THE DEN – Hello, 911? Need to report a burglary. Boxes opened and left around, scattered papers and ribbons. No, it’s only the leftovers from Christmas. Yes, that celebration was weeks ago, and by now most families have long since cleaned up remnants of their on-line orgy, but it is taking me a little longer. Actually, each year seems to take longer than the year before. I blame the liberal media. You know the annual drill. Right after Labor Day merchants begin to deck the malls with boughs of holy – holy elves, holy tool kits, holy 50 percent off! Holiday catalogues – which began arriving in September – stack up in your front hall. Then you get on your computer and order all your gifts on-line.
Slowly, however, Christmas has been changing. Greetings, for example. Despite Bill O’Reilly’s forgettable “war on Christmas” crusade, which he seems to have abandoned, we no longer hear simply “Merry Christmas,” but also “Happy holidays,” “Season’s greetings” and “Hand over your purse.” (No matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Solstice of the Druids, for simplicity sake we shall just use Christmas.) Another change: I am receiving fewer Christmas cards. Maybe it’s because I stopped sending them out when postage went up to a nickel. Those cards I do receive sport photographs of children or grandchildren, but not just standing in a snow drift. Cards now have to show the exotic places they have been in the last year while I sat on the couch watching re-runs of “My Mother the Car.” Or I get a letter saying how they spent the last year. If the message doesn’t contain some really juicy stuff (“After the SWAT raid, Junior had to junk his meth lab.”) I don’t care.
Have you noticed what you did not see prior to this Dec. 25th? Cars with Christmas trees tied to the top. Is the live-tree fad over after 200 years? People seem to be going to plastic trees or metal or maybe they just store a tree in the attic and bring it down each year. My own tree looks nice, once I put little balls, icicles and lights over the coat hangers. Do you still wrap your presents? That means getting out the rolls of paper, ribbons and bows, Scotch tape and scissors. Today I use paper bags with tissue paper stuffed in the top so others can’t see what’s inside. You can buy fancy Christmas bags which can cost more than the gift itself, or do as I do and grab a few extras at the grocery store checkout counter.
Each year music producers try to come out with a new and catchy Christmas song. But not since “Silent Night’ (1818) has any new carol really caught on. The best of late (1962) are the songs from “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” with lyrics like “We’re rep-re-HEN-sible. We’ll steal your pen and PEN-sible.” For years I couldn’t fill stockings without the Pope on TV chanting in 34 different languages. Gifts have changed over the years. As a child, I would receive presents from my parents such as metal toys that would come apart so as to stick in my throat. Or wooden blocks covered in lead paint. Those killjoys at the EPA and CDC have taken all the excitement out of a trip to the emergency room, but if the new administration cuts back on senseless regulations, we may return to those glory days.
Santa still rules in the malls. One year my editor instructed me to play Santa at a department store for a few hours. That was one of the toughest jobs I ever had as a reporter, aside from acting as a food taster for Dick Cheney. I had to lift up most of the kids onto my lap, and hear their requests for guns and dogs and to get rid of their little sister. Those too big to sit on my lap just whispered into my ear requests that I couldn’t repeat to their parents. Speaking of presents, this past Christmas there probably wasn’t a tree in America that didn’t have some kind of electronic gadget under it. Prior to Christmas, parents would have to stock up on batteries of all sizes, shapes and wattage. Now everything seems to plug into a charger. Good.
Have you noticed that outdoor Christmas decorations have gone from a wreath on the front door to a simple string of lights to the Las Vegas Strip? I have houses in my neighborhood that suck up more electricity than a small city. They have strings of lights marking every peak and drainpipe, with eight tiny reindeer in the front yard, Santa on the rooftop and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing in the background. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the reindeer wouldn’t use my front yard for their Port-O-John. Where do they put all this paraphernalia during the off-season? This brings us to today, after the party is over. Where do you store your Christmas gear? By now your tree is so dry and brittle that the pine will burst like a napalm bomb over Khe San if it comes near a flame. Garbage collectors might take it. There was some movement to put all those trees out in the Gulf as a reef. That makes no sense. The unused wrappings and ribbons can be stuffed under a bed, and those bags I mentioned can be used again and again if you remember to rip off the “to” and “from” tags. As for your strings of lights, there is an elf that comes by your house during the summer and thoroughly knots up your strings. On the other hand, it’s only a few months till the next Christmas, and I could just leave the decorations in place. It was Joan Rivers who said, “I don’t know why people do house cleaning. Six months later you have to do it all over again.”
Ashby procrastinates at firstname.lastname@example.org