As I write this with classical Christmas tunes coming from my computer, I endeavor to focus on the ‘classic’ part of the holiday.
Because you see friends, when it comes to holiday traditions, I am all about the tacky. The tasteless.The just plain wrong. When I was a small child, we all had favorite ornaments. Mine was lovingly known as “the angel on the swing.”
She has blond, flossy hair, a little white shift-like dress and there may have been a halo at one time. It’s long gone. Anyway, she’s swinging on a gold lame swing. No, I don’t know why. The Angel on the Swing was always given a place of prominence on the tree at the McDougal home.
My dad used to refer to the storied occasion of trimming the artificial, flocked tree (is that redundant? I suppose it wouldn’t be a live, flocked tree. Anyway.) as, “the ceremonial screwing together of the tree.” You can imagine the solemnity involved. The Angel on the Swing has had some very tough times. The dog considered her a chew toy one year — her swing suffered greatly and her hair became permanently matted yet I loved her still. She lives on at the Albrecht house. So does the Santa who is painted on a starfish and looks, well, let’s just say he’s ready for anything.
So is it any wonder that my brother and I started the Tacky Ornament Contest? It was supposed to be rotating years but we are having so much fun with it, we can’t seem to go every other year. He got me a Santa made from a corn cob courtesy of the Corn Palace. The next year brought an incredibly weird gnome-looking old woman in a robe with a wand. He and his family enjoyed the traditional sparkly bacon ornament and the horse with a penguin painted on its side from us. This year’s big winner is a reindeer standing on its hind legs with a tutu on. I say, go big or go home.
My husband got on board with the tacky before he was my husband. I sold him on the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Challenge. Every Christmas, we would patrol the tree lots looking for the saddest excuse for a tree they had.
When you first approach the tree lot guy with the request, “I’m looking for the most pathetic tree here. The one you know you’ll never sell,” you are met with affronted resistance. He tries to tell you that all his trees are perfect.
You wait him out.
He begrudgingly admits that he might have one. Just one. Stuck back there. We pounce. You wouldn’t believe the doozies we’ve saved. One had a twisted trunk. Most had huge bald spots no wall could ever hide.
A favorite was the one that came home from the frozen tree lot as many of them will — with all the branches sticking straight up and somewhat mashed to the trunk. Except ours never put his branches down. It looked like a perpetual hold-up. Super fun on which to hang an ever-increasing supply of tacky ornaments.
The best Christmas in recent memory was our “Christmas Story” Christmas.
My entire extended family on the McDougal side is addicted to that movie.
In 2011, we did it up big. It started with Mike surprising me the first week of December with a delivery of my very own major award — a leg lamp!
He did it all — the meatloaf dinner, the knock at the door, the deliveryman with the clipboard, the crate with the straw cradling that thing of beauty. I was blown away. It was a sight to behold placed in our most prominent window at the Thurmond house.
Then my brother (he of the gnome ornament) arrived with his kids for Christmas. He received an adult-sized bunny suit from Santa and of course, we made him try it on right then.
Did I mention he’s 6-feet, 6-inches tall? Now that was a pink nightmare. Mike received a blue bowling ball, cunningly wrapped. He spoke in falsetto briefly. If you haven’t seen the movie, I know this is like reading something in Greek. Rent it or watch it 20 times on cable when it runs 24 hours straight. Well worth your time.
Unfortunately, it looks like my quest for the tacky may be coming to a premature end. Or at least going on a partial hiatus.
The boys don’t seem to embrace the tasteless like their parents. They’ve begged for attractive trees. Trees that don’t look like refugees from a bark beetle kill. It’s an outrage.
They do love “A Christmas Story” though and the Grinch, my personal hero, is still going strong. So perhaps all tackiness is not lost.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
amy albrecht is the director at the Center for a Vital Community at Sheridan College.