderful it puts everybody in the mood for the day.. a real genuine Christmas spirit... which I find had been missing for years xx

  4. Dear Legend, I think all those mad decorations are beyond tacky, saying that, it amuses me to see houses that do it. When I was a kid we had a huge tree in the front garden and my dad would hang a long string of white outdoor lights on it but that was it.

    At home I only have hundreds of white lights and a star on my tree, no tinsel or baubles. Our tree has got knocked over during parties so would make a right mess with all that on it!

    I hate the commercialisation of Christmas and carefully buy people things they will actually like and use. I can't be doing with nick nacks, where do you put them all? I find everyone's happy with cashmere socks, a cashmere jumper, a cashmere blanket or their favourite scent. I never do joke presents (apart from the odd sexual one for The Actor) and I never leave the house without a list. It's like a military operation. I only had to go into the West End for 2 hours last year and I plan to do the same this year. It's so much easier to buy everything online now. If you need any present advice at any time you can always ask me xx

  5. I love Christmas - it must be wierd not to hear 'Happy Christmas' - 'Happy Holidays' is rather alien to me. I think those crazy outside decorations are funny - but not for me. We're of German extraction. We don't put our tree up until Christas Eve which is when we exchange presents. The kids don't get to see the tree until it's dark and covered with candles. Very magical with an edge of danger on the 'is the tree about to catch fire' front! And as you know from my blog, this year I'm very keen on the homemade present angle.

  6. I'm a great believer in homemade....4 years at art college not wasted.... and who doesn't need a pot of jam??

  7. There's a couple of houses around here that go overboard with outside lights.I would hate to live next door to them.
    The spending side of it has lately got to us a bit too,the meaning does seem to get lost and also it seems most(not all)children have everything now so Christmas doesn't have the same anticipation as it did when we were young.
    I'm always delighted with a handmade card,so I would have loved your crafted presents much more personal.

  8. Ha ha ha! You remind me so much of when I first came to LA and witnessed the glare of Christmas cheer first hand -- houses literally groaning under the strain of Santa, his sleigh, the reindeer, Mickey in a Santa hat, baby Jesus and his mother Mary, one of the Simpsons, and a few wise men thrown in for good measure.

    I'm with @Young at Heart, a pot of jam is a perfect Christmas present.

    Lovely, funny post, thank you.

    Miss W x

  9. You should see Harvey Road in Alvaston, Derby. The Christmas decorations go on late October and off late January. Fabulous, brightens life up in 'dour' Derby.


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