December 22, 2014

DogsOnLapThis holiday season I’ve been looking forward to relaxing in bed. Instead, I’ve become popular AS a bed.

This post is dedicated to all who experience the fine line between family togetherness and too much togetherness.

Would anyone like to borrow a dog?

Traditional Sights

December 4, 2012


It’s the time of year when we Americans like to sentimentalize about domestic traditions. While it’s dark and cold beyond the walls, we fondly picture cozy family times with holiday lights, hot food, cuddly kids, shaggy collies. We revel in images of items so antique we may never have seen them in use: sleighs, carriages, top hats, roaring hearths with real logs. We long for drinks with the ancient names: nogs, grogs, toddies.

In that spirit, I was pleased to come across the scene pictured above, though it has nothing to do with winter holidays. Those blue patches represent what is now a rarity in our yuppifying city—laundry hung out to dry. The sight is so unusual in the middle-class districts that young tourists probably don’t know what Claes Oldenburg’s monumental Clothespin imitates.

Though many folks raised with electric or gas dryers consider clothes on a line sloppy, faintly embarrassing or even squalid, I find the old-fashioned practice appealing. I like homey items in general: well-worn rugs, cottage-style houses, women in flannel nightgowns. Such things speak of humanity. They are sturdy and unpretentious. Also, in practical terms, a woman under a flannel nightgown is a heck of a lot warmer on a winter night than one who’s been prancing around in a silk negligée.

I have to admit, though, that the admirable lineup of jeans shown above is nontraditional in one important respect. Look at the size of those waistbands—truly 21st century. Our ancestors could have fit a family in one pair, even after turkey, stuffing and multiple toddies.


Holiday blues and greens

December 30, 2010

Relatives enjoying Christmas appetizers at the Gridley residence; note high-class footwear and napkins


The week between Christmas and New Year’s has long been for me a time of increasing sadness. The feeling goes back, I suppose, to the childhood malaise when all the presents have been opened, explored, exhausted, their magic reduced to mundanity, and a new trove of toys can’t be expected until one’s birthday. Partly, too, it’s the letdown after any big festivity, especially one accompanied by too much food.

Yet by the time I’d reached my thirties, I was also sensing a difference in character between the two holidays that bookend the Ameri-Christian winter celebration. For all its commercialization, Christmas remains a family day, when you hug relatives you barely remember and enjoy the warmth of an extended clan along with Aunt Kay’s mince, apple, pumpkin, and lemon meringue pies. (How did she ever bake so many?) New Year’s Eve, in contrast, is the quintessential party/dating time, the night of silly noisemakers when we get dressed up, get drunk, and strive to get laid. For a wallflower who was terrible at drinking and partying, the choice was clear. Christmas I loved; New Year’s I detested. All those people having fun on New Year’s—I looked down my bumpy, nerdy nose at them.

Moreover, to the extent that my secular soul could be moved by religious images and music, I always found the tale of Christ’s birth and death haunting and poignant, and this added to my enjoyment of Christmas. New Year’s was empty revelry, with no redeeming content. Party hats, streamers—bah, humbug.

Recently it occurred to me that Judaism puts its important days in a better order. The High Holy Days in the fall start with the New Year and slide inexorably toward Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, so that, in a sense, you end the holiday season on a downer. But it’s a meaningful downer, and after fasting, confessing, and perhaps participating in all five traditional prayer services, you should feel enlightened and unburdened. Unlike Christians, who exit the holidays with a hangover.

In an attempt to bring a serious note into New Year’s, then, I’ll quote from my favorite Christian holiday lyrics, which mix Christmas and New Year’s references in a philosophical blend. In his review of a recent Piffaro concert, Tom Purdom mentioned how much he admired these sixteenth-century verses. To the tune of Greensleeves:

The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is enterèd;
Then let us now our sins downtread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let’s merry be this day,
And let us all both sport and play.
Hang grief, cast care away.
God send you a happy new year!

The name day now of Christ we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep.
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
And his blessèd side, with a spear.
His head they crowned with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for our good was born.
God send us a happy New Year!

And now with New Year’s gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may all our lives amend,
And that the truth may appear.
Now, like the snake, your skin
Cast off of evil thoughts and sin,
And so the year begin:
God send you a happy new year!