Tag Archive | Christmas

The week of The Taint

Thor_Father Christmas with goat wagon by_ronchironna

I’m working on a new post about this week between Christmas and New Year’s, but I’m not quite ready to publish it–a little too gross and gloomy. So in the meantime, I’m sharing this from last year. Warning: it’s still gross in spots, but at least it’s less gloomy.

Norwegians have a word for the week between Christmas and New Year’s: romjula. The closest we have in English is the word Taint, meaning it ‘taint Christmas any more, but it ‘taint New Year’s either. I’m indebted to Rex Smith’s December 26th essay in the Times Union for this information, which inspired me to undertake some further research about this interlude in the darkest days of winter. I’m especially interested because of my Scandinavian heritage—I’m ¾ Norwegian and ¼ Swedish.

The theme of last night’s Poets Speak Loud open mic at McGeary’s Tavern was “holiday hangovers,” so I decided to write a poem about my findings. My research uncovered another meaning for “The Taint,” a meaning not fit to print in a family newspaper, but totally appropriate for the traditionally bawdy end-of-the-year event hosted by Mary Panza. In the version below, I’m highlighting the dirty bits in magenta, so you can skip over them if you’re squeamish.

The Christmas Goat and the Taint

The Taint—that’s what the Brits call this week that’s neither here nor there.

‘Taint Christmas any more, ‘taint New Year’s either.

A weirdly nebulous time, in northern climes devoted to slothful lassitude,

To wallowing in the doldrums, swallowed up in food and booze.

Some call it the Witching Week, claim you’ve got a free pass to excess

And nothing counts against you during The Taint.

That goes for calories too, so scarf down all those goodies.

Chugalug that eggnog, channeling Miss Piggy.

No fair weighing yourself till New Year’s morning.

Assuming you can see down past your bloated belly,

The digital red numbers will inform you of the penalty for all that gluttony.

Ding dong, the season of the witch is dead and gone,

But you’ll be paying the price in pounds for months to come.

Nude Waking Adonis painting

But speaking of butts, The Taint has another meaning:

The place between the vulva and the anus, that narrow swath of skin

Also called the perineum, that keeps the delicate lady parts

From filthy nether regions. Also the area between the scrotum and the asshole

That keeps a man from shitting on his nuts.

This definition dates from the Renaissance, probably precedes

The tamer version focused on dark December,

And sheds new light on Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

Norwegians have less judgmental terms for the perineal lull

Twixt Christmas and New Year’s Eve: Romjula or romhelgen,

From the Norse, means “That does not need to be kept strictly sacred.”

In other words, no guilt trips. Nearer the North Pole,

Cradled in relentless never ending darkness,

They cut themselves some slack, feast on foods like krumkake and nuts,

Smash and devour the gingerbread houses

So carefully built for Christmas. They cozy up at home with family,

Slug down Aquavit, take contemplative walks in winter’s frigid cold.

Norwegians still may “go the Christmas goat.”

Children wander from house to house, begging treats. In earlier times

Folks dressed in shaggy pelts and brandished horns. The glowing yule log

Was once a goat, slaughtered and devoured to celebrate fertility

And ensure good fortune in the coming year.
Two goats pulled Thor’s thunderous chariot across the sky.

Tanngrisner and Tanngnjost by name, they made a fearsome racket

Called Tor-boom. We call it thunder, worship the Norse thunder god

At the multiplex, crown him the sexiest man in the world

As decreed by People magazine, though Chris Hemsworth’s actually Australian.

Hosting Saturday Night Live, he flashed his killer smile

And stashed his enormous hammer out of sight.

In Norway, long before Santa Claus, the fearsome Christmas goat

Brought presents for good children, punished the bad.

The goat is virile, beastly, a satyr, in league with witches or the devil,

A symbol of sexuality. All in all, a hell of a lot more fun and energetic

Than the amorphous, foggy phantom called The Taint

That blankets Merry England in the depths of winter.

I call myself Norse Crone, proud to be Norwegian.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

I’d love your feedback. Please let me know how you feel about the “naughty bits” in the poem. Are they a total turn-off? Too tastelessly over the top? Since I’m working on the sequel to my vampire soap opera thriller HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL, your comments may help me decide how outrageous my writing can be.

The Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year

Three years ago, I wrote this poem and posted it along with some commentary on my blog. Reading it over now, I believe it’s worth an encore.

Only eight days till Christmas, and I’m immersed in the holiday spirit. But there have been past Christmases when I was mired in depression or feeling very “bah humbug” about the holidays. I’m well aware that this season conjures up a wide range of emotions in shades from joy to despair, and that December can be a problematic time for many people, especially those living alone or with emotional, physical or financial problems – and doesn’t that include just about everybody?

For this night’s Nitty Gritty Slam at Valentine’s in Albany,* I wanted to write something christmas-andy-williamsnew to read at the open mic that precedes the actual poetry slam. Tonight’s theme, in keeping with the holidays, is the “Annual Airing of Grievances.” On my car radio, even the country station has been playing Andy Williams’s inescapable “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”** and I’ve been thinking of writing a parody substituting “horrible” for “wonderful.” But I didn’t want to focus on negativity – not completely, at any rate.

But walking my dog by the lake this morning, I came up with “over-hyped,” and by the time he’d finished pooping, I had the beginning of these lyrics in my head. Feel free to borrow them for your local sing-along.

OVER-HYPED TIME OF THE YEAR

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

So you’d better be happy, and best make it snappy

Or people will jeer.

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

All your family will want lots of gifts.

So you’d better go shopping, and don’t dream of stopping

Or you’ll cause a rift

If you don’t spring for pricy new gifts.

christmas-mall-shoppers-toronto

(bridge)

There’ll be parties each night and if you’re not invited,

Then you can just stay home and mope.

Drink your brandy-spiked eggnog till you’re in a deep fog.

You’ll wake up a hung-over dope!

It’s the season they sing about snow.

But you can’t shovel white stuff ‘less you’ve got the right stuff.

Head south now, just go –

Oops, you can’t, ‘cause you don’t have the dough.

 christmas-trees-abundant-but-consumers-might-find-higher-price-tags-2

(bridge)

Hang those lights, deck those halls. If being cheery seems false,

Just keep wearing that shit-eating grin.

This will pass soon enough, just hang in and stay tough

Till the January bills trickle in!

(dramatic key change)

But for now, eat and drink, have no fear.

Though this season’s depressing, more turkey and dressing

Will fill you with cheer,

And you’ll gain ten more pounds for New Year! 

christmas-fat-cat

* For more about the Nitty Gritty Slam, visit www.albanypoets.com. This is the last slam of the year, and by next Christmas, Valentine’s will have been demolished to make way for a huge parking garage for Albany Med. Right now, the snow’s coming down hard, and I may not make it to tonight’s event after all. But I just poured some eggnog, and I can always sing this at “Poets Speak Loud” next Monday at McGeary’s. You can find info on that at the same website.

**The song was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle for the Andy Williams TV show and premiered in 1963. It wasn’t an overnight smash, but he sang it every year and it slowly gained popularity. Now, love it or hate it, it ranks among the top ten Christmas songs. Andy Williams died in September, 2012.

Postscript, December 2016. Sure enough, Valentine’s was demolished as predicted, and Albany Medical Center continues to metastasize throughout the neighborhood. The owner of Valentine’s opened a new bar, The Low Beat, on Central Avenue, where the Nitty Gritty Slam lives on. They’re on a winter break right now, but the slams will resume in April. “Poets Speak Loud” is still going strong at McGeary’s, and I was the featured poet there a few months back.

How are you faring this holiday season? I’d love to hear from you. In any case, eat, drink and be merry! You can always lose the weight next year.

low-beat-exterior

mcgearys-tess-collins-at-bar

Tess Collins of McGeary’s

The Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year

Christmas shopping-frenzy checkoutOnly eight days till Christmas, and I’m immersed in the holiday spirit. But there have been past Christmases when I was mired in depression or feeling very “bah humbug” about the holidays. I’m well aware that this season conjures up a wide range of emotions in shades from joy to despair, and that December can be a problematic time for many people, especially those living alone or with emotional, physical or financial problems – and doesn’t that include just about everybody? 

Julie reading at the Nitty Gritty Slam

Julie reading at the Nitty Gritty Slam

For this night’s Nitty Gritty Slam at Valentine’s in Albany,** I wanted to write something new to read at the open mic that precedes the actual poetry slam. Tonight’s theme, in keeping with the holidays, is the “Annual Airing of Grievances.” On my car radio, even the country station has been playing Andy Williams’s inescapable “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”*** and I’ve been thinking of writing a parody substituting “horrible” for “wonderful.” But I didn’t want to focus on negativity – not completely, at any rate.  

But walking my dog by the lake this morning, I came up with “over-hyped,” and by the time he’d finished pooping, I had the beginning of these lyrics in my head. Feel free to borrow them for your local sing-along. Or if you’re coming to Valentine’s, print them out or save them on your smart phone so you can join in.

OVER-HYPED TIME OF THE YEAR

 

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

So you’d better be happy, and best make it snappy

Or people will jeer.

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

 

All your family will want lots of gifts.

So you’d better go shopping, and don’t dream of stopping

Or you’ll cause a rift

If you don’t spring for pricy new gifts.

 

(bridge)

There’ll be parties each night and if you’re not invited,

Then you can just stay home and mope.

Drink your brandy-spiked eggnog till you’re in a deep fog.

You’ll wake up a hung-over dope!

 

It’s the season they sing about snow.

But you can’t shovel white stuff ‘less you’ve got the right stuff.

Head south now, just go –

Oops, you can’t, ‘cause you don’t have the dough.

 

(bridge)

Hang those lights, deck those halls. If being cheery seems false,

Just keep wearing that shit-eating grin.*

This will pass soon enough, just hang in and stay tough

Till the January bills trickle in!

 

(dramatic key change)

But for now, eat and drink, have no fear.

Though this season’s depressing, more turkey and dressing

Will fill you with cheer,

And you’ll gain ten more pounds for New Year!

 

(Repeat first stanza if desired)

*Substitute “big phony grin” as needed

blue Christmas tree in grand hall** For more about the Nitty Gritty Slam, visit www.albanypoets.com. This is the last slam of the year, and by next Christmas, Valentine’s will have been demolished to make way for a huge parking garage for Albany Med. Right now, the snow’s coming down hard, and I may not make it to tonight’s event after all. But I just poured some eggnog, and I can always sing this at “Poets Speak Loud” next Monday at McGeary’s. You can find info on that at the same website.  

***The song was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle for the Andy Williams TV show and premiered in 1963. It wasn’t an overnight smash, but he sang it every year and it slowly gained popularity. Now, love it or hate it, it ranks among the top ten Christmas songs. Andy Williams died in September, 2012.

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Curbing the Christmas urge to overspend

christmas-presents under treeMy Christmas shopping came to a screeching halt this morning when the garden center rejected my debit card. Fortunately, I had the checkbook from my other account, the one I share with my husband, so I wrote a check to cover the cost. I’d finally found the perfect ornament for the top of the tree, a woman swathed for winter in Victorian clothes, and it was the only one left. That plus a couple of other ornaments cost only $36 – a deal I couldn’t resist.

He’s not going to be happy about it. He’ll be even unhappier when I tell him I drove down the road to the bank and deposited a check from our joint account to cover my shortfall. I usually check my balance online to avoid sinking into the red, but my computer had mysteriously refused to let me to access my account for the past few days, offering up a pesky argument about lapsed security certificates. Now the glitch is gone, but the damage is already done, to the tune of a $25 overdraft fee.

I thought I’d found an okay treetop ornament last night – a gilded light-up star for $10.99 from Walmart. But when I showed it to my spouse, he gave me that sardonic half-smile, half-sneer that means “This is so ridiculous that I’m not even going to dignify it with a comment.” (It’s the same expression he dons when I tell him I’m going to make a gazillion bucks from my books in the near future.) Given that look, I decided to visit Hewett’s one more time. I’d seen some treetop angels there last week, a bit pricy, but I hoped they might be on sale by now. They weren’t, but I couldn’t resist that Victorian woman, or the beautifully feathered red and green birds, even though I’ll have to hang the latter well out of reach of my cat Lunesta and my dog Sirius, who will no doubt find the plumage irresistible. Christmas shopping-frenzy checkout

Actually, last night I’d decided my shopping was pretty well finished anyway. Just before midnight, I ordered a Yamaha keyboard for my six-year-old granddaughter Jasper, a beginner’s model with lots of voices and built-in lessons on sale for $79 from Best Buy. I’ll give my 13-year-old granddaughter Kaya a promissory note for tickets to the travelling show of Les Miserables at Proctor’s next spring – that way I can put off actually buying the tickets till January.  

I ordered my husband a special present – something beautiful and totally impractical that he’ll never guess in advance, and that I can’t describe here because he reads my blog. Our daughter Stacey’s present is a new washing machine to replace the one that died – essential for a working mother with two young girls. For my 83-year-old brother, who lives alone in the Bronx, an assortment of cheeses and sausages, including his favorite Limburger, from our native Wisconsin. And that’s about it.

Back in the last millennium, I would have been a lot more extravagant. I had more credit cards back then, and I used them freely. I’m bipolar, after all, and one of the endearing traits of my diagnosis is a tendency to spend like crazy. But I’ve long since reined in that aspect of my manic side. Now I have only one credit card, and I’m proud to say I haven’t used it in years, though I’m still paying off the old balance. It’s not even activated, but they sent me a new one, and I admit I’m tempted.

My husband and I don’t need much new stuff these days, but three weeks ago we bought our main Christmas presents – two state-of-the-art Samsung Galaxy II smart phones. For years I’d struggled with my old Blackberry, hating its tiny keys and avoiding it as much as possible. Incredibly, I never even tried texting until I got this new gizmo, and already I’m finding it useful. In Target the other day, I texted Stacey to double check Kaya and Jasper’s current sizes.  And an hour ago, while my husband was out, I texted him as follows: 

Hi. U should know that I wrote checks for $240 today because my debit card was declined. Please don’t yell! IOU.

Unfortunately he came home just as I was sending it, so I told him to go into the bedroom and check his messages before we talked. He obliged, and when he emerged, we had a calm, rational conversation about our Christmas budgeting concerns.

Household harmony – what more could I possibly want for Christmas? How about you – how are you coping with the holiday spending frenzy? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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Gratitude for the things money can’t buy

My refrigerator’s looking pretty bare, but I can’t shop for groceries, because my checking account’s practically zeroed out. Fortunately my predicament’s temporary, because tomorrow’s the fourth Tuesday of the month, and that means my Social Security payment will magically appear in my account, followed on the last day of the month by my New York State retirement check.

Actually my situation’s not as grim as this suggests, because my significant other can make up the shortfall and then some. If I were forced to live on my retirement income alone, I’d be in dire straits, like so many millions of single women in this country. This time of year especially, I’m enormously grateful for my good fortune. I’m thankful, too, that Obama won the election; if the Republicans had their way, the safety net that helps sustain our society might well have been destroyed, plunging countless millions into ever deepening poverty while the privileged one percent continue raking in the big bucks.

As always, this Thanksgiving brought lots of talk about gratitude, and it’s almost mandatory to maintain an attitude of good cheer through the coming weeks. Well before Thanksgiving, my favorite oldies station began playing nonstop Christmas music, and I’ll admit I enjoy it up to a point, but I can’t agree with Andy Williams when he sings “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” (He died this year, but his rendition of this saccharine song endures.)

Van Gogh

According to a recent poll, 45% of Americans are so financially stressed this time of year that they wish Christmas would simply disappear. The findings are dubious, though, because the survey was sponsored by a company that focuses on risky financial instruments designed for people already living perilously close to their personal financial cliffs.

In recent years, I’ve been doing my best to live within my means, modest as they may be. I paid off and then cancelled all but one of my credit cards, and I haven’t used that one in years. I haven’t even activated it when they send me a new one, but I’m still paying off the balance. I’ll admit I’m tempted to resurrect it to add to my family’s holiday cheer this Christmas, but if I do, I swear I’ll be ultra-cautious with it.

I’m grateful that as I age, I crave less and less in the way of material possessions. I’ve already got more than I need, and I had no problem boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially since I didn’t have the wherewithal to pay in cash. My house is already overflowing with stuff I can’t bear to part with, so why add to the clutter?

As part of a spiritual deepening program in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, I’ve begun making a daily list of the things I’m grateful for. The trick is to select a number and stick to it each day. I’ve chosen the number seven, and it’s surprisingly easy to come up with that many. Right now, for example, I’m grateful for:

  1. My cat Lunesta, dozing and purring between my legs
  2. My husband, reading in the recliner across from mine
  3. My dog Sirius, lying on guard next to the front door
  4. My house – be it ever so humble, it’s warm and dry, and we own it
  5. The wonderful group of women writers I met with this afternoon
  6. Their laughter and enthusiasm when I read a scene from my novel
  7. National Novel Writing Month ends this Friday, and I’m going to meet my quota of 50,000 words

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned my daughter and granddaughters – but you get the idea. Family, friends, pets, creativity – simple things, and except for our modest mortgage, they don’t cost a cent.

Are you feeling grateful this time of year? Do you love the holidays, or are you more like those folks in the survey who wish they’d go away?

Good grief, I never put up the Christmas tree. Am I jinxed? Not yet!

This Christmas, for the first time in 35 years, we never put up the Christmas tree. It’s not that we didn’t have one – we had three, in fact. So what happened? Did I bring down the jinx of Scrooge on my happy home? So far so good – but the holidays aren’t over yet.

Last spring at our UU congregation’s auction, I bid on a fixed-price Christmas brunch complete with a Christmas tree of my choice, fresh cut at the farm of a fellow Unitarian. Fast forward to early December, when my husband decided to rip out and reinsulate the ceiling in the sunroom where we’ve always put the tree. I begged him to postpone the renovation till after New Year’s, but to no avail – he was hell bent on increasing the R value and saving on oil this winter.

This morning the temperature stands at five degrees, and the wind chill is well below zero. Is the sunroom ceiling finished? Not even close. Standing below the exposed roof beams, I can feel the frigid draft. The white spruce tree from our friend’s farm lies forlorn on the front lawn, never having made it through the front door. By now, some efficient neighbors have already stripped and thrown out their trees, so I’m hoping that if we move this one closer to the street, it will be picked up and fed through the town chipper with no one the wiser.

 Anyway, I didn’t get to choose that tree after all. I signed up to usher at a “Sinatra Christmas” big band show at The Egg, thinking I could easily go there after leaving the brunch, but it turned out picking the tree involved a half-mile hike up a snowy road, then felling a 30 foot tree with a chain saw and cutting off the top to yield a tree of the desired size. Our host took a well-deserved brunch break just when I was all set to pick the tree, so my husband drove me home to change into my black and white ushering garb, then drove back to select and help fell the tree. We’ve fought about Christmas tree size for decades – I’ve always wanted them bigger, and I’ve always been there to make the ultimate judgment call – but I had to trust his judgment.

He did the best he could, but it’s hard to pick a Christmas tree when the part you want is 30 feet in the air. The white spruce he brought home was on the scroungy side. Worse, it was pricklier by far than the balsam or Frazier fir we usually get. True, it had dozens of cute little pine cones, but they fell off instantly at the slightest touch, and we knew the ornaments would be highly vulnerable to falling construction debris. So as Christmas came and went, the tree lay naked and neglected in the yard.

But we did enjoy two other Christmas trees. Several years ago I planted a Wichita Blue juniper in front of the house. It’s been very happy there, and it’s now over 12 feet tall, with the slender silhouette of a Van Gogh cypress. This year I festooned it with green, teal and blue lights, and it looks very elegant, though not as raucously festive as our neighbors’ multicolored cascades of lights and inflatable Santas. The most wonderful tree, though, was the one our daughter put up in her new home in Woodstock. It’s full, fragrant, and loaded with lights and ornaments, including some we passed on to her from trees we decorated when she was a child. Watching our granddaughters play with Loki, their gray tabby kitten, beneath that tree on Christmas day, we knew we were truly blessed.

Is this the beginning of a slippery slope? Are we getting too old for Christmas trees? Certainly not. I fully intend to get one next year and for many years to come. They probably won’t come from our friend’s farm, though. Instead we’ll return to one of the nearby garden centers, where I can inhale the tree’s aroma, feel the needles to make sure it’s fresh and not too prickly, spin it around and check for symmetry. And next year’s tree can be taller than ever – the sunroom will be loftier now that we’ve ripped out the old dropped ceiling with its dirty white paneling.

Moral of the story? It’s OK to break with holiday traditions now and then – the sky won’t fall. Just don’t make a habit of it. How about you? Did you break any holiday traditions this year? And how did that make you feel?