GETTING MORE TALE #623: Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
Traditions change and evolve over the years as families do. I have always been excited about Christmas, going back my youngest days. I would be so excited I couldn’t sleep. Killing the days before Christmas was agonizing. I guess as kids we were a little spoiled.
Spoiled kids became spoiled teens. As I got older, I stopped asking for toys for Christmas. Music replaced them. Most of the time, I would circle titles that I saw in print ads. Stores like A&A Records and even the local Zellers had flyers with new releases and sale items. I remember the winter of 1986, circling two: Helix’s Long Way to Heaven, and Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Trilogy. I didn’t know much about Yngwie other than a few videos on TV. I circled both and I received both, on cassette. I recall listening to them on a pair of earphones at Grandma’s after Christmas dinner that year.
The following year, 1987, was the year of a couple pretty important albums. That Christmas I received Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and Whitesnake’s 1987. Hysteria quickly became the favourite. Its impact was immediate and that cassette kept me entertained for years. Whitesnake took more time to get into. It didn’t help that the cassette had speed issues. Similarly, the Helix and Yngwie tapes from the year before had the same drag problems that made them hard to listen to. Because of this, many albums that originally had quality problems on tape releases, I didn’t warm up to for many many years. It was hard to enjoy Whitesnake tunes like “Don’t Turn Away” when they were slow and warbly.
When I first began receiving tapes for Christmas, the mid-80s, we had a pretty routine Christmas schedule. There was no variation from year to year. We have a small family compared to others. Our celebrations always began on the 24th. My mom and dad would spend the morning preparing food and cleaning. My sister and I would be pains in the asses. Then my aunt and uncle from Stratford would come over around 2:00 and we’d exchange first gifts. My aunt and uncle always brought fun gifts. They would never, ever buy clothes for Christmas unless it was something we asked for. No socks, no undies, no shirts, no pants. Fun gifts only! Sometimes guitar strings, games, and sheet music. There would always be at least one tape for each of us.
After gifts were opened, my sister and I would go upstairs and play our new tapes. Sometimes, we’d have something a little bigger: a video tape. In 1991, my aunt and uncle gave me Faith No More’s You Fat Bastards. They had access to a cool store in Stratford that would special order anything. As my needs evolved, my aunt and uncle would typically buy me hard-to-find items. The Faith No More video was one such special order. That year, I ran downstairs to the spare VCR and fired up the live video. My other uncle came down to watch with me, but didn’t care too much for their cover of “War Pigs”. Admittedly, it’s pretty different.
The traditions didn’t change much as we got older. In the 90s, my buddy Peter would come over for Christmas Eve. And, my sister discovered wine. One of her rituals now is drinking her wine out of her special cup which we have dubbed the “Holy Grail”, due to its perceived similarity to the one that appeared in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Usually, before she takes a sip, I make her say the line, “It certainly is the cup of the King of Kings…”
Our Christmas Eve dinner, which is my favourite, has remained unchanged in over 30 years. We do a beef, chicken and veggie fondue. We’ve only had a couple of injuries over the years, but table cloths were frequently destroyed. Today, my sister does the Christmas Eve entertaining, as my parents have retired from this duty. She’ll always have some Christmas music playing, though not the kind I like. We don’t run to listen to our gifts on headphones anymore. We had to grow up, a little bit.
Christmas Day was also special for us. When we were kids, I’d wake up my sister early in the morning to open presents. Now, we put on our winter boats, coats and hats and drive over, and usually quite late in the morning. More gifts are exchanged, and always more music. It’s interesting to look at the kinds of albums I received then compared to now. Back then, a multi-disc set was a big big deal. Now, a three disc set can be as little as $30, the same price as a double live CD then. I seem to get a lot of deluxe editions and box sets for Christmas now as if it’s no big deal!
My sister and I would exchange gifts, and we always got music for each other. She was really good at filling in gaps of my collections. Artists like Alice Cooper and Whitesnake had large discographies and I had very little. She would look at my tape collection, go to the mall and pick up one of the many I was missing. Whitesnake was an annual gift for several years in a row. This was cool because it was always going to be something I didn’t expect, because my sister didn’t buy this off of some list I made. It always came 100% from her own intuition.
After the parents’ house, we’re still not done. Time to see Grandma! She always makes me laugh. One year she wrote inside a card, “You can use your Christmas money to buy a CD record.” Aww!
There is one Christmas tradition that I don’t particularly enjoy, and it’s a more recent one. We call it the $10 Gift Game. Lots of families do the same thing. Everybody buys a generic gift worth about $10, wraps it, and puts it on a table. Then, everybody draws a number out of a hat. #1 goes first by picking a gift off the table. They then open that gift for everyone to get a look at. #2 goes next. #2 either picks a wrapped gift off the table, or steals the gift opened by #1. If #2 chooses to steal, then #1 must open a new gift. But #2 must remember, their gift can be stolen by #3, #4, #5, and so on.
Each round consists of the next number in line picking a gift from the table or stealing. It gets quite tedious in our family, because my mother really likes to drag things out. She will encourage people to steal, so that the victim must replace their gift by picking or stealing from someone else, and then the next victim must also replace their gift, and on and on each round goes. At the end of the game people usually just end up swapping to get the gift most suited to their needs. For example, my mother or sister always end up with the booze. It’s harder to settle on who gets the chocolates.
One year, in protest of the game, my gift was a bag of unwrapped nickles and pennies adding up to exactly $10.*
Yes, I can be a Christmas grump sometimes. As a non-drinking participant, sometimes things can get a little goofy for me. Also, my dad’s level of interest in the game is so minimal that someone basically has to play for him while he does something else! The game definitely has a short shelf-life for me.
We are a bit older today but still try to have fun with Christmas. My sister and I will be giving music to each other, I’m sure, as we have done just about every single year for 30 years. Usually, we will just sit around saying, “Remember that one Christmas when…?”
I sure do. Here is a list of my Top Ten Most Fun Christmas Gifts of All Time.
1978 – Star Wars X-Wing Fighter
1979 – Star Wars Millenium Falcon
1983 – Star Wars Jabba the Hutt playset
1984 – GI Joe Killer W.H.A.L.E. Hovercraft
1985 – My first dual tape deck
1986 – GI Joe Cobra Terrordrome
1987 – The latest by Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Kiss and also Kim Mitchell’s Akimbo Alogo
1990 – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin boxed set.
1993 – Led Zeppelin – Boxed Set 2
Merry Christmas one and all!
* I am told that due to inflation, the game is now the $15 Gift Game.