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Getting "In the Spirit"...Whatever That Means These Days: Part 1

I am one of those people that just doesn't feel it anymore when it comes to Christmas. I mean, I love going home and seeing my family. I love going to midnight mass. I love the story of Christ's birth, going to mass during Advent, and I love the traditional Christmas dinners my family has (which involve fish, octopus, vegetables, and more fish). Forget turkey and ham, in my house we eat boiled vegetables and codfish drizzled with olive oil. My family comes from a culture full of agriculture, fishermen, and all sorts of seafaring adventurers...so our holidays are a bit different than any I ever see on television.

Everything else about Christmas, however, is a disaster. I hate the red fur-trimmed Santa suits that pop up on every corner. I hate the Macy's "Believe" ads that have swamped all of Penn Station. Whenever I see these, I can't help but think, "Believe in what? Buying more crap?" I hate the overcrowded stores and lines of people with carts full of plastic ornaments, toys, etc....especially when I have only 4 things to check out. I hate the ads that keep popping up on Pandora (most of them are in Spanish for some reason...but I still hear the same annoying message). I hate the ridiculously tacky, inflatable holiday-themed football players you see on people's lawns during this time of year (maybe it's only something you see in South Jersey...but I still think it's obnoxious). I hate the commercials for toys, and a bunch of other crap they guilt you into buying for your kids. I don't have kids yet, so I'm off the hook when it comes to being considered a bad parent for refusing to buy my kid the latest DS, ipad, ipod, etc. Thank God for that.

The other week I committed a small faux pas during the lab gift exchange because of my refusal to give into tacky, over-the-top holiday riff-raff. It all started with my idea to purchase a gift card on amazon.com and place it in a box. Then place this box in another box in nesting doll fashion...and then throwing this in a few more boxes for good measure.

I didn't have time to wrap it, so I ended up printing out a bow and taping it to the top of the large cardboard box that housed all those other boxes and the card. I know, very classy. This part, however, wasn't the problem. The problem was the gift card itself. I don't know what it is with amazon.com...but their holiday card selection is pretty tacky and/or over-the-top.

Nothing says "Happy-over-the-top-and-extremely-tacky-Holidays" like Frosty the Olympic Gold Medalist Snowman.... zooming in on his flaming snowboard of doom to score his way into your heart with speed and MAJOR AIR!!! (This is a random, somewhat obscure Rocket Power reference for those of you who were raised on 1990s and early 2000s Nickelodeon and still remember it.)

Coming in second place is the cardboard box alphabet explosion! If you forget what watching Sesame Street was all about and want to relive the nostalgia of having letters thrown at you from all angles...pick this card. Side effects from buying this card include making up songs about the letter "A" and checking your garbage cans for any signs of Oscar the Grouch when you finally decide to tear off the gift card and toss this orange monstrocity. (Note- This is my default card...available year round for birthdays, anniversaries, showers, holidays, you name it. That's why it made it onto my current "holiday card" list.)
If you do happen to celebrate Christmas the way it was celebrated in the days before Martin Luther made outdoor Christmas trees a thing of the past, then this card is for you...especially if you're into isosceles triangle trees with built-in dotted lines...to help you cut around the edges.
If you prefer to tone it down a notch (or a lot of notches), this is the card for you. It features a few crooked row homes on a night as stark, dreary, and monochromatic...as this picture to the right. The only saving grace you see (after a few double takes) is a string of shabby Christmas lights hanging from light post to light post. That tiny little set of lights and the snow falling from the cloudless sky are the only signs on this card that make is somewhat seasonable. If it didn't have the snow, it could pass off as a "My Deepest Sympathy" card. It's just so......depressing.

Ultimately, I could not bring myself to get any of the cards from above. Not only were they devoid of anything that could evoke that so-called "Holiday" spirit...but they were so monstrously tacky. Instead of bringing holiday cheer, they made succeeded in evoking a few eye rolls and a head shake or two from me. I could not buy the cards. I simply refused to. They were so ridiculously tacky. To be fair, I am sure that a lot of people are more than okay with these cards. I also DO acknowledge that I can be a tad picky and more than a tad jaded when it comes to anything that our extremely materialistic culture seems to pass off as Christmas-related (even when it has nothing to do with Christmas).

For an example of why I'm a tad jaded by all this Holiday madness....consider the following example of just how crazy we are.
Perfect example: How in the world did we go from this: 
....to this permanent holiday fixture?


....and then this two-story $350 monstrocity? 
It's almost like walking into a form of mass hysteria whenever I go out to do something mundane like buy groceries these days....because of stuff like this! To make matters worse, it seems to be starting earlier and earlier as the years go by...and lasting longer. Well, before I go to far with my ranting...let me get back to the card situation....because you are probably wondering what card I did eventually get. Well, I chose the simplest one that was most pleasing to the eye...
I know what you're thinking...it's.....so....Christian...and under-commercialized. How in the world could I bring such a card into a holiday gift exchange?

Well, I weighed my options. This card was the only one that, in my opinion, didn't suck or look incredibly tacky. The silhouette idea here kind of appealed to me...as did the blending of dark blue into the light orange of early morning. Also, there were no Santa hats, no plastic ornaments, no isosceles trees, no elves (not a big fan of elves besides those in Middle Earth and Harry Potter), no shabby row homes, candy canes, no sparkles, no holly, no bells, no reindeer, no polar bears (not a big fan of these to begin with),  no Rockettes,  no stockings, no snowmen, no toy soldiers...and none of that other stuff that's been shoved down our throats ever since Thanksgiving by everyone from Macy's to Coca-Cola.

For the record, I didn't think this card was perfect. Something about Christ being born in a tiny, two-walled stable just didn't make sense. The Wise King Tango line was also a tad off. However, I suppose sacrifices must be made if you are going to go for a silhouette theme. Anatomical accuracy is one of them. As is structural stability. The donkey, however, was cute. At least I think it's a donkey.

Anyway...

Everyone in the lab knows I am Catholic. If the Dominican cross hanging on my desk doesn't out me as a Catholic, the picture of Pope Benedict XVI certainly does. Fortunately, as far as I know, everyone also knows that I am a pretty reasonable person when it comes to religion. Everyone knows that a good number of my friends aren't Catholic. You name a religion and I can probably name a friend that follows it. If I don't celebrate a particular holiday, I still wish people a good insert holiday here... regardless of how similar or different it is to the holidays I celebrate. That's just how I roll.

So I took the risk and got the card. The person who got the card turned out to be Muslim. There was some worry that my box-within-a-box gift would end up being something strange or Harry Potter-related...but it turned out that the gift certificate was very appreciated and everyone got a good laugh out of the box idea. The best part is, no one was offended by the card.

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