The holidays, as we collectively call them, start in earnest while we are still recovering from Halloween and preparing for Thanksgiving. Once Thanksgiving is over, all bets are off and we are surrounded by the Christmas season until we crawl back to work on January 2nd to the grim realities of our winter lives.
Holiday traditions are fine things, and for many years I took pride in my annual Bad Santa Party, which celebrated the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Bad Santa. Someday I will revive that tradition with a vengeance, but until that time it pays to find other holiday traditions that will celebrate the season without going to church or being part of a slack-jawed mob.
Of course, there are plenty of things to do that are not holiday related, but if you want to enjoy some yuletide spirit but not be surrounded by entitled ignoramuses or enormous crowds, here are some ways to observe the holiday season without losing your sanity or your edge.
Tree lightings abound. Mobs crowd Rockefeller Center and their tree is the most well-known in the city, but lots of other trees and menorahs have ceremonial lightings. Different parks, zoos and public gardens hold a host of lighting events and they are often a lot of fun. Go to one of those and you’ll get just as much craic as you would from going to some massive retail tree lighting and have a better time with smaller crowds as well.
Santa Claus for a better cause. You could certainly wait on a long line at a department store or shopping mall to put your sloppy toddler on that stranger’s lap, or you could explore an alternative venue where there won’t be as many elves or predatory photographers but the money will be going to a good cause. In my area, both the Queens Botanical Garden and the Lewis Latimer House have events where kids get to meet Santa Claus.
Anti SantaCon Pub Crawl. One of the more obnoxious holiday traditions in the city is SantaCon, a prolonged drunken stumble by perpetually unaware hollow men and their fawning female enablers. Sadly, SantaCon was once a fun and inspiring artistic event that became too popular and is now the corrupt antithesis of its founding ideals. But where there is a need for change, New Yorkers will step into the breech, and so bar owners in Brooklyn have started the Anti-SantaCon Gowanus Pub Crawl on Sunday, Dec. 9. You still get to dress up and drink in the holiday spirit, but absent the feeble stupidity that passes for holiday spirit among the current SantaCon crowd.
Literary birthday celebrations. Did you know that December 3 is Joseph Conrad’s birthday? Or that December 7 is the anniversary of Willa Cather’s birth? Shirley Jackson, Stanley Crouch, Edna O’Brien, Jane Austen, George Santayana, John Milton, and Mary Higgins Clark, among other literary lights, have birthdays in December. Why not have a party where you read their works?
Visit the New York Hall of Science. I have a tradition of visiting the New York Hall of Science on Christmas Eve with my daughters. It’s usually not crowded and our girls love science. It gives their mother a break from watching them for a while and she has time to wrap their gifts while they are away. It allows us to enjoy this popular public space in a bit of solitude and quiet.
There is no more New York thing to do than to carve out your own new tradition and celebration. The holidays give us these opportunities. Seize the day.
Among the many holiday traditions that we go through are finding the fine balance between indulging in all the requisite holiday traditions with children while not creating a burning hatred of the holidays within yourself.
Considering that I live in one of the largest urban centers of the known universe, I am very much averse to crowds and would rather not go where there is a crush of people. And it’s not that these are New York crowds that makes my hatred of crowds so strong, I’ve found that in places like Atlanta, where the crowds are often suburbanites with not concept of urban life or shared space, people are more likely to get on your nerves and not know how to move or act in a crowded space. New York has more than its share of clueless retards who don’t know how to ride an escalator or even walk down a hallway, but there is at least a baseline population of those that do that can make life here bearable.
So the holidays tend to bring the tourists and other urban amateurs within the five boroughs to see the sights and sounds. We need their tourist dollars to help keep this show afloat, but we can see a lot of beautiful holiday stuff without having to endure the hoard of vapid slow-walkers that make visiting our beautiful city a shit show.
When some of my family wanted to head to Times Square the day after Christmas a few years ago, I thought they were out of their minds. I still went along with them anyway because I didn’t want to miss out on spending some time with family. While I was trying to navigate my way out of the giant M&Ms World store, I vowed to no god that I would avoid crushing holiday crowds at all cost.
I am very lucky and in a rare position as a New York City dweller in that I have regular access to an automobile. Part of that is a function of where in the city I live. I’m in a more suburban part of Eastern Queens. I’m still in the thick of a crowded city, but I’m in an area where driving a car is not the abysmal insanity that it is in Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn. That gives us options to get to places that are off limits to a lot of my family and friends, including people with kids, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
I had a day off of work and we managed to get our brood, along with the help of grandparents, to Hicks Nurseries on Long Island. It has a lot of beautiful holiday stuff there – really nice trees and ornaments that lend dignity and beauty to the holiday. They also have a lot of the schlocky crap you’d expect people from Long Island to love (sorry Long Island friends but it’s true).
Hicks Nurseries on a weekday is a good time, on the weekend it’s a madhouse. It’s a nice madhouse and a nice place to get Christmas stuff, but a madhouse nonetheless – their credit card readers are also ancient and it declined my credit card even though it wasn’t overdrawn or anything.
While I try not to simply phone it in for the holidays, I want to lead by example for the children. If your kids see you going apeshit over Christmas, they’re going to go apeshit over Christmas too. If you act like Santa is maybe no big deal, then your kids won’t ask to stand in line for an hour to meet a man in a Santa suit. So when I saw people lining up an hour ahead of time to meet “Santa” at Hicks, I knew I didn’t want to linger. We did buy a tree though despite their credit card malfeasance.
For a good Santa with little to no waiting, head to Old Westbury Gardens. It’s a worthwhile place to visit any time of the year. It’s the former estate of wealthy attorney and industrial heir John Shaffer Phipps that is now open to the public and well preserved. There are interesting events there all year round. We brought our kids there for an arts & crafts event and discovered that they have a Santa Claus there on the weekends. There was no waiting. It was free (with admission to the grounds) and the Santa was friendly. Our girls did not want to sit on Santa’s lap and even expressed some skepticism afterwards (“Santa didn’t say ‘Ho, ho ho,’” one of our girls observed).
I’m very much looking forward to the holidays this year, and not just because I’m going to be getting some nice gifts and eat delicious food, but because I’m going to be spending more time with family, including my smart and tough daughters. Our family has had a lot of down moments this year, with death and illnesses putting a damper on everything. But getting to take time away from the busy workday and put in time with family, where it counts, is something to be joyous about, even in the most jaded of times.
Last year I was waiting for a bus on Main Street in Flushing when the guy on line next to me began complaining.
“You see that snowflake, right there,” he said to the woman he was with, referencing a large snowflake make of lights suspended over the heavily trafficked street. “That represents everything wrong with society today.”
While it was definitely too early to put up holiday decorations, the snowflakes over the street are not the ultimate illustration of our society’s ills.
Holiday decorations before Thanksgiving are definitely bad taste, but complaining about the holidays to prove how edgy you are is probably worse. I have no idea if the guy bitching about the snowflakes over Main Street celebrates any holidays this time of year, but judging by his appearance and the language he spoke the odds are good that he gives and receives gifts in the month of December.
Years ago I worked in a department store and the store had its own full-time staff that were in charge of all decorations. No matter what the season or the sale, they were always hard at work taking down or putting up something different. I remember seeing them put up a giant wreath in either August or September and I thought it was ridiculous, so I asked one of the guys about it. “It’s not that we want to be putting up holiday decorations this early,” he said. “It’s that there’s so much of it that if we don’t start on it now, we’ll never get all of it done by Black Friday.”
I’m as jaded about the holidays as the next New Yorker. People take them way too seriously. It’s supposed to be such an enjoyable time of the year that people go into it expecting perfection, when perfection just isn’t part of normal or happy life. Last year people bitched that the Starbucks cups weren’t heavy enough on the Christmas theme (I remind people that 7 Eleven has green and red coffee cups all goddamn year).
The proper response to the flurry of early holiday decorations is to not bitch about them and just go about your normal life. The holidays will be there for you when you want to pay attention to them.
One of the things I’m looking forward to most this holiday season is watching Bad Santa 2. The original Bad Santa became my go-to holiday movie after I saw it in the theater in 2003 and it cracked me up with a depraved holiday cynicism that ought to resonate with any skeptic.
And I’m sincerely looking forward to the holidays this year. It’s been a long year in a lot of ways. The world is indeed a dark and depressing place most of the time and there are a lot of things to be worried and anxious about. But if you have family or close friends you can spend time with and have a roof over your head and food in your stomach this holiday season, you have a reason to be glad.
And New York is beautiful over the holidays. Even the most jaded denizen of the Big Apple can find beauty among the schlocky tourist crap that permeates everything. Enjoy.
New York City is largely spared the horrors of Black Friday shopping brawls. A security guard was trampled to death a few years ago in Valley Stream, Long Island, right outside of Queens, but within the five boroughs we have a better history of crowd control. And few of our poor people have cars. There’s not a lot of motivation to try to haul a 60-inch plasma screen TV home on the subway.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not enough misery to go around. Last year I was trying to get to a restaurant in midtown the night of the Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center. Not only were the usual crowds heading to the tree lighting, but protesters objecting to a grand jury not indicting police offers in the Eric Garner case were headed that way also in an attempt to disrupt the ceremony or at least get on television. It was the only time in my life I walked towards Times Square to avoid worse crowds.
New York City has some great iconic holiday sights and experiences, all of which most New Yorkers avoid like the plague. The tree at Rockefeller Center, the windows of Macy’s or Saks Fifth Avenue, the laser light show at Grand Central Terminal are all great things that are mobbed with tourists to the point of not being truly enjoyable unless you are a tourist just happy to be there.
Here are some alternative and authentically New York holiday experiences you can consider to keep more money and sanity through the season.
For alternative shopping options, you should go visit The Kinda Punky Flea Market – Holiday Style is set to take place in Brooklyn at the Lucky 13 Saloon on December 20. I can’t think of a better place to shop for people with good taste. The Lucky 13 Saloon is a cool vestige of pre-insanity Brooklyn and attracts the interesting artists and musicians you thought had been run out of the borough entirely. There is also the Morbid Anatomy Flea Market at The Bell House in Brooklyn (there’s a high potential hipster factor at this one, but it might be worth it).
Plenty of people will buy expensive tickets to see Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall. I went there more than a decade ago and deeply regret not screaming “SLAYER!!!” at the quiet moment between the third and fourth movements. Radio City Music Hall’s holiday show is a by-the-numbers holiday show with the Rockettes and Santa Clause, but there are better shows that will give you an excuse to visit Radio City Music Hall. The Holiday Show in Astoria Queens will fill you to the brim with holiday punk rock goodness from some awesome bands. Astoria is not hard to get to and you’ll get a taste of real New York City punk. If you prefer more traditional holiday classical music, consider instead the holiday concert by the Queens Oratorio Society on December 20 in Queens.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx started on Nov. 21 but it runs into the New Year. I have gone on New Year’s Eve and the crowds were not that bad. You’ll be impressed with the models of New York City landmarks made from plants. The trains are interesting too.
And if you would just rather look at some pretty trees and other holiday decorations, then you can avoid the overcrowded Hades of Rockefeller Center and enjoy the Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History or the UNICEF Snowflakes near Central Park.
The holidays are a time when many of us are reluctantly pushed into public places to go through the motions about being happy about the holidays. Sometimes the very happiness of the holidays are mocking and angering. Sometimes the very image of others’ happiness is a slap in the face, and the holidays give other people’s happiness a particularly cold sting.
There’s no reason for the holidays this year to be any different. A cursory glance at the world at large doesn’t give the impression that there is much to celebrate.
It is my goal again this year, as in previous years, to not go into a single store to buy a Christmas present. I would rather be an antisocial Grinch and do all of my shopping online.
I get enough of the horrendously-behaved crowds in my everyday life. The holidays are a time to reflect on the blessing we have. While living in New York City is one of those blessings, living cheek-by-jowl with millions of other human beings is not. It’s an odd conundrum: We love New York, which wouldn’t be what it is without all of its people, yet a good many of those people are detestable.
But what else are we to do? We can’t live life as disgruntled hermits. We are social creatures and the people who are successful in living outside of society don’t live very good lives.
And besides, New York is beautiful around the holidays. Even the most jaded New Yorker can appreciate how beautiful things can become around this time of year. I embrace the “bah-humbug” aspect of the holidays in every way possible, and even I feel pangs of civic pride to see our city landmarks decked out in their holiday finery.
Here are five things you can do to experience New York City at its Christmastime best:
Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science consists of record-breaking gingerbread houses and you even get a chance to take home some of the gingerbread once the holidays are over. And the New York Hall of Science is a good place to escape to from the holiday scrum of Manhattan. It is in Queens, the greatest and most American New York City borough.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden has been running for over 20 years and runs until January 19. It features trains that run through beautiful models of some of New York’s greatest landmarks. The models are all made from plants. It’s like a New York-centric Rose Bowl Parade that doesn’t suck. It’s in The Bronx, and if you take some time to stroll through the Botanical Gardens, you will be amazed that you’re in a big city. It will be much less crowded after the holidays.
The Grand Central Terminal holiday light show is going to be crowded. Grand Central Terminal is always horribly crowded but it’s so beautiful that it’s worth it. The holiday light show will make you glad you went there.
Free reading of A Christmas Carol at Housing Works Bookstore Café. More than two dozen writers take turns reading from the Charles Dickens classic at this event. The book store raises money for Housing Works, an AIDS charity. Some free literature will make you feel better about yourself over the holidays.
Time Warner Center’s Holiday Under the Stars is a display of large lighted stars at the Time Warner Center’s large great room and are specially lit in a display that is set to music. The Time Warner Center does not have much to offer the non-millionaire shopper, so here is a chance to enjoy some nice holiday spirit at the center’s expense and maybe avoid some of the horrific crowds that clog other venues.
Holiday markets also abound. Union Square has one, as does Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal and Columbus Circle. Here is your chance to buy last minute Christmas things or feel OK about doing some real retail non-online shopping this year. These may be crowded but there are enough of them and these are large enough that you should be able to find a nice place to shop among these many markets. They also usually feature local artists selling their work.
Whatever you do, get out there and see the holiday sights. Even if you hate the holidays and want to piss on everyone’s parade, it only counts if you do so in person.
Thanksgiving is a great holiday because anyone can participate in it. It’s a secular tradition that encourages thankfulness and humility.
No matter what your background or thoughts about the country’s origins, everyone has something to be Thankful for. Even if your life is miserable and you’re having tough times, someone somewhere has helped you and your own mind will be better off if you show gratitude.
But Thanksgiving is also the kickoff of the holiday season (“holiday” meaning Christmas and/or Chanukah), and as such it has been accompanied in recent decades by the ever-present “Black Friday” when the Christmas-fueled gluttony of commerce commences.
Every year we are treated to fresh news footage of frenzied shoppers trampling one another or rioting over merchandise as stores open their doors on “Black Friday,” the first full day of holiday season shopping. Actual deaths by trampling at some of these Black Friday events haven’t dissuaded people from standing in line for hours for the chance to surrender their dignity in return for a discount on merchandise. It would be interesting to see what percentage of fanatical Black Friday shoppers actually spend the bulk of that day’s shopping money on themselves rather than on gifts for others.
In my extended years of post-college underemployment, I worked for a time as a sales associate in a suburban department store. I remember having to wake up at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving because the store opened at 6 a.m. instead of the usual 9:30 or 10 a.m. I remember pulling my beat-up van into the parking lot at 5:30 a.m. and seeing people already standing outside the doors waiting. I remember hating each of them instantly, and finding them among most pathetic forms of life on Earth. You could always count on these early shoppers to be absolute jerks as well. They’ll argue loudly over five cents and treat you like garbage.
It is my ambition every year now to do all of my Christmas shopping online. I don’t want to have to enter a single store or post office to buy or send Christmas gifts.
But the popularity of Black Friday events has not waned.
And recently things took a deeper step into the ridiculous as some stores have been opening their Black Friday sales on Thursday, Thanksgiving.
That’s been the tipping point for a lot of people. Watching Neanderthal shoppers trample people to death or claw each other’s eyes out for a flat-screen television didn’t offend enough people for a backlash, but being open on Thanksgiving has.
And it’s right that it should. Those people who stand for hours in the cold waiting for the Friday sales to open want to be there, but asking store employees to come in on Thanksgiving is beyond a consumer’s capacity for rapacious cruelty.
People are urging one another not to reward companies that open on Thanksgiving. Some stores are even taking advantage of the backlash and advertising that they are NOT open on Thanksgiving.
There are some places that should be open on Thanksgiving. We don’t mind police and firefighters having to work; we need them all the time. We don’t need to buy televisions on Thanksgiving.
Maybe the outrage generated by attempts at having a Black Thursday will turn the tide against holiday consumer culture. If it makes even a modest dent, that would be one more thing to be thankful for.
The endless salvos in the American cultural war normally give me a headache and are usually beneath the dignity of comment. But the latest jeremiad against a Fox News host about the race of Santa Claus was informative.
Megyn Kelly, on her program The Kelly File, remarked that Santa Claus is white. (She mentioned that Jesus Christ was white too, and while I’d love to discuss the colorful variations among the 12 tribes of Israel, I’ll instead point out that white people handed over the name Jesus to the Latinos a while ago.)
Kelly was of course buried in a brouhaha of accusations of racism and “look what she said” type coverage, but if you actually watch the damn video, her piece is actually discussing an article on Slate that advocates doing without a white Santa, or a human Santa entirely, and replace him with a penguin in the name of helping nonwhite children love Christmas. Slate’s cultural blogger Aisha Harris recounts her childhood angst at the ubiquity of peckerwood Santa Clauses and thinks that a penguin Santa is a win-win for everyone.
When I was a kid growing up in Yonkers, my brother and I were sent to an afterschool center on weekday afternoons in nearby Eastchester. The kids at the daycare center were mostly white, but sometimes our center would get together with a nearby black organization called CAP (Community Action Program). We would take trips with them and every year we went to their Christmas party.
At every CAP Christmas party Santa Claus appeared and gave out presents, and at CAP, Santa was black. Not only was their Santa black, but he was someone that worked there that the black kids all knew. They laughed hilariously at the black Santa, in part because it was someone they knew and also because it was so obviously NOT Santa Claus.
Like Aisha Harris mentions in her piece on Slate, a non-white Santa doesn’t look quite right, even to a sympathetic non-white audience. It’s an obviously pandering variation awkwardly hammered into place. And children, ever suspicious of adult manipulation into their world, resent such obvious engineering. Harris was right to take umbrage at the black Santa. Even though the adults in her life were doing it for her perceived benefit, it was too much adult interference and that just ain’t right.
Us white kids resented the black Santa, not because we were racist or hated blacks but because we were treated to a needless maiming of a cultural icon that was supposed to be race-neutral.
And this fear of a white Santa is a very telling sign on the part of the multicultural left that’s calling for the head of Megyn Kelly on a charger. Wanting to get rid of white Santa is a tacit acknowledgement of the failure and hopelessness of multiculturalism itself.
If you buy into the belief of Santa Claus and believe that he’s a kindly, saintly man who loves good children, then he certainly loves all the good children of the world and brings them all gifts. That nonwhite children are automatically aggrieved at the sight of a white Santa Claus means that the hopes of fostering an integrated, diverse society is hopeless. If all the races should be equally valued and accepted by everyone, then the traditional white Santa is for everyone too.
If my kids have to stand for a black President, why can’t black kids accept gifts from a white Santa Claus? If multiculturalism is for real, then it’s not a one-way street. If non-white children can’t accept a benevolent white saint who gives them presents out of love, then there’s not much racial harmony in America’s future.
Santa Claus, like many other holiday trappings, developed from European traditions that were adapted to Christianity as it spread westward from the Middle East. Saint Nicholas, the Catholic patron saint of children and sailors and generally agreed to as the basis of Santa Claus, was Greek. If white people invented Santa Claus, then it makes sense he’d be white.
And so even assuming that Kelly was being racially assertive, what makes wanting Santa to look like you wrong? If Aisha Harris’ Christmas penguin catches on, so be it. I’ll be one of the last white fathers telling his kids about the real white Santa Claus.
There are several great Christmas traditions that I refuse to surrender despite being a jaded, cynical atheist. I still give gifts to family and friends, I still buy a real Christmas tree and decorate it, and still I watch Bad Santa every year.
If you have not seen it, do so; you won’t be sorry. The 2003 movie stars Billy Bob Thorton as a thief who works as a department store Santa in order to gain easier access to the safe. You could argue that the movie is dated on that count—the most successful retail thieves these days do their work from laptops and the prevalence of credit and debit cards means store safes don’t hold as much cash as they used to—but that’s a minor point that will not detract from the movie.
Thorton is genius as the hard-drinking, serial-fornicating, foul-mouthed career criminal. The cast also includes John Ritter (RIP), Bernie Mac (RIP), Lauren Graham, Tony Cox and Ajay Naidu of Office Space fame as a “Hindustani Troublemaker.”
Bad Santa manages to both piss on the fraudulent cheer that comprises so much of what passes for holiday spirit while still offering a tale of redemption. His sneering delivery and drunken slurs give the holiday season the violent kick in the groin it rightfully deserves. He exudes contempt for the pampered children and jabbering housewives that expect him to be at their beck and call. He’s a champion to anyone who has ever had to work at a department store at Christmas time (I have; it sucks). He is a hardened predator among easy prey, a prisoner to his criminal profession, but willing to commit to violent street justice without hesitation to help his bullied host.
Cinema has given us no better Christmas hero than Billy Bob Thorton’s Willie.
Willie represents our great unbridled American spirit, unashamed to fornicate with strangers in department store changing rooms and tell shoppers to shove their holiday cheer right up their plus-sized asses.
I saw Bad Santa in the theater reluctantly the year it came out. The TV commercials didn’t make it look very good and I didn’t need another silly holiday comedy. But the movie won me over before the opening credits were through. I was blown away by the excellence of the film. It is at the same time incredibly depraved and inspiring. No other movie better captured the dual hatred and love we often feel towards the holidays.
The forced cheerfulness, the clueless do-gooder religious bleating, the consumerist fervor and the crowded conditions of our roads, trains and stores make all thinking men want to shit on the holidays with fiendish enthusiasm. Yet the undercurrent of holiday cheer is appealing. It is the end of the year harvest festival of the Roman Saturnalia, though colored by the pasted-on veneer of Christian myth. The silver lining to Christmas is that it promotes traditions that help strengthen the family, and it gets you gifts.
It’s for this reason that the next Christmas season I began a tradition of having a holiday party with watching Bad Santa the centerpiece of the event. This past weekend was no different, though many of my friends have now seen the move so many times that they didn’t pay as much attention to the movie, but it never fails to entertain.
If you’re going to watch a special movie for the holidays, there are many to choose from. Watch Bad Santa. It’s a holiday tradition you will want to continue.