What the holidays mean to me, an avowed cynic with half-hearted aspirations of an optimistic rebirth: stress over buying Christmas gifts; traffic surround malls & other shopping areas that would shame most rotaries; wrapping paper that won’t fold the right way, damn it; sticky pine needles falling all over the carpet; water splashing out of the tree holder; rampant commercialism infecting the general consciousness right after kids finish scooping out their Jack O’Lanterns; terrible, trite ‘holiday’ music people foist onto those around them to simulate some feeling of camraderie that doesn’t really exist anymore.

Yes, all of these feelings (and many more of a severely profane nature) flowed through me as I wrestled with various gifts for my nephews and sister this evening, listening to the heavy handed Classical bombast of Bedrich Smetana’s ‘My Country’ collide with the sides of my skull. The music shifts from solemn silence to atonal shrieking as it sees fit, which, honestly, isn’t very fit at all; quite sickly, as a matter of fact. I’m sending thoughts out, I’m changing the color of my aura, I’m trying to say that you’d best not fuck with my surliness, because the holiday spirit is certainly not haunting my skeptical ass. At least, not right now, with cheap paper ripping at every inopportune moment while wrapping the medium-sized boxes, and I’m not even going to think about the hell that will be The Toaster Oven, dear God.

I don’t want to be a cranky bitch about Christmas. Yes, I’m sad that I can’t go back to the days when I was a wee lad, sneaking around my house @ 5 in the morning, taking my presents back to my room to untape a small corner (carefully, so my parents, sleeping next door, don’t hear), and then returning the gifts, trying to mime sleep for an extra couple of minutes before I rush into my parents’ room. That’s what I want under my tree more than a digital camera or (please, no, don’t give eggnog to an alcoholic) more CDs — that innocence, that sense of wonder, that sparkle subsumed by the business of getting older, learning the truth about Santa (he’s a mall employee? PART TIME?), seeing the people behind the curtain pulling the strings and pushing the buttons. I think it’s that sadness that’s drawn me to the sort of Christmas-y music I’m fond of this year — instead of celebrating what I could have, I’m celebrating what I can never have. Such music is the antithesis of Bono’s shining moment during ‘Feed The World’ — ‘Well, tonight, thank God it’s them, instead of you.’ Tonight, it IS you, and that’s not a good thing.

For instance, Ben Folds. Ben can be a cheeky wiseass, but he can play you like a fiddle when he wants to — notice that ‘Brick’ (his breakthrough hit) takes place during Christmas, where the couple in the song spends their gift-opening time at an abortion clinic, losing a child and losing each other. A better ‘Christmas’ song is ‘Selfless, Cold, and Composed’, another break-up song abetted by weeping strings and a set of jingle bells chiming in the background. Ben’s asking for his lover to hit him, smack him around, ‘show me that you give a shit’; she doesn’t though, simply standing there, mute and withdrawn. Melodramatic, yes — the most drama we’re likely to witness during the holidays is a flare-up between relatives about old grudges — but the bathetic grandeur these songs aims for isn’t far from the joyful grandeur Phil Spector and Irving Berlin conjure in their snowglobes. At its essence, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a child that meets a tragic end, so listening to sad music isn’t all that heretical. (And, remember — this is the cynic talking.)

Of course, what Christmas has become is a feeding frenzy for all good capitalist pigs everywhere, so Tsunami’s little ditties about the (lack of) Christmas joy (‘Ski Trip’, ‘Could Have Been Christmas’) certainly scratch that itch. Of course, such kvetching (unless handled with a bit of perspective and humor) can fall flat on its smug, righteous ass. ‘Ski Trip’ (talking tough about Mommy & Daddy neglecting the kids as they spend an upper-middle-class holiday in Aspen) gets a few yucks in at the expense of Nanooka (‘Ski mask on her head, she looks like a fucker’), but, um, it’s hard to maintian righteous indignation in the face of Nanooka. Sad fucker. The jingle-jangle of ‘Could Have Been Christmas’ is more my style, seething with anger and confusion left semi-wrapped by the narrative, but, again, it’s snowballed by the litany of charges leveled at the holiday (‘Boring ass presents / Lame TV specials that leave you untouched / Fruitcake & rum cake & milk drinks with liquor’) as the song smothers the Yule log and turns off the tree.

To be honest, I can only maintain this anti-Christmas stance for a short while — it’s really hard to stay angry & pissy when the good intentions readily apparent this time of year are numerous. For instance, listening to Jon Solomon’s 24-hour Christmas music marathon on WPRB (damn, he’s a charismatic SOB, and he’s going strong through 12 AM GMT on Christmas Day). Also, secretly buying gifts for people not expecting such things (it feels GOOD). Even receiving holiday wishes from strangers leaving a supermarket, or at any number of merchants receiving my business this holiday season — it gives me a little glow, a little smile, a whole lot of happy. Sure, I try and stay angry, but getting old (like I have), it’s hard to maintain the passion such loathing demands. And it’s pointless anyway — the songs I mentioned, they might give me reason to get all huffy & puffy about the holidays. But, when that moment passes, and I’m feeling a bit more generous and joyous, these songs are perfect in that they remind me of what I’m missing if I stay angry. There’s plenty of spirit in the holiday to be had, no matter how over-saturated and commercialized and passionless things may seem. Charlie Brown found the spirit in an anemic fir tree; Ralphie (you know, A Christmas Story’s Ralphie?) found it in a Chinese restaurant. I guess I’m finding it through the backdoor of other’s miseries — as long as we’re not late for supper and dessert, it really doesn’t matter.

Have a nice holiday, folks.