4 Comments

Make Your Own Reasons for this Silly Season

To Dylan James Nelson, my only begotten son and beloved maker of ornaments

Would you pay to see this movie?

Interesting plot, but we'll have to rework the script to fix the weaknesses.

Interesting plot, but we’ll have to rework the script to fix the weaknesses.

A powerful father, to circumvent incest and adultery with a married daughter, artificially inseminates her to sire his favorite son. The humble child matures into a scholarly carpenter whose wisdom astounds the great thinkers of his era.

This son, despite preference for female companionship, opts to forgo family values, abstaining from passion and progeny in manly prime to choose torture and unspeakable suffering. Strangely, he begins to believe his untimely death will change the fates of countless brothers and sisters, living, buried, and unborn.

Desperate to please an absent patriarch, the son cannot accept that all-knowing Dad has already preordained reward or damnation for all those billions of siblings who walk the Earth, rest within it, or who have yet to  emerge as flesh and blood. Had our only begotten son confronted this mind-blowing paradox, he would have marveled at the divine futility of his Herculean sacrifice.

A Triumph of French Cinema

Clearly this plot line comes to us via the darling of France’s Academy of Film Arts and Sciences; a director who wins accolades for ambitiously exploring Oedipal elements of the single victim mechanism, collective violence, and expulsion from patrimonial community against a backdrop of Freudian psycho-sexual tension. The director’s tour de force impales European moviegoers, decrying a deterministic society in which we die alone as prey to cruel and absurd events.

Palme d'Or

Truffaut‘s dark tale is a slam dunk for the Palme d’Or. Shockingly, the Oscar escapes his grasp despite rave international reviews. Crestfallen, critics blame the Screen Actors Guild for lacking the stones to award emotionally complex storytelling driven by intensely stratified subtext .

Look Joe, it's OK to ask a few questions.

Look Joe, it’s OK to ask a few questions.

Guild insiders later confess their inability to forgive this foreign film’s one artistic sin which coincidentally also plagues American cinema. Inexplicably the son returns from the dead in closing scenes as part of a shameless feel-good gimmick.

Gushing audiences dab tears when our antihero proclaims miraculous recovery, invoking new super powers to beam off planet in a blinding shaft of white light. Crowds cheer as the big screen fades to black. Deus ex machina  triumphs in propelling record-breaking box office sales.

However, this ham-fisted device in the dénouement galls SAG voters who squirm while exquisite tragedy and art film immortality transfigure before their eyes from gutsy classic to spineless hit.

If you answered “yes” to this movie, you probably can’t wait to see how surround sound and 3D effects add tooth and nail to mob scenes in a fantasy blockbuster. If you answered “no” to this movie, you’ve likely met a few carpenters and refuse to believe even one can sit still long enough to read anything besides blueprints.

When making sense looks like a fantasy flick, you don’t have buy tickets

Crazy winter solstice rites and strange beliefs are as old as humankind. For example, the Kalash people of Pakistan celebrate Chawmos, whose purification ritual requires men to pour water over their heads while holding up a loaf of bread. They must avoid sitting on chairs until evening when goat’s blood is sprinkled on their faces. Once everybody’s pure the fun begins.

Ancient Greece had a midwinter girl gathering called Lanaea, or the Festival of Wild Women. Sorry guys, better not crash this bash before lunchtime. Maenads, or female followers of Dionysus, (Greek god of the grape harvest, wine making and wine,  ritual madness and ecstasy), would enter the forest to descend upon a man or bull representing their god, tearing the poor beast to pieces before devouring its flesh raw.

Well, actually many academics now assert that evidence doesn’t support this macabre stereotype, but we can all agree that the fiesta involved oodles of lunatic ladies dancing on local mountainsides.

The Wild Hunt exalts the manlier traditions of violence and virility.

Wild Hunt exalts the manlier traditions of blood lust, kidnapping and great hair.

Yuletide has entered our culture as a remnant of Germanic pagan religious festivals. Originally occurring in late December or early January, according to the Germanic lunar calendar, Yuletide made its home permanently on December 25th following the adoption of the Christian calendar (Julian calendar).

Yuletide has historical connections to the myth of the Wild Hunt, which warns believers to take cover before a spectral cavalcade of berserk huntsmen, fairies, dark witches, and former pagan gods armed to the teeth, sweeping land and sky amid horses and demonic hounds.

Seeing this hunt could portend war, plague, or if you’re lucky, just plain ol’ death. This satanic horde sucked out the souls of wicked and innocent witnesses, discarding lifeless bodies in midair, kidnapping spirits for a journey to the land of the dead.

On a more gruesome note, scholars speculate that the Wild Hunt served as a convenient scapegoat, explaining away abducted kids, murdered step-children, and crippled offspring who endured extreme domestic violence. Surely that long fall to the ground would account for severe cranial injuries on a young German corpse.

Have a blast during our wacky solstice season

Christmas is a wondrous time of giving, getting and grudges, charged by the emotional spark of friends, family and feuds. So many strange and disparate expectations compete for our December, suddenly populated by an asylum of screwballs who go gaga for fantasy tales. Crusading against all that crazy would simply turn you into Ebeneezer.

Maenads: Followers of Dionysus

Maenad myth placed men on the menu

Take counsel from the surf instructor in Forgetting Sarah Marshall: “When life gives you lemons, just say ‘F— the lemons,’ and bail.” Well adjusted revelers will assure you that sound reason is no reason for the season.

Seriously, if you stumbled upon a naked band of wild women emerging from the dappled light of evergreens, drenched in blood and drunk with desire, wouldn’t you beg to join their picnic?

Sometimes a ridiculous celebration spontaneously bursts open like a piñata to commemorate its own fleeting existence. Don’t let your compulsion for careful planning sterilize the spirit lingering in the air, waiting to infect us all. Choose your weapon, put on the blindfold, and swing for the bleachers till some of that senseless joy spills out into your life.

Make holiday hoopla that makes sense to you

Festivus for the rest of us.

Festivus for the rest of us.

Festivus comes to us through the comic genius of the hit series, Seinfeld. George Costanza’s barely stable father, Frank, has an epiphany while raining blows on another shopper in a retail death match over a doll for George. Sadly, the doll doesn’t survive the struggle. However, Frank Costanza’s revelation guides him to renounce Christmas commercialism to observe a more honest ritual, declaring “Festivus for the rest of us.”

The Festivus Pole stands in stark contrast to the decorative excess and expense of a dead fir and won’t burn down your house. Airing of the Grievances and Feats of Strength offer original panache while ironically paying homage to traditional Christmas dinners, particularly where liquid cheer fills glasses in bounteous supply.

College kids and holiday hipsters recognize Festivus as a cool theme. You don’t have to deck the halls, and can leave the holly on the boughs. More importantly, Festivus defies cultural prejudice because it doesn’t claim any of the customs common to Chrismahanukwanzakah. If Festivus feels too conventional for your taste, make up something fresh.

Decorative ideas should reflect your unique traditions

Here in the Southwest I occasionally see the Christmas cactus. This ritual is far “greener” than any tree you buy at the lot. The practice recognizes trees as a vital, sustainable resource for reducing the carbon dioxide that fuels global warming. Better yet, a Christmas cactus will never spontaneously combust into a pillar of fire.

Christmas Cactus

Let thy light so shine.

To commemorate cultural roots, my personal custom calls for a “White Trash” tree.  Scotch pines achieve true beauty only in death, adorned by sparkly plastic relics, paper ringlets, homemade ornaments, Xmas throwaways, and yard sale gems, including  my son’s long discarded relics and G.I. Joes. Every worthless bauble tells a priceless tale when my Island of Misfit Toys returns to nestle in the brittle arms of fallen timber.

The tree’s shining star is a 20″ plastic Godzilla modified through proctological procedure to mount high atop its branches.  While I alone must secure the monster to its roost, an honored guest will choose the unlucky toy that writhes in agony enshrined between Godzilla’s savage jaws. For good or ill, Gumby usually gets plucked to consecrate this calling.

Christmas has borrowed or stolen its traditions, and so should you

Christmas Card to Aunt, 12-25-1967

Christmas 1967

In olden times, before smart phones and the Web, a beloved and popular couple bid farewell to the godforsaken tundra of Evansville, Indiana to spend their golden years in sunny San Diego’s North County. Rummaging through the must and mold of my favorite used bookstore more than a couple decades later, I came across a flat box in the shape of a large book which had landed on dusty shelves through an estate sale.

Inside I found dozens of Christmas cards, newsletters stamped in the muddy alphabet of prehistoric Underwoods, picture postcards of 2.5 children and a dog, along with group photos mailed to Mr. and Mrs. “North County” in December of ’67.

1967 saw the performance of the first Superbowl and the first heart transplant. In 1967 a house cost $24,600 while a gallon of gas demanded an investment of 33 cents. At 23, Michael  married Lisa, who had left her teens just 6 months earlier. Sharing personal events required you to sit and choose words carefully, fishing your stream of conscious for the perfect line before landing the next sentence. Mailing your letter meant scraping up an entire nickel for the stamp, but you could still send a postcard for a penny. 

Merry Christmas from June and Dick

Merry Christmas from June and Dick

This archeology of warm wishes arrived in plump paragraphs from folks who knew how to blend vulnerability with ink, including priests, nuns, bankers, dealership owners, friends, family, business associates, even the Rotary Club–whatever that was.

Letters spoke of graduations, marriages, and christenings, meticulously recounted for missing pillars of their Evansville community. They spoke as a chorus with love, longing, and blessings for happiness in a new home.

In a fit of inspirational madness I decided to resurrect these spirits and join them with the kooky fringe of my own clan. On the front of each envelope I added a fresh stamp, then changed the mailing address so the name of each new recipient appeared directly under Mr. and Mrs. North County. I refused to alter poetry within the cards but most missives closed with the following: “P.S. Jay Nelson hopes to see you during the holidays and looks forward to sharing a hug and a tall glass of Christmas cheer.” 

After receiving her card, Gramma called me and said, “You know, I didn’t really understand any of it, but when I finally saw your name I guess I wasn’t surprised. It sort of makes sense coming from you.” Years later my son and I made ornaments from some of the remaining cards. The final dozen bedeck home and heart at the close of every year with greetings from creaky Christmas ghosts. I’ve never met them, but I know them all intimately.  And every year I quietly thank them all for faithfully reminding me why I adore this silly season.

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4 comments on “Make Your Own Reasons for this Silly Season

  1. you never cease to challenge and entertain. Say ‘hi’ to Godzilla for me.

    • Thanks Di,

      That one’s been brewing for a long time. As much as I enjoy wagging a finger at strange traditions and beliefs, I’d risk hypocrisy asserting that they don’t influence my cultural identity. I’ll always be a Recovering Mormon, Wannabe True Believer, and a frustrated Existentialist–especially on bad days.

      This hug’s for you,

      Jay

  2. I also used old Christmas cards for my holiday postal greetings this year, but I re-furbished them. I used a pattern to cut them into owl shapes and put googly eyes on them. They’ve been a hit with friends and family.

    🙂

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