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Oh God, It’s Christmas: Yule Laugh, Yule Cry

A White Christmas
BY FRANK OWEN

It was a Christmas that only Sid and Nancy could have loved. Two newlyweds — one a British music critic, the other an aspiring model from Detroit — were shacked up in a former welfare hotel indulging a bohemian fantasy of Yuletide spent without any of the traditional trappings (families, gifts, religion), but with plenty of drugs.

The year was 1988. The place was Hotel 17, the Stuyvesant Square boardinghouse for trendy transients. Around the turn of the cen­tury, when the place was originally built as a res­idence for a few wealthy families, Christmas must have been celebrated on a grand scale here. Our Christmas, however, was a far more inti­mate occasion, observed in one dingy, cell-like room lined with designer clothes and books of obscure French theory.

The word room hardly does justice to the eight-by-10 stained brown box we were paying $30 a night for. In keeping with the tan color scheme, the taps coughed up diarrhea-colored water. The whitest thing in the room, including the sheets on the bed, was the neat pile of crys­talline powder glinting on the beat-up dresser. That, and the waxy squares of paper that lay crumpled on the threadbare carpet.

We’d been up for three days taking cocaine and crystal meth, grinding our teeth and talking shit about the true meaning of the season. In our deluded euphoric state, we decided that festive excess was what it was all about. Christmas is an opportunity for the casual drug-user, a time when the discipline of work and the normal restrictions on hedonistic behavior are relaxed. So it was easy to convince ourselves that staying up all night dancing and drugging was more in tune with the pagan roots of Christmas than the homogenized and domesticated rituals taking place in the world around us.

Personally, I loathe family Christmases, so I was, initially at least, more than happy to spend the holiday season snorting my brains out. But as as the drug supply began to run low, an edgy gloom set in, a mood amplified by the melancholic sounds of an old man muttering to himself in the hallway, a leftover from the day before the influx of drag queens and club brats, when Hotel 17 was a place where the elderly, the ill, and the drug-addicted came to die.

1995 collection of Village Voice memoirs by various authors

Like latter-day postmodern Scrooges, my wife and I thought we were immune to the re­lentless commercial propaganda of the season. Who did we think we were kidding? The reli­gious significance of Christmas may be often ob­scured by the gaudy displays of advertisers and shopkeepers, but as a holiday it retains a tremendous power to evoke communal and family feel­ing. It’s a spirit that can rarely be ignored with­out emotional cost, as we began to find out.

It was Christmas day. For the first time in my life, I was feeling homesick. There was no telephone in the room, so neither my wife nor I could call our parents. There was no television set, so we couldn’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life to get us in the requisite mood. We finally decided to venture out into the stinging cold to try and forage for a turkey dinner. All we could find open was a Korean deli with a salad bar, so our Christmas repast that year consisted not of roast beast with all the trimmings, but of a wilted col­lection of freezing vegetables. We weren’t that hungry anyway.

By now it was evening, time to get dressed, take more drugs, and make the nocturnal rounds. The supply of cocaine seemed unlimited that season. Speeding us across town to a friend’s loft, even the taxi driver offered us a hit. Once at our friend’s apartment, we played with his kids under the Christmas tree, then retired to a side room to do yet more lines. Then it was off to the clubs; every time we walked through a new door, someone would whisk us off to the bathroom.

“Next year, we’re gonna have a giving Christmas, not a taking Christmas,” my wife in­formed me before we finally fell asleep that night, our nostrils encrusted with powdery sed­iment. There was no need to elaborate. After all, there are only so many white Christmases a marriage can take.

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Open Season
BY ANN POWERS

Whatever sentimental phrase signals authentic Christmasness to you­ — sleigh bells jinglin’, angels heard on high, Jack Frost roasting on an open fire — in the down-and-dirty business of consumerism the only one that matters is the one reading OPEN LATE. And for procrastinators, even brighter is the rare sign that flashes OPEN 365 DAYS A YEAR. The record store where I worked a dozen years ago considered that sign a talisman and a creed. And so, while most people stuffed their faces and watched Rudolph or the 49ers, we per­formed the act of charity that meant the most to the late-running and the lonely. We cranked up the cash register and sold.

Working on Christmas may seem like a nightmare of Dickensian proportions, but the employees of Sell-More Discs actually competed for yule shifts. Record retail de­mands more love than ambi­tion — at just over minimum wage, few of us had savings accounts or truly habitable apartments. But we got to spend all day and night neck­ deep in the records we loved more than money, more than status, more than anything. On my crew, there was Terry, a hip­pie-maned-jazzboe who drove a hack for extra cash and ate macrobiotic; Korean Rastaman Lester; Southern gentleman-goth, Charles; Max, an avant-garde axman who actually had record bins set up in his house; punk speed-freak lovebirds Timmy and Corrine; folkie­-turned-performance artist Jade, a Wyoming transplant living in her van; and my best buddy, Penelope, a Roxy Music fanatic versatile enough to attend the symphony with one coworker and a Run-D.M.C. show with another. Me, I was a new-wave kid studying poetry and the blues, swiping all the records the simpatico security guard would allow, learning fast.

We were freaks; by choice or destiny, no one really knew. But what else are freaks going to do on Christmas but hang out at the shrine to all that makes them freaky? Many of us either had no parent figures or weren’t currently phon­ing home, so we volunteered for double shifts to earn triple overtime, and broke out the brandy and eggnog under the counter. But it was Bill, our night manager, who engineered the Sell-More Discs freak feast.

Bill and his brother Theo were Guamanian muscle-guys loyal to the company but in love with the employees. For the yule, Bill and Theo or­ganized a potluck, but this wasn’t just your usu­al banana bread-and-pretzels affair: Max made a vat of German potato salad, Lester cooked up some Caribbean bean stew, Terry provided soy cheesecake, and Pen baked a raisin-apple pie just like her mom always did. Even the speed kids managed to buy an Entenmenn’s pie. Best of all, Bill and Theo, generous and subversive to the end, set up a barbecue right by the back vent and smoked a  whole salmon, island-style.

We chowed between cash register shifts and blasted A Reggae Christmas as stragglers and lonely hearts wandered the store’s aisles. Some­body put up a poster of Wham! and started a darts game. A friend or two from outside dropped by for a glass of cheer and a shopping spree, receiving an extra-special holiday discount our bosses would never know about. And as always the local TV news crews showed up with their cameras and their question so off-the­-mark. “Isn’t it awful to work on Christmas?” the perky reporter said, scrunching his nose as we frantically hid our bottle of champagne behind the Yanni tapes. We made some joke or nasty comment — “well, you’re doing it, aren’t you?” — ­and got rid of them so we could get back to our party. It would have been too hard to explain what we knew: Ours was a family by choice, each member a misfit struggling to build some kinship that felt not just comfortable, but real. Sell-More Discs had given us a chance to do that. The truth was, we weren’t working this Christ­mas. We were spending the day at home.

Some of the names in this article have been changed.

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Black Santa
BY KWELI I. WRIGHT

My brother and I knew from whence our dirt bikes, Christie dolls (black Barbies), Star Wars action figures, and Easy Bake Ovens came. From our parents, of course. After all, didn’t we give them carefully prepared Christmas lists, show them the pictures of the toys in the Toys “R” Us catalog? Couldn’t we see the rolls of wrapping paper hidden (not very well) in the closet?

Our parents liked ro keep it real. “Me and Daddy buy the toys, Santa just delivers them,” is how Mom explained the whole Saint Nick phenomenon. In 1979, while feeling the spirit a little more than usual, she decided to take our celebration to another level: she would hire a Santa to come to our building, ride up the ele­vator, and march straight to our apartment with a delivery of gifts. She found a Santa through a newspaper ad, and then she gave us details. He would come around 11 p.m. Christmas Eve and stay for dessert, so we might want to rest up. If I remember correctly, the whole deal with San­ta visiting is that you don’t see him, but that was beside the point to her: he was already paid. My brother Kareem and I had no questions or reser­vations about the fantasy-reality mix. We weren’t about to miss this.

So we left a glass of milk and a chunk of Entemann’s chocolate cake on the dining room table and waited at the top of the stairs for Santa to push through the unlocked door. As we crept down the steps we heard him frantically unpacking, knocking collectibles off the coffee table. Then we saw him.

This wasn’t any Santa — this Santa was as black and beautiful as my grandpa, only taller and younger. Back then I was eight, and I didn’t realize how important it was for me to see a black Santa. The thought never crossed my mind that this was probably the last one I’d see. It was my parents’ idea that Santa can be claimed by peo­ple of any color — black, white, Hispanic, Asian — because what he really represents is an extension of your family. She told me the other day that her goal was not to prove there was one real Santa, but to make sure we knew this gift-­giving guy belonged in our home.

When he heard two kids approaching, our guest freaked and ran to hide in the bedroom, emerging only after Kareem and I assured him that he was expected. We sat on the living-room floor with our legs crossed, grinning from ear to ear as our very own black Santa chuckled “Ho, ho, ho!” and laid exactly the presents we’d asked for under the tree.

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A Kwanzaa Carol
BY EVETTE PORTER

“I’m celebrating Kwanzaa this year,” my I nephew announced, a bit self-satisfied, when I asked him a few weeks ago what he wanted for Christmas. I assumed it was just another phase he was going through, like the time I want­ed to be called Balaniké, refusing to answer to anything else. My nephew, Daevon, is seven, and the oldest of my brother’s three children. And in years past, he’s enjoyed the kind of Christmas largesse that comes with being the first and, un­til recently, only child in the family. So for him to disavow Christmas would be a big deal.

“So, does that mean you don’t want any­thing for Christmas?” I asked, hoping I might be off the hook for gifts this year. “No! What are you, crazy?!” (Kids always speak in exclama­tions.) “Well, exactly what are you celebrating, Christmas or Kwanzaa?” I said, trying to force the issue. “Both, of course.”

Of course.

I grew up in the ’60s, before Kwanzaa’s sudden emergence as a major black holiday­ — now more popular than Juneteenth or Black History Month. Beginning the day after Christ­mas, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of fam­ily and spirituality. It’s thriving for the same rea­son black parents look for books with black faces or buy Shani dolls — it’s something they can use to build a “positive self-image” for their kids. Given the scarcity of black Santas, Kwanzaa makes the holiday season a bit more culturally correct. To me, the “tradition” sometimes seem a bit forced — but to Daevon, it’s clearly an ex­citing, if confusing, part of a burgeoning cultural identity. “So how do you celebrate Kwanzaa?” “On each day [sigh], you do different things with your family. But you have to read from the Kwanzaa book.”

“The Kwanzaa book?”

“Yeah, the Kwanzaa book. Everyone has the same words.”

“You read something out of a book?”

“No! You read from the book and then you do something with your family. But you don’t have to do exactly what’s in the book.”

“Okay.”

“Well, hmmmm … Aunt Muffy, could you hold on just one second?”

There’s a long pause.

At this point, I’m not so sure Daevon really understands what Kwanzaa is all about. He hasn’t mentioned the traditional candle-lighting ceremony or the seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

“I’m back. I was looking for my Kwanzaa book.”

“Tell me what you do each day to celebrate Kwanzaa.”

“Every day you and your family do some­thing together [another sigh]. Like on one of the days, all the money you save up … no, uh. One of the days, right, you make like a little piggy bank?’

“Uh-huh.”

“And you save up money, and put it in that bank. And then, and then the next coming Kwanzaa, that’s when you buy something BIG, for saving up all that money.”

“Okay, so the money you save up, do you buy something the next day or do you buy something the next year?”

“You buy something whenever you have enough money to buy something big.”

“Do you still celebrate Christmas?”

“Yes, you can still celebrate Christmas. But on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, that’s when you’re supposed to open all your gifts. The next Monday [a week from Christmas].”

“Are you having a Christmas play at school.”

“Yeah, I’m in it. It’s all the second graders.”

“And what are you doing in it?”

“Oh, I’m singing a song. It’s not like a play, it’s a presentation. Every second-grade class is singing a song, one song. Like ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘Must See Santa,’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’ We’re doing songs like that. And there is a Kwanzaa song.”

“What’s the Kwanzaa song?”

“l really don’t know all the words. Hold on, I have to think this through.” (Barely audi­ble mumbling as my nephew tries to remember the verse.)

“While you’re thinking, tell me what you want for Christmas, I mean Kwanzaa.”

“Oh, I know some of the words — ‘Children learn their history.’ ”

“Children learn their history?”

“Huh-huh. Yeah. I know half of the song.”

“Do you know when Kwanzaa began? Where it came from?”

“It came from Africa.”

“No, it didn’t. In 1966, a guy named Ron Karenga, a black man, decided to create a holiday that was more nationalistic, more Afrocentric. But it’s based on African traditions. There’s a harvest celebration in Africa that’s similar to it, but it’s not the same thing. It actually began here in the U.S. Did you know that?”

“No. I did not know that.”

Well, I’ve done my bit for black history.

“Do you want different gifts for Kwanzaa than you want for Christmas?”

“Yeah, totally different.”

“What do you want for Kwanzaa?”

“Like African American things.”

“What?”

“I don’t know … like scarves that have …”

“Kente cloth?”

“Yeah, and, like, stuff that has the colors of Kwanzaa and other colors. And in the middle of it, it has ’95. That’s the year I got it.”

“If ’95 is in the middle, what’s going to be on the outside?

“Around 1995, I want the border to be red, black, and green.”

“Okay.”

“I think that’s it for Kwanzaa.”

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The Worst Noel
BY ELIZABETH ZIMMER

“Bubbe-meises,” my New York Jewish mother snapped whenever the subject of Christmas came up. Lies and superstitions, all of it: the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth. A lot of nonsense. She’d get cross and impatient. We never had trees; we exchanged modest gifts at Hanukkah; when we got older there were no gifts at all, just her gen­erous check “for your birthday, really,” which followed in January.

Then a guy proposed to me; a sculptor, sweet and shy, a lapsed Lutheran from the out­skirts of Buffalo whose terrific homemaker mom announced, when she first met me, that her best friends were Jewish. It was 1969, and the no­tion of getting married seemed as bizarre as everything else in the zeitgeist, but at the same time made sense; we’d create a safe haven for each other amid the prevailing sexual and political chaos. I became a legal member of his Chris­tian family (albeit in a Jewish ceremony). Dodg­ing his draft board, we’d emigrated to Nova Scotia, miles from everyone we knew, to teach at an art college in an officially Christian country. I embraced Christmas as impetuously as I’d entered marriage. That year, I participated enthusiastically, readying the tree in the picture win­dow, crafting elaborate ornaments and baking spicy German cookies like his mother’s. Hand­ made presents winged toward us; we scrambled to reciprocate on our entry-level paychecks. He made oyster stew on Christmas Eve, as his clan had always done; we spent the holidays cook­ing and welcoming new acquaintances.

1995 collection of Village Voice memoirs by various authors

By the next Christmas we knew he was about to lose his job, but we kept shopping, cooking, entertaining. The Christmas after that, he was unemployed. The one after that, he was, I guess you’d say, self-employed, experimenting in our cellar with prototypes of furniture he hoped to manufacture and sell, filling the air with chem­ical smells and the sound of a ripsaw. I was earn­ing all our money, still cobbling together cele­brations, frightened and anxious and tired.

Something had to change. Never marry anybody you wouldn’t hire, I found myself mut­tering under my breath. The next Christmas we got a tree, but all I felt like hanging on it was food: popcorn, cookies, foil-wrapped chocolates on golden strings from the vast sweets empori­um down the road. That year he gave me a steam iron and a pair of ice skates. I don’t remember what I gave him. But on Boxing Day I began eat­ing the ornaments, one Santa after another, until the boughs were bare. Then I started packing. I walked the mile to work every morning, took a dance class every night. Three months later I quit my job and moved across the country, alone.

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Holiday on Ice Cream
BY MICHAEL MUSTO

I’m probably the only nondysfunctional Christmas guy in the entire metropolitan area. Home for the holidays to my parents’ kitsch-laden house in Bensonhurst, I return to the awe-inspiring decor that, in its own magi­cally garish way, spells love. Crocheted flowers, stickpin owls, and dolls of many nations blind­ingly adorn the joint, and most eye-catchingly of all, half the fridge door is done as a homage to Jesus Christ, while the other half is covered with pictures of my parents’ other idol, me (their on­ly child, after all). Everything’s equal here — not only am I aligned with the Christ figure, but beautiful clocks equal 99-Cent Store Pierrot heads — and the Christmassy doodads add even more festive layers that further steamroll every­thing to the same lovely level.

But the real celebration is in the food; to quote the well-spoken duck in Babe, Christmas means carnage. A gigantic lasagna or baked ziti could easily serve as the main course in any other home in the world, but in this place it’s a mere hint of a shred of an appetizer. It’s followed by voluminous amounts of meatballs, sausages, and other gravy meats, all covered with blizzards of parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. Then, if you’re still alive, come the entrées: wildly delicious chicken and ham dishes, plus an array of sides — namely sal­ads, candied yams, mushrooms, and a quiche made with artichoke hearts. Just when you’re sure your stomach is about to blow apart, out come the insanely large tubs of sherbet and ice cream, plus the donuts, pastries, cakes, and pies, with Reddi Wip, Cool Whip, and La Creme standing by for good measure. Say no to any of this and you’re driving a knife through my mother’s heart. These loving if artery-clogging offerings say she cares. To accept them means you care back.

The mood is generally warm, the company familiar. But some­how, amid the threat of all that happiness and satiation, semidysfunctions do tend to crop up. In this setting, my attempts at dark humor — so delightful elsewhere — can be misinterpreted as cruel; other family members’ politically incorrect comments drive my friends into the bathroom crying (there, they can enjoy mom’s doll-shaped toilet paper coverings); and, as everyone jockeys for attention, merriment sometimes leads, at the drop of a meatball, to hurt feelings, none of them directed by Jodie Foster. But in the wake of all this, mom has the best response of all: “Come on, have some more ice cream!”

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Manger? Mangia!
BY FRANK RUSCITTI

My family is extremely Italian. You want proof? We come from a small town called Cansano in the mountain ranges of Abruzzi that had one road in and one road out. We immigrated to the States in 1955 (making the front page of Il Progresso in a “just off the boat” photo) and settled on that most Brooklyn of all Brooklyn street corners, 33rd and Third. We got guys named Mario and Antonio in our family, but thank heaven no one wears gold chains. Like all good Italians (southern Italy, at least; anything north of Milan is Ger­many anyway), we celebrate every Christmas Eve with the biggest seafood dinner this side of Jesus and that loaves-of-bread episode. The funny thing is most Italians don’t know why we party this way; phone calls to organizations such as the Italian Cultural Institute and the Italian Heritage and Cultural Commission were met with the verbal equivalent of shrugged shoul­ders. Words like history and tradition are thrown around, but the only fact that seems to count is that a minimum of dishes must be served (ac­cording to one coworker nine, my sister eight, my mother 12). No one seems to know why we do what we do every year without fail.

But ours is not to question why, ours is just to eat, eat, eat. Not, however, until everyone is ready. My sisters bring out plate after heaping plate, only to yell, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF THAT!” with all the love they can muster if anyone moves too soon. It’s friggin’ torture. Picture Red Lobster, except the fish is real and cooked by humans. Homemade pasta with calamari. Baked clams. Salmon steaks. Breaded scallops. Octopus salad. Baccala. Stuffed squid. Shrimp scampi. Shrimp cocktails. And that’s just for starters.

More than once, I’ve fasted before the feast, making penance for my sins and drooling thanks while fantasizing about the greatest meal of the year. Talk about tripping! Some years were classics, like the one when 11 main courses were served (the record!), or the one when we were invaded by non-English speaking Danish students. Everyone is welcome at the table as long as they can endure my family’s penchant for demanding they sing Christmas carols for their supper; even faked lyrics bring a loud roar of approval. It’s an offer guests can’t refuse, because even the feeblest attempt brings a non-stop embarrassment of riches in the form of lobster, breaded shrimp, mussels, seared tuna, raw clams, and more. Christmas day is almost an afterthought, because year after year Christmas Eve kicks its butt hands down.

Recently, a faction of American-born offspring has started a separate “kids’ meal.” A pasta with meatballs dish is served to children who won’t eat fish. Of course, certain family members (including me) grumble that if they aren’ going to eat seafood they should starve. Why? It’s tradition!

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God Bless Us, Every One
BY MARIAH CORRIGAN

It was Christmas 1974 at the Immaculate Conception Children’s Home, and Suprima, Ineeda, and I had already planned all the things we were going to make in our Easy Bake Ovens. We were nine, and the nine-year-old girls always got ovens; it was a tradition. How else would we learn to cook? Certainly not from Sister Mary (their middle names were always Mary) Bougofawa, the home’s head cook, who didn’t make anything if it wasn’t white and boiled beyond recognition. The ovens were handed out at the home’s yearly holiday extravaganza. That day, we set our hair, dug out our good dresses and church shoes, and filed down to the gym in anticipation of an unrecognizable dinner and Christmas presents.

But this year things just didn’t look right. The tree wasn’t as large as I’d remembered it; the head table, reserved for the community sponsors of this shindig, was nearly empty. Where was Mr. Harold? He was town supervi­sor and always the Christmas party organizer. And what about his good friend Mr. Vinny? He took care of all the construction needs around the Children’s Home for free, and in return thee older boys went to work for him. The nuns tried to be tight-lipped about it; only after a good bit of badgering did Sister Mary Josephine (whom I’d recently witnessed executing karate moves on a wayward boy) offer that Mr. Harold was in jail. I don’t remember exactly what for, bribery or embezzlement, but it must have had something to do with Mr. Vinny, because he seemed to be making himself pretty scarce, too.

Everything seemed dimmer. Even the local football ream, whose B-string usually put in a two-minute appearance to have their pictures taken with us orphan children, barely stayed one minute, and in the time it took me to run down the hall to go to the bathroom, they’d all been and gone, leaving behind some sort of apolo­getic team manager. (We once met O.J., but we had to be bused to a location more convenient for him — an awards dinner where we were trot­ted out for a group photo with the man himself. Later, we were each awarded a tiny plastic auto­graphed football for our well-behaved perfor­mance as the grateful needy.)

But the worst was yet to come. The party ended, and we were commanded to say our thank yous, gather up our gifts, and, in an or­derly line, follow the nun in charge of our re­spective groups back to our playrooms. Ineeda and I were already suspicious. All our boxes seemed small — hell, all mine seemed to be the same size. Could they possibly contain an Easy Bake Oven? Maybe they packed it in parts­— how ingenious and surprising! We sat on the in­door/outdoor carpet, our presents arrayed in front of us, waiting impatiently for Sister Mary Luciose to give us the go-ahead. She counted: five, four, three, two, one … We went mad. When all the wrapping was cleared away, I had two crib toys, recommended for children ages 0-3, and seven identical boxes of Shrinky Dink Make-it-Yourself Christmas ornaments, which, to my horror, I needed an oven to make.

As I turned in dismay to Sister Mary Lu­ciose, I saw her wrinkly 60-year-old face flush. Her eyes began to bulge from behind her brown cat-eyed glasses. Uh-oh. I thought her head might explode — I thought she would lose that veil, so I would know once and for all if that shock of hair on her forehead was indeed the imitation hairpiece I had once wagered it was. Sister Mary launched into a lecture on material­ism and the beast it would turn me into, how I would never get to heaven with that attitude, missy. She feared for my soul. I didn’t care. Even as she marched me off for the special emergency confession she had arranged with Father Walter the next morning, all I could think about was … I want an Easy Bake Oven, goddammit.

I wasn’t really an orphan — I had a mother, though she had shed her worldly trappings to live as a hermit in the Genesee River Valley. And I had a father. When he arrived to collect me for my allotted holiday visit on Christmas Eve (appar­ently having passed the Breathalyzer test Sister Mary Rosanne reserved specially for him) I was still hellbent on some decent presents. I had no illusions about who Santa was. As he deposited me with my two retired, never-married school­teacher aunts, I dispatched my guilt-ridden fa­ther to the mall to retrieve an Easy Bake Oven.

As the evening wore on, I began to fear that perhaps he couldn’t find me anything. The aunts were dazed and unsure of what to do with me. My yammering about the Easy Bake Oven sent one aunt running to the kitchen for a bourbon straight up, while the other slipped in and out of the living room to refill her glass with an amber liquid she said was apple cider, but which my watchful eyes knew was beer. When I quieted down, the aunts whispered to each other that he’d probably gone oven shopping at Jo-J’s Bar & Grill. I occupied myself with reruns of Hawaii Five-O and slowly began to surrender my dreams of being a chef I was ready for bed when I heard his familiar staggering steps on the front porch. Aunt Jean flipped on the porch light, and there was Dad — squinting and disheveled in the sud­den illumination, but holding a box. I could tell instantly what the abused wrapping concealed, because I knew the shape by heart — here, at last, was my Easy Bake Oven.

Some of the names in this article have been changed.

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Bah Humdrum
BY COREY SABOURIN

This is going to be a shitty Christmas. John is going upstate. Ditto David. Ditto Bob.

Darrin’s found a lover. Lucky him. They’ll want privacy as they model their new His & His flannel robes.

Devra … Michigan. Jeff … Fresno. Blaine? Maybe — or no, isn’t he going to India?

My roommate is working coatcheck again, regrets, though it will be fun opening gifts at 5 a.m.

Out of everyone, I’ll be missing Liz the most. She’s the woman I’d go straight for if such a thing were possible. A soulmate since the 12th grade (she might peg the date further back, to Mr. Compton’s Exploratory Reading class at Petalunia Junior High, but hopefully that argu­ment’s settled), Liz came east with photos of her handsome fiancé in ’92, and left just before Christmas. In ’93 the pair returned, married, but at Rumbul’s on Christopher Street the first of many heart-to-hearts began. In ’94, she was divorced, depressed, but nowhere near the lump of coal she thinks she was. For ’95 she’s staying put in California. Can I blame her?

If it’s me and my cat sharing a can of tuna on Christmas Day, it’s my fault. Mom and Dad needle me to hop a plane. But the sour taste of predictable yule traditions still lingers and besides, I hate to fly. I have to improvise. One year, it was lasagna and a Georgy Girl video. Another, it was the Monster Bar employee dinner: Miss Shari, the drag queen, presided, and Lady Aaron, the 70-plus bookkeeper, gave us tiaras and white taffeta.

This year? Glenn might be down from Provincetown, and Michael will surely throw a pre-Christmas shindig, although nude Polaroids are usually involved, and I vowed never to end up in that scandal shoebox. Then there’s Nesha, Liz’s and my friend, who, bless her heart, has ex­tended an invitation to dinner “if you don’t have anything else to do.”

Will I? The 11th hour is the moment great things happen in this town. Like Christmas Eve ’92, when Hunter, Scott, and I drifted into the chapel of the Theological Seminary in Chelsea, where the burnt-out Church of the Holy Cross congregation was holding services. “I’m an athe­ist,” Hunter protested in the cold, reluctant to go inside. “Do you know what this means?” So? I was a lapsed Lutheran, and Scott was Jewish. Inside we shared a pew with another group of spectator-worshipers dressed more like they prayed at the altar of Barneys.

But then the Episcopalian pastor delivered a message of antidiscrimination, which he ex­tended to sexuality and health. And the female chorus members sang She in place of He during the Nicene Creed. That stole any grinch left in­side me; even my atheist friend smiled. Sud­denly I was terrifically glad to be there, and nowhere else.

Here’s hoping.

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Window Pain
BY LYNN YAEGER

I’m Jewish. This wasn’t my idea ro begin with, so imagine how I felt at the age of three when I discovered that there was an upcoming holiday full of twinkly lights, candy canes, and piles of presents, the centerpiece of which was a tiny doll lying in a toy cradle sur­rounded by its mommy and daddy (well, he cer­tainly seemed like the daddy … ) and a lot of cute little animals. Oh yes, my mother conced­ed. She knew all about this holiday, she rold me brightly. But it’s not for us! We don’t have it!

Quite frankly, I have never gotten over this revelation. I have spent the last three decades trying to effect a working compromise: Do I send out cards but draw the line at lights? Go for the lights but eschew the tree? Once I actually did drag a tree up six flights of stairs (did I know you need a tree stand? Did I know there would still be pine needles sticking out of the carpet on the fourth of July?). I even tried to avoid the festivities altogether by fleeing to Eu­rope, but like death in Samarra, Christmas was waiting for me when I got off the plane.

I burst into tears a lot at Christmas time. Mr. Magoo induces spasms of sobbing. I can’t watch Meet Me in St. Louis without practically having to call an ambulance. So why do I undertake my methodical investigation of each and every store’s holiday windows each and every year? Same rea­son some people hang out at the Vault, I guess.

My first srop is usually Bloomingdale’s, a store I always think of as Jewish anyway. (Saks and Bloomingdalc’s are Jewish. Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf’s are not.) This year’s display con­sists of 12 trees decorated by Robert Isabell, the hot society florist recently employed for the gar­ish wedding of one of the so-called fabulous Miller sisters. The trees are hung variously with grocery produce (strawberries and zucchinis­ — or maybe they’re cucumbers?), glitzy jewelry (the contents of a morning sweep at the 26th Street flea market?), candy, roses, crystals, Vic­torian toys, and sheaves of wheat. They’re beautiful, but not particularly snivel-inducing. Far more enticing is the small mannequin in a side window: she’s bright red, holds a green garland wound with black and white Chanel ribbons, and she’s sprouting a little tree where her head should be.

Two blocks over, the witty, vaguely cyni­cal windows at Barneys make no reference to the imminent festivities at all. They’re like the senior project of a prestigious graduate school design seminar: Dada-esque tableaux, in beige and pewter (Barneys’s version of red and green), illustrating proverbs like “many hands make light work” (disembodied digits holding lightbulbs). I can see they’re clever, but instead of inducing yuletide longing they make me feel like I’m standing outside a nightclub while the doorperson is telling me I’m not on the list.

My next stop is positively homey by com­parison: Tiffany & Co., where the tiny jewel­box windows reflect the tasteful treasures with­in. The conceit here is ornithologic: faintly Disney-esque penguins with party hats (hey, this is 57th Street) celebrate New Year’s Eve; the P. Johns family (get it?), a nuclear unit dressed in 1940s outfits, nestle in a tree house; Santa rides in a sled pulled by green parakeets, etc. The on­ly jewelry in evidence is around the neck of a woodpecker — he’s wearing a stunning cabo­chon ruby and diamond cross. (A woodpecker gets to wear a cross and I don’t?)

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I’m still dry-eyed, though I have a weak moment when the Salvation Army girl lets loose with a heartbreaking rendition of “Hark the Her­ald Angels Sing.” I have to grit my teeth and think about the plot of Guys and Dolls (I hum the Fugue for Tinhorns to distract myself) as I march down Fifth Avenue to Saks. On the way I pass Henri Bendel, where the vitrines show leering, huge­-eared automata-elves done up like doormen brandishing merchandise from their out-stretched palms. (Do Bendel’s shoppers really need this unsubtle reminder that it’s tipping time again?)

At Saks, I’m confronted with my first real­ly traditional windows of the season — a series of mechanical tableaux depicting the story of Margie and Nick and the little snowman they befriend. I won’t bore you with the details, but Nick and Margie make friends with Santa, who takes everyone to the Rainbow Room for “mu­sic, dancing, cakes and cookies. It was swell.” Suddenly I’m all choked up: I’m dying to go to the Rainbow Room on Christmas Eve too, and I ain’t ordering cookies either. After a few min­utes wallowing in my sad fate, it dawns on me: isn’t it a little fishy that Marge and Nick and even the snowman are spending Christmas Eve at the Rainbow Room instead of midnight mass?

Thus cheered, I proceed to that bastion of Christian gentility, Lord & Taylor. This is year the windows feature an old-fashioned version of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. There are mechanical pyrotechnics here as well — Santa’s big tummy heaves as if he’s about to have a heart attack, reindeer jog in place, and there are winsome little mice scuttling over the rafters — very charming unless you have lived on the Lower East Side where little mice still scut­tle across the rafters. (Once a mouse got trapped in my toaster oven. You don’t want to know.) The scenes are sentimental and touching and perfectly serviceable, if not terribly original.

In the corner window, there’s a poignant display of one of those Dickens Christmas vil­lages full of miniature 19th-century houses, skating ponds, dwarf trees, and surgical-cotton snow. For some reason, this little town gets to me far more than the main display. I’m starting to feel really sorry for myself (it’s easy! try it!) when I see a bunch of bedraggled second graders on a field trip being whipped along by a sullen teacher’s aide. They’ve been forced to wear big cardboard signs with their names and addresses, and although a few are facing their fate with false hilarity, many others are sunk in the pro­found existential misery I remember so well.

Nothing lifts the spirit quicker than the agony of others, and suddenly I’m so light­hearted that I fairly skip to Macy’s, a store over­loaded with Christmas mirth. I try to affect a stance as hard-bitten as the six-year-old Natalie Wood’s in Miracle on 34th Street, but it’s not really necessary: these circus-themed dioramas (a plate twirler, a clumsy acrobat) leave me al­most entirely unmoved. The coup de grace is a couple of clowns cavorting around a Volkswa­gen piled high with presents like TV sets and CD players. (A Volkswagen is supposed to make me feel nostalgic about Christmas? In my fam­ily, you re not even allowed to buy a comb that’s stamped Germany.)

The last window I look at holds two huge elephants flanking a slinky brunette mannequin in an evening gown. It’s an uncanny homage to Dovima, and I have a funny feeling that the fel­las in the display department snuck it right over the heads of Macy’s executives. But maybe they didn’t! Maybe the bureaucrats at Macy’s simply worship Avedon! Strangely buoyant, I descend the steps to the BMT, ready to go home, string up my dalmatian-and-fire-hydrant lights, and face the difficult days ahead. ❖

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From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Christmas Music: Reasons to Be Cheerful

Christmas music is the only pop genre that finds Renata Scotto, the Carpenters, the Gospel Keynotes, John Denver, Joan Baez, and the Drifters recording the same material. It’s the only genre that allows the ghosts of pop music past to resurface once a year and sit side-by-side with today’s new Christmas product as tacky reminders of the eternal. But as the music of the only national holiday with any meaning, the tensions it must contain have been heightened by Reagan’s advent. The family and is idealized as it collapses; both charity and greed coexist with interest rates that make either impossible; material abun­dance in a sputtering economy mixes with the subversive poverty of the nativity. Middle America yearns for a traditional national patriotic Christian culture that never existed. The best gifts come from Japan.

But I like Christmas music. I like the schlock and I like the religion. I like sen­timental innocence and I like trancing out on the same standards sung and resung. I’m charmed by pop music when it’s “try­ing to say more,” and I’m moved by the spirit.

The Beach Boys are my favorite group and so their old Christmas album is my favorite. It’s really pretty good — one side of reverential high-pop five-part harmony and one side of effortless low-pop early­-Brian-Wilson goofs. But you might have someone you like better whose version of “White Christmas” you prefer. Who’s to say? It’s hard to make a bad album when you’ve got such great material.

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But not impossible. Although there’s no definitive version of “Silent Night,” that doesn’t mean all versions of “Silent Night” are equally good. Some Christmas music has all the durability of last year’s elec­tronic game or kitchen appliance and all the emotional depth of Christmas at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois, with the Ordinary People. It’s a time for celebration, but also for fly-by-­night rip-off quickies. So here, with what I sincerely hope is the right mix of Christian charity and obsessed consumerism, is a guide to some of the season’s better music:

Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present (Capitol). This was the record Willie Nelson was supposed to make and didn’t. While Nelson was breathing life and mean­ing back into pop oldies on Stardust and Over the Rainbow and doing likewise to old white gospel on Family Bible, he re­corded Pretty Paper, an unadorned and largely lackluster collection of chestnuts and carols. I guess it didn’t remind him of any roots. So who would have thought Haggard could be so moving singing “Sil­ver Bells”? But Merle sings the non-coun­try standards with the same cool convic­tion and authority he projects whenever he cares about the material. And reads the lyrics as if they have content, rather than with the middle-of-the-road reverence that defeats Christmas albums by Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris (excepting the bluegrass), the Carpenters, and (almost) Kenny Rogers (who gets high marks for letting his schlocky reach exceed his crossover grasp). Haggard’s other trick is the dispassionate down-but-not-out re­alism of his Christmas hit, “If We Make It Through December.” Christmas music often sentimentalizes poverty (cf. Rogers), but Haggard doesn’t So he earns the right to the sticky sentiments on his other com­positions, and so do we. Lefty Frizzell meets Bing Crosby. Better than both.

Merry Christmas-Feliz Navidad from Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot). One would think that country music, with its fearless corniness and good-hearted pathos, could easily penetrate to the heart of the season the way this album does. But I don’t know another country album as good as this one. One problem is that the season’s pop stan­dards are about cities in the 1940s up north — all that snow, all those violins. An­other is that the religious standards are largely northern mainstream Protestant rather-than Southern gospel. And upscale schlocky reverence is boring, not to men­tion contradictory — Charley Pride’s problem, and Slim Whitman’s too (although Slim gets the so-bad-it’s-good award.) Mickey Gilley comes closest to Freddy at reworking Christmas in a Texas context. But he’s not as crazy as cousin Jerry Lee (or Jimmy Swaggart), and so doesn’t really break through to the cosmic shallowness implied by Christmas at Gilley’s (his up­scale redneck Houston singles bar, site of Urban Cowboy), although it’s a concept worth contemplating.

Maybe it’s Freddy’s bilingual Tex-Mex distance which gives him the edge — a touch of folky authenticity. While we’re at it, let’s pause in the middle of this Anglo-­orgy to mention the large part of NYC celebrating Christmas en Espanol. Two re­cords worth checking out are Willie Colon, Asalto Navideno (salsa) and Felicidades en Navidad y Ana Nuevo con German Rosario (Puerto Rican country music, so to speak). At better record stores everywhere and thanks to Ramon Gonzalez-Sanchez for pointing them out.

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Traditional Christmas Carols, Pete Seeger (Folkways FAS 32311). It takes a Marxist New England WASP to remind us that carols are part of a folk tradition. That they rework Christian and pre-Chris­tian folk imagery about the meaning of life, not the meaning of respectability. The singing and banjo accompaniment here are as offhand as on something like Gazette, Vol II. That is, perfect. Simplicity, tradi­tion, intelligence, a little piety maybe, but no straight laces. These are ideas John Den­ver almost grasps on his two (!) Christmas Albums, but loses when he tries to sing those carols as if he can really hit all the notes on pitch. Sorry John, a little too much virtue, or is it inhibition? (Go out of your way to skip the one with the Muppets, unless someone five years old insists.) Joan Baez veers off for a wild ride with respect­ability on her by now oldie Christmas package. For true believers and sentimen­tal fools only. But Uncle Pete, on this hard-to-find, but in print LP, once again shows them what it’s all about.

Rhythm and Blues Christmas and The Twelve Hits of Christmas (United Artists). Anthologies, anthologies, anthologies. Christmas music has plenty of them, and most are pretty bad. Watch out for the country, soul, and gospels ones in particular. These two are done with care, sometimes hard to find, not discounted much, and really worth buying. After all, isn’t a record that follows Eartha Kitt with Gene Autry what Christmas is all about? The old Motown anthology floating around under various titles is worth a lis­ten, but it’s no way close to these. Ditto recent releases by the Whispers and the Tempts, and older ones from the Su­premes and Stevie Wonder.

The Sinatra Christmas Album (Capitol). Need a last-minute present for Dad? Go ahead, this one’s safe. After all, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is Sinatra’s song and the album is all of a piece. Nat King Cole’s is okay too, but this one has the same appeal as Merle Hag­gard’s — a realistic feel anchoring the sentiment. It’s not my music, but I hear regret and World War II here, and that makes the reassurance it projects more believable. It also makes me hope the record stores place this next to the country-crossing-over-to-­pop adult-contemporary middle-of-the­-road easy-listening Christmas albums, so those unsure middle-aged suburbanites can just reach for the real thing. Which ia not, by the way, any Christmas album with Frank’s face on it. Look for Capitol and “chorus and orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins.”

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Phil Spector’s Christmas Album a/k/a A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. Christmas is schlocky and vulgar. Christmas is American. And Christmas was pre-rock pop until this album made Christmas rock and roll. I hate to admit it, but this does deserve its reputation. It’s exuberant and it holds together. Spector went after the schlock and the corniness and Spector won. And Christmas schlock is heavy. Christmas schlock is big. You can hear Elvis tangle with it, go 12 cuts, and get TKO’d on his Wonderful World of Christ­mas, perhaps the ultimate bad Elvis album. But one cavil amid the auteur ac­colades. The current reissue features Phil or a Phil lookalike in a Santa suit. The original pictured Darlene Love, the Crystals, the Ronettes, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Phil’s productions goes after and gets the drama of the schlock but it’s the sincere innocence of the singing that captures and holds the emotion as its core. Leon Russell and Sonny Bono were musicians on these sessions. Can you imagine it with them singing?

The Ventures Christmas Album (Liberty). The endless repetition of the music lends itself both to attempts at recapturing the feeling and to giving up altogether, to just enjoying the surfaces. My favorite in this vein plays a game of starting with a familiar intro riff, like the one from “Memphis” or “Tequila,” and then laying a Christmas classic over that. The poet’s job is to make it new, right? Also noteworthy are the Muzaky wit on Herb Alpert’s Christmas album (A&MJ and the easygoing disco reggae of Joe Gibbs Family Wish You a Merry Rockers Christmas (Joe Gibbs). Also John Fahey’s guitar noodling (Takoma). Notably failures — the Boston Pops, too dramatic this time around, sorry, and Both the Salsoul you-call-this-disco? washed out Christmas Jollies albums (and the 12-inch single). Grace Jones, where are you now that we need you? Or better yet, how about Xmas Bits and Pieces? And nice try but n.g., Kurtis Blow.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy, Mahalia Jack­son (Columbia). All Mahalia Jackson Christmas gospel albums are not this Mahalia Jackson Christmas gospel album. Which, like most of her recorded work, is inexcusably sweetened with strings and pitched toward a taste white folks don’t even have anymore. But it’s a real album, not a spliced-together rip off of gospel out­takes — the singing is great and the message redeemed. Also worth checking out, if not as consistent, are Christmas with the Keynotes (Nashboro), cut when Paul Beasley was still their falsetto, and The Gospel Soul of Christmas (Mistletoe), if just for the Swan Silvertones’ “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

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A Christmas Record (ZE). The cheap shot for a punk/new-waver would be to mock the emptiness of most Christmas sentiment. The real trick is to reinvent the innocence, which this hard-to-believe col­lection of all-new songs does. I like every track, from August Darnell’s somewhat predictable urban-sophisticate “Christ­mas on Riverside Drive” to Was (Not Was)’s unemployed “Christmas Time in the Motor City.” I was charmed by Chris­tina’s we’re-so-jaded “Things Fall Apart” and the Waitresses’ alone-in-the-big-city “Christmas Wrapping.” And (honest, I don’t know him) Davitt Sigerson’s “It’s a Big Country” should be covered by Arlo Guthrie and become a big hit. This record isn’t just interesting — it’s tuneful, it’s America, Christmas, 1981, fantasy and reality, and it’s the perfect gift for anyone from 15 to 40. It’s also only available as an English import, so if you do manage to find it, you’ll have to pay too much. Merry Christmas.

Singles. The only good ones that aren’t on the UA anthologies are the Kinks’ tough ”Father Christmas,” the Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas” (for the cover photo), and “Don Charles Presents the Singing Dogs, directed by Carl Weismann with Instrumental Accomp. Jingle Bells” (RCA), which is a must. Hon-est.

And one last word. Somewhere out there must be a great Jewish record for the season. It is not, however, Barbra Streisand/A Christmas Album, which should be called Barbra Streisand/A Christian Album. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” okay. But “Ave Maria” and “The Lord’s Prayer”? I don’t get it. Once there was something like Steve and Eydie Wish You Happy Holidays, but evidently no more. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Are you listening, Kinky Friedman? Dave Tarras? Neil Diamond?

Not to worry. The only born-again album to pass my way, On This Christmas Night, exhibited neither the vigor of intolerance nor the power of cultural ascen­dancy just slavish early-’70s soft-rock, a style I’m ordinarily not unsympathetic to. But so far, it seems the tensions that the Reagan worldview laid on Christmas music have invigorated ZE Records and made the born-agains go limp. ❅

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From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

In Bed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Scenes

I WAS IN TORONTO last week to do an interview for WABC-FM with John and Yoko Ono Lennon; one of the reasons the Lennons were there, as you probably already know, was to announce their “peace festival.” It seems everyone and his greedy brother is slapping together a rock festival, but this one sounds like it might headline the summer’s fare, and include one unique and cozy feature. The entire stage will be in the form of a massive bed, and so this July 3, 4, and 5 the joyful noise of “rock, peace, poetry, and whatever” will be coming from between the sheets. Then the Lennons will be coming from between the sheets. Then the Lennons would like to tuck the whole package in and take it on a world tour, especially to Russia and Czechoslovakia.

When I asked him about the Beatles as an entity, John said casually that they might never play again, then added that they feel that way every time they finish an album. On the other hand, he mentioned that it is getting increasingly hard to fit all their songs on one lp, notably since George has begun to write so prolifically. He did seem sure they would never tour again as a group. As for music, John felt they hadn’t made any dynamic changes since “Sergeant Pepper,” and their music should go further out again. He also denied that the Beatles are leaving the Allan Klein management, and in fact said he liked Klein, not only as a businessman but also as a person.

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When asked why he comes to Canada so often, other than problems with his U.S. visa, John answered, “Because it talks to China.” Another reason why he was there this time was to sign the 5000 copies of his erotic lithographs. In between writer’s cramp and macrobiotic meals (served by two chefs flown in from the Caldron on the Lower East Side), the Lennons planned the next phases of their peace campaign. They just completed their billboard event in Times Square and 10 other major cities, and will present another surprise in Japan by remote control in the next few weeks.

Both John and Yoko seem unaffected that war is even more powerful a piggy now, despite all their dove flutter and commotion. “We believe in selling peace … nobody says to give up Christianity because Christ died.”

Their latest angle will be a “peace poll.” Letters, postcards, or any other voucher from the peace-bent will be sent to a prescribed — as yet to be announced — address. They think that maybe a mountain of this mail can be delivered to one of those masters of war who is impressed by statistics. ❖

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

A Christmas Cavil

Late in November, a woman came into an office where I was working, and a group gath­ered to look at the Christmas decorations and stocking stuffers she had just bought in Bloomingdale’s. The woman was especially pleased with a little wooden bird house that made a chirping sound. When she turned and asked good-naturedly for me to affirm that her gifts were indeed treasures, my re­sponse was, “I can’t relate to Christmas. I’m Jewish.” I said it ironically, but I meant it. I said it as if being Jewish, alone, were a suffi­cient explanation for my unwillingness to ap­preciate her toys.

“I’m Jewish, too,” she said. “I do it for my son.”

“I guess I might if I had a kid,” I said, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t.

I’m not seduced by the admittedly attractive seasonal rites that go with Christmas; my alienation is a family legacy. When I think about the Christmases of my youth, I summon up a memory of my parents’ deliberate separation from the events of the holiday, a memory as intact as many Wasps’ idyllic remembrances of cherubim-decked blue spruces and profound feelings of intimacy.

My parents were born in this country, spoke unaccented English, and thought of themselves and their children as Americans. They knew a fair amount about the history of the government under which they at first merely survived and then prospered. My mother rhapsodized about Adlai Stevenson with an ardent expression she reserved for political figures she believed were “good for the Jew.”

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My parents were Americans, but they were Jews before anything else, and that was the anomaly at the root of my somewhat con­fused sense of identity. There was something illogical about being both American and Jew­ish — at least anomalous for the kind of Jew­ish that placed Jewishness first. True Ameri­cans, I learned from my three main sources of information — TV, movies, books — didn’t place anything before being American, never even thought about being American because they were American. And, most significantly, true Americans weren’t, by their very nature, Jewish; they weren’t Moslem or Buddhist either.

On TV, Jews and Buddhists were shown living in America — Molly Goldberg, for ex­ample, or the Japanese “houseboy” on Batchelor Father — but it was nonetheless as­sumed by every TV show and movie and printed word I encountered that to be Ameri­can meant to be Christian. American and Christian went together, automatically, axi­omatically, like mom and apple pie, like Christmas and gift-giving. My mother never baked an apple pie. My mother did not be­have at all like the mother I wished her to imitate, the archetypically American mom on Father Knows Best.

I remember feeling totally outside of Christmas, and confused by the relentless reiteration in the media of the meaning of the “Christmas spirit” and the “Christmas sto­ry.” Promoters of the Christmas spirit campaigned on a platform of love, generosity, harmony, and compassion, and asserted that this spirit embraced everyone. The Christ­mas story seemed to contradict the Christmas spirit because rigid, conservative old Jewish­ness was precisely the ethos against which Christ had forged his radical new ideology.

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I had felt excluded from baptisms and communions, but they didn’t have the same weight as Christmas. And besides, there were for all of these rituals analogous occasions in Jewish religious practice. But no one could persuade a child that Chanukah — forgive me — could hold a candle to Christmas. To a hungry kid, Chanukah was to Christmas what matzoh is to glazed ham with all the trimmings. Christmas was not simply a religious holiday — it steered the country, sug­gesting that a universal likeness of spirit and mind existed among the populace. Christ­mas, the true country within the country, had its own language, music, art, and sym­bolism. I felt exiled.

In reality, no one said that Jews could not celebrate Christmas. Many of my friends and their parents bought trees (some called them “Chanukah bushes”) and presents, placed wreathes on their doors, sent Christmas cards, and gave Christmas parties. My best friend lived in an “assimilated” fam­ily that enacted a completely authentic-look­ing Christmas. I coveted the boxes wrapped in metallic red and blue paper, which re­mained unopened for weeks until Christmas morning. It was that restraint, especially, that I couldn’t even fathom in my family.

Observing my friend’s pseudo-Christmas was the closest I ever came to taking part in a Christmas celebration. When I asked my parents why we couldn’t have a tree and exchange gifts, their answer was always un­equivocal and unamplified: “Because we’re Jewish.”

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I never knew exactly what this meant to them. My parents were not observant Jews; I believe they were atheists. Their sense of Jewishness came from the custom of being Jews and, most significantly, from the exis­tence of anti-Semitism and their experience of anti-Semitism. The word “Jew” evoked sentimental feeling in my parents, the way Fiddler on the Roof did, but as my parents lived their lives, the word “Jew” was, in fact, defined exclusively in political terms. It was defined with relationship to words like “re­stricted,” “pogrom,” “Auschwitz.”

I can see now that my parents refused to participate in Christmas because they felt it would have meant denying their Jewishness, and they understood that one goal of anti­-Semitism has always been to get Jews to deny their Jewishness. My parents believed that to go along with the pressure to go along with the celebrations of the Christian world would have meant a minor but nonetheless clear-cut victory for the forces of anti-Semitism.

For a long time I resisted my parents’ at­tempts to pass on their amorphously ex­pressed identity as Jews. This identity was bound up in ridiculous things like inquiries about which movie actors were or were not “really Jewish” despite their stage names. My parents seemed paranoid and xenophob­ic, tending to view a good deal of Western culture as either overtly or latently anti-Jew­ish. But somewhere along the line — I think it was around the time I read in depth about World War II and the Holocaust — I adopted an attitude toward Jewishness that turns out to be very close to theirs.

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I assert my Jewishness as an act of defiance against any pressure I feel to deny Jewish­ness. I assert my Jewishness every time I hear an anti-Semitic remark. I regard as mildly anti-Semitic being related to as a Jew by non-Jews — e.g., “We bought these bagels and lox especially for you.” I see a kind of anti-Jewishness in the omission of Jews from what is represented as a cross-section of real Ameri­can life; this is the case in almost all TV soap operas, which do feature characters with other-than-Jewish ethnic names and ethnical­ly oriented tastes and interests.

I feel most American outside America. I feel most Jewish at Christmas. I resist the American celebration of Christmas chiefly because it assents to the illusion that we are all alike, when we are not — and, more importantly, that we all wish to be inside, when some of us now prefer to be outside. The nonnegotiable publicness of Christmas, the universal assumption that everyone can re­joice in Christ’s birth, everyone can appreci­ate or wants to see festooned Christmas trees, wants to see Santa Clauses on street corners and hear Christmas music piped out of win­dows and in department stores, is a denial — ­albeit temporary — of the existence of non­-Christians. At Christmas time, non-Christians are omitted from the psychic life of this country, and although this omission may be relatively harmless, it’s anti-Jew, anti-Bud­dhist, and anti-Moslem. It’s anti-Other.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook FILM ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Deck the Halls With New York’s Greatest Christmas Movies

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in New York City — when the throngs of tourists crowding decked-out store windows threaten to devolve into a stampede at any moment, and the waffle cone filled with mysterious chicken chunks you bought at a holiday market that shall remain nameless brings on a DEFCON 1, 24-hour stomach crisis. (That second thing? Happened to me, last week. Be careful out there.) But from Dyker Lights to Radio City, there’s something extra magical about Christmas in the city, a phenomenon of which Hollywood has taken note. Here are seven of our very favorite New York–centric Christmas movies. Can’t you smell the chestnuts roasting on an open street cart already?

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Don’t be fooled by its title: This Warner Bros. classic is very New York. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) leads a professional double life, writing a popular newspaper food column in the persona of a married mother living on a farm in Connecticut. In reality, she’s actually just a champion scammer. Our proto-lifestyle blogger heroine lives alone in her tiny Manhattan apartment and never cooks — instead, she orders in from the restaurant downstairs, whose proprietor ghost-writes Elizabeth’s recipes for her. Her publisher, unaware of Elizabeth’s true life circumstances, demands she host a war hero at her (nonexistent) family home for Christmas. Her sort-of boyfriend offers up his Connecticut farm and his hand in marriage to help with the ruse. They even borrow a neighbor’s baby. When the soldier arrives, though, he turns out to be unexpectedly hunky. It is crazy that there hasn’t been an Instagram-age remake of this movie.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Ah, 1992! When anybody, even a small child, could just wander onto any old plane going anywhere and no one would say so much as a “bah humbug.” For a second consecutive year, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) gets separated from his family when they leave on their Christmas vacation. This time, he ends up all by himself in New York City, in a swanky suite at the Plaza Hotel, no less. Let Home Alone 2’s tear-jerking mother-and-child reunion beside the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree serve as a heartwarming reminder of the meaning of the holiday. And let the rest of the movie serve as a chilling reminder that the creepy businessman who gave you directions in a hotel lobby could one day become the president of the United States.

Scrooged (1988)
Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is the ultimate Manhattan Scrooge, a power-hungry TV network executive planning a sexy, action-packed, and altogether family-unfriendly live musical production of A Christmas Carol. Lo and behold, Frank gets the Charles Dickens treatment himself. The New York Dolls’ David Johansen is a delight as the Checker cab–driving Ghost of Christmas Past, but Carol Kane’s violent fairy version of the Ghost of Christmas Present is possibly the single most compelling reason to revisit this dark comedy.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Erotic thrillers sure are an underrepresented genre of Christmas movie. You might have forgotten amid all the nudity, but Stanley Kubrick’s final film very much takes place during the holiday season, which apparently has rendered everyone in the five boroughs both extremely horny and extremely terrifying. The warm Christmas lights and wreaths of Greenwich Village — the streets of which Kubrick meticulously re-created in a London film studio, having dispatched envoys across the Atlantic to measure their exact dimensions — serve as an unexpectedly chilling backdrop for the journey Bill (Tom Cruise) takes through Kubrick’s paranoid fever dream. By the end of Eyes Wide Shut, the bright colors and oversize teddy bears of the packed FAO Schwarz–like toy store where Bill and Alice (Nicole Kidman) take their daughter shopping somehow seem just as obscene as the movie’s infamous orgy.

Serendipity (2001)
Just as much a Christmas movie as it is a rom-com, Serendipity begins just five days before the holiday, when Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) meet cute over the last pair of black cashmere gloves at a jammed-to-capacity Bloomingdale’s. The one romantic night they share is a solid itinerary for anyone visiting New York City in December: ice skating in Central Park, joyriding the elevators in the Waldorf Astoria, and frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3. That said, it’s worth noting that the main characters in Serendipity did not have to wait in line at Serendipity, given that in their universe the movie Serendipity had not yet come out. Rude.

Elf (2003)
What Miracle on 34th Street did for Santa, Elf does for the big guy’s little helpers. Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human raised as an elf, travels from the North Pole to New York City to track down his long-lost biological dad, Sonny Corleone (James Caan). Buddy finds himself a fish out of water at the department store Santa Land where he accidentally lands a job, but he saves Christmas when the real Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park. Come for Buddy perilously squeezing his way through Lincoln Tunnel traffic on foot; stay for Buddy losing his mind with excitement over the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” sign on a nondescript diner.

The Night Before (2015)
For more than a decade, Isaac, Ethan, and Chris (Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie) have gotten together every Christmas Eve to drink enough booze to turn the rest of the reindeers’ noses red. But now that the men have grown older and drifted apart, they have just one last chance to track down the fabled, invitation-only Nutcracker Ball, a mega-party that turns out to be accessed via the freezer in the back of an unassuming bodega. This all-of-the-drugs-fueled riff on A Christmas Carol takes the best friends from the holiday glitz of Fifth Avenue to the dive bars of Alphabet City, with stops in between to perform Kanye West’s “Runaway” on the FAO Schwarz keyboard and to puke in the middle of midnight mass at St. Bartholomew’s.

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Off the Beaten Holiday Path

 

When I think about the winter holidays in New York, Fifth Avenue shopping in Manhattan and Rockefeller Center is usually the first thing that comes to mind, rightfully so. It’s the destination for families near and far, a staple for classic Christmas movies, and the holiday spirit and energy is practically unmatched. As wonderful as that all may be, I decided to take a look at holidaygoers off the beaten path. I walked the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn in search of authentic moments as the weeks lead up to Christmas and the New Year. I ended up capturing moments that may not seem newsworthy, but these photographs highlight the life and pride of the city that I’ve grown to love.

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Dyker Heights Balks at Holiday Lights Gawkers

Jack-o’-lanterns hadn’t yet been removed from every stoop in Dyker Heights when the angels started popping up. And the colossal toy soldiers. And the mechanical Santas, frozen and grinning, waiting to wave.

The unseasonably warm first Saturday of November provided the perfect weather to start stringing garlands and staking candy canes into the ground in this southern Brooklyn neighborhood, where opulent Christmas decorations have marked the season for decades.

“You always had to drive through Dyker Heights to get in the Christmas spirit,” said Vinny Privitelli, thirty, weaving a strand of lights through a hedge in his front yard. An insurance broker during the week, he’s decked out his home for “Dyker Lights” every year since his family moved to the neighborhood when he was eight.

But as the official viewing season gets underway, many residents are irate about what they see as a once-local tradition now spinning out of control. After the community board spent ten months trying to obtain a city permit that would bring in more police and establish stricter traffic enforcement, the NYPD denied the board’s application last month. Between this past weekend, when homeowners officially flipped on their lights, and New Year’s Day, 100,000 visitors will descend upon just a few square blocks for nearly six weeks of largely unregulated merrymaking.

Resentment exploded publicly on October 30, when more than 100 people packed into the neighborhood’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church to express anger and alarm about the noise and crowds that the annual spectacle brings. Residents — some who decorate for the season, some who just live nearby — described getting stuck behind idling tour buses on their way home from work, feeling their homes shake from loud music, and waking up to see garbage strewn down their sidewalks.

“Cars park in my driveway, which is a lot of nerve,” one man said. A woman said that drunken revelers sometimes urinate in her yard.

“It’s a nuisance,” said Joseph Tannaro, 52, who has lived in the area for 25 years. He has learned to park a block away from the epicenter of the festivities, and has set up security cameras outside his home.

For Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, which encompasses Dyker Heights, it’s a safety issue. Cars and pedestrians get too close, she said, and police coverage is limited. The local Precinct 68 sends officers out every night of the viewing season, but without a permit, local law enforcement is on its own.

“Last year, the resources were woefully inadequate,” said Beckmann. “Is it going to take someone to get hit by a car to take action here?”

***

Local lore credits the genesis of Dyker Lights to Lucy Spata, a longtime resident who began building elaborate displays outside her stately home on 84th Street more than thirty years ago. Spata’s ostentatious Christmas spirit sparked a friendly neighborhood rivalry, and the pageantry now extends throughout the neighborhood, though it remains concentrated from 83rd to 86th streets, between Eleventh and Thirteenth avenues.

The lights beckon from blocks away: tens of thousands on some homes, white and multicolored, flickering through hedges, wrapped around columns, blinking out from the eaves. They serve to frame herds of reindeer, spinning snowmen, and angelic choirs, while carols blare from hidden speakers.

“It does become a bit of a competition,” said Privitelli, whose final display at the corner of 83rd Street and Twelfth Avenue was set to include multicolored lights inside and outside his home, a flock of dancing elves, and a nativity scene. He takes great pride in adorning his home, dismissing some discord (and soaring electric bills) as a sacrifice to the spirit of the season.

“I do it for the children. It’s nice to see them smiling,” he said. “You stand out here, listening to people of every ethnicity, from all over the world.”

That massive influx of visitors is relatively recent, said Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, a result of guided tours that charge up to $50 a pop.

“Probably ten years ago, it started to really pick up…when the tour buses started to really come in and do their thing,” she said. “And then five years ago, it really picked up,” thanks to social media. Now, she said, groups come in from Long Island, New Jersey, and Massachusetts; she’s also fielded media requests from as far away as Alaska, France, and Japan.

“Even though it’s a beautiful thing, sometimes the people living [here] become hostage to this whole situation,” said  Vella-Marrone. That’s why she and the community board began work in January to secure an event permit from the city, which would allow the board to regulate timing of the lights, and to request additional resources from outside the local precinct for crowd control and traffic enforcement.

On October 12, NYPD’s legal office informed the community board that its application had been denied. This means that Beckmann can ask residents to voluntarily turn their lights off after midnight, but compliance can’t be mandated. (Beckmann said she plans to forward all complaints to the NYPD.)

Beckmann said she received no explanation for the petition’s rejection. An NYPD spokesperson replied to the Voice’s queries with a one-sentence response: “The reason for which the permit was not approved is because it did not meet the criteria for which a street activity permit is issued.” In an email, a City Hall spokesperson told the Voice that “while a permit was discussed for this year, NYPD determined it would not be feasible because the event occurs on private property.”

The camera-toting hordes descend on Dyker Heights, in December 2015.

With no help on the way from the rest of the city, officers from the local precinct will be on the ground every evening, with a stronger presence beginning in early December, according to Sergeant Peter Jessnik of the 68th Precinct. Auxiliary officers — trained volunteers — will also be out in force, said Theus Davis, the precinct’s auxiliary coordinator.

Many at the community meeting were not reassured by these promises.

“It’s a circus,” a woman shouted. “I don’t like it in my neighborhood.”

At this, Sandy Rossano, seventy, who lives at an intersection that becomes notoriously jolly in December (“ground zero,” another meeting attendee called it), rolled her eyes.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and we’ve always decorated,” she said.

Rossano’s grown children live in Park Slope, but come home every year to see the lights, now bringing children of their own. It’s a joyous tradition, Rossano said — she just wishes it were easier to drive onto her street on the busiest nights.

***

In early November, the front door to Lucy Spata’s home — the ur-home — was already guarded by goliath Nutcrackers. A succession of inflated snowmen marched out from a basement alcove, as glittering snowflakes crawled up the house’s brick facade.

Eddie Laracuente has been in charge of Spata’s display for the last twenty-one years. He comes in from Staten Island every day, beginning right after Halloween, to decorate a dozen houses in the neighborhood.

Indeed, many residents commission professionals to bedeck their homes. Along 83rd Street, James Bonavita, owner of B&R Christmas Decorators (tagline: “Lighting Up Brooklyn”), had planted his yard signs in front of a handful of households. His workers walked carefully down one roof, lowering a human-sized wreath against somebody’s front door.

Labor, electricity, and the lights and ornaments themselves can cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars each year — although many are reluctant to discuss money.

“My electric bill does get high,” conceded Privitelli, the insurance broker, who decorates his house himself, with the help of a friend. The project is his creative outlet, he said, and a tribute to his grandmother, who loved Christmas. Throughout December, as evening falls and the visitors begin to arrive, he sits on his stoop dressed as Santa Claus.

He said he was bothered by the “negativity and animosity” he’s heard from his neighbors, but not surprised.

“Those people complain eleven months of the year,” he said, “Now this is just the twelfth month.”

“At the end of the day, we’re fighting over Christmas lights,” he added. “There’s much more out there to worry about.”

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The Boozy Holiday Gift Guide, 2015 Edition

For all the supposed joy of the holiday season, gift shopping can bring out the Grinch in the best of us. Regardless of how well you think you know your friends and loved ones, that perfect item remains stubbornly elusive. Your dad clearly doesn’t need another tie, and a gift card to the iTunes store is far too impersonal to carry any lasting significance.

But there’s a simple solution: booze. It’s fun to shop for, everyone loves getting it, and it’s readily available all across town. It also runs the gamut of pricing, so you can land on an appropriate bottle for naughty and nice alike. Here’s a look at some stocking stuffers this winter to please everyone from casual acquaintance to devoted spouse. Invest appropriately, and you might even end up turning the former into the latter.

Like most brown liquors, Cognac is enjoying a renaissance in New York. The double-distilled grape spirit from southern France is turning up in more cocktails, while it continues to reveal its virtue and accessibility as a soulful sipping beverage. There’s also some damn good deals to be had from quality producers. Celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, Hennessy unleashed a collector’s edition release that retailed at $650 a bottle. It flew off the shelves. The elegant expression, packaged accordingly, is befitting of a loved one. But if you’re shopping for a co-worker, or a semi-decent friend, the brand offers their VS Holiday Gift Box at a far more affordable pricepoint. The juice inside, aged for at least two years in French oak, will surely deceive the gifted into thinking you spent at least double the $32 it commands at most liquor stores.

At a similar price, Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey is a veritable steal. The blend incorporates grain spirit from across North America, much of which fetches a statelier sum when packaged in prettier bottles. Don’t fall for the hype — it’s what inside that counts. And the rye lovers in your life will surely appreciate Cooper Spirits’ mixture of slightly spicy stock, ranging from four to 15 years in age. A throwback label imbues the gift with a nostalgic edge, best appreciated by seasoned drinkers. Give this one to dad — or grandma, if she’s a badass.

While nobody wants coal in their stocking, Scotch lovers wouldn’t necessarily mind a similar flavor profile in their whisky bottle. Oblige them with Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt. It’s a meditation on bourbon-like tones of oak and vanilla, peered through the peat bogs of the Scottish isles. Straddling that chasm between smoky and sweet, it exists as a sensible Scotch for bourbon aficionados. Best of all, it sits on the shelf at the inviting price of $40 a bottle. A tremendous value for any single malt scotch, particularly one arriving in any easily wrap-able gift box.

Beer, too, can be a thoughtful present. Though a six pack of Coors Light might be pushing it, craft beer connoisseurs in your circle are likely clamoring for something a bit more exclusive. Seek out the 2015 editions of the Bourbon County Brand Stouts, from Goose Island. Aged for a year in ex-bourbon barrels, these heavy-hitting dark ales upwards of 10% in ABV, age beautifully, and are always in high demand after their annual release, the day after Thanksgiving. Here in the city, you’ll be able to find the original stout, as well as the Barleywine, and coffee-infused variations at most high-end bottle shops. They’ll typically range from $10-15 a pop, so you won’t be too intimidated to secure the entire set. Thick on the tongue, with lingering notes of vanilla, caramel, and roasted cocoa, it’s dessert disguised as beer.

If you’re looking for something seasonally-inspired to bring to an upcoming holiday party, Brooklyn Brewery and Captain Lawrence Brewing out of Westchester, each produce their own take on a Winter Ale. Brooklyn’s is a take on a scotch-style beer, with creamy notes of caramelized malt. Captain Lawrence’s is a solid example of a winter warmer, brewed with tongue-tingling spices reminiscent of nutmeg and clove. Both beers are in bottle throughout the city, retailing at under $12 a six pack.

If you want to make your gift a bit more immersive, The New York Beer and Brewery Tour is just the ticket. For $115, attendees get a four-hour adventure highlighting a few of the best brewpubs and beer bars of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Beer, food tastings, and  transportation are included.

For something a bit more playful, if not far more expensive, the Whisky Advent Calendar from Master of Malt is a welcome surprise. The 24 day countdown to Christmas is honored with two dozen, wax-sealed 3cl drams of single malt, each hidden behind their own cardboard window. The set, available for $188 online, includes an exclusive 50-year-old Scotch, Japanese whisky, and other rarities, some of which go for as much as $500 in full bottle format. If you haven’t ordered it already, fret not, whisky lovers will surely have little problem playing catchup to arrive at the proper day of the calendar. Alternatively, you could enjoy them all on Christmas, to make your in-laws that much more tolerable.

Dom Perignon Luminous Collection
Dom Perignon Luminous Collection

No alcohol crams as much festivity into the bottle as bubbly. And the world’s most renowned Champagne brand has packaged something special this winter to light up the lives of your loved ones. Dom Perignon’s Luminous Collection includes a ten year old vintage, branded with it’s own backlit label, available in several colors. The $250 bottle isn’t overly extravagant, and it expertly navigates the thin line between classy and flashy. Plus, there’s the added bonus that whomever your gifting it to might pop it open in your presence. A gift that keeps on giving. Even after the bottle runs out, it still makes a radiant mantle piece. The glowing glass is now only offered on-premise, but Shoppers Wines in Union, New Jersey is currently offering a limited allotment on discount for December. Easier on the wallet is Veuve Cliquot Brut’s holiday gift bag. The special packaging includes a space to sign and dedicate the offering, and the water resistant packaging doubles as a makeshift ice box.

 

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A Santa-Worthy Stout to Savor the Season

Milk and cookies are for kids. This holiday season, leave St. Nick an adult beverage to make him truly jolly. You think he maintains that corpulent physique with kale smoothies? Of course not. The big man sports a wicked beer belly, and he needs a suitable brew to get him through the busiest work night of his year. Santa, sip on a stout to guide your sleigh tonight.

Although it sounds naughty, Evil Twin Brewing ferments a bevy of craft flavors that would surely rank high on Santa’s list of beloved libations. But of all those offerings, what could possibly be more appropriate than their Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room? This Imperial Stout isn’t just a mouthful in name, it’s also impossibly heavy on the tongue — somewhere between espresso and motor oil.

As we know too well, our city is one of the world’s most popular holiday tourist destinations, so we ought to dedicate this transiently themed offering to every economic-boosting visitor of the Big Apple, Santa included.

Appropriately, both the beer and the man who created it were onetime tourists who decided to stick around. Famed gypsy brewmaster Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, now a proud Brooklynite, brought his midnight-black stout in from nearby Stratford, Connecticut. The robust notes you’d expect from such a style? It’s got them in spades. This thing drinks like a dessert and is ideal to take the edge off after a long day of holiday travel. So whether you’re flying in via reindeer or jet plane, at least you know there’s a bottle of beer waiting here, just for you. It sure beats milk.

Serve Santa sparingly. A single 12-ounce bottle clocks in at 10 percent alcohol. It’s difficult to pilot a sled on much more than that. Look for it at high-end beer shops throughout the five boroughs or enjoy it with a Michelin-starred meal at Luksus in Greenpoint. Season’s greetings!

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Two More Days to Get to These Holiday Pop-Ups — Which Is Worth It?

“Text if you want to vote for Peppermint Place,” the sign says. That would be the gingerbread house that looks like all the rest except it’s got a peppermint swirl for a roof. You could also vote for the Cinnamon Shack or Cocoa Cottage, though the creative differences in houses that make up Gingerbread BLVD are so minimal, you’d swear you’ve landed in a cookie version of a retirement village in Boca Raton.

In reality, you’re in Madison Square Park, looking at a beautiful Christmas tree while companies hawk free goodies in order to persuade you to spend more money. Cater your holiday dinner, says one. Don’t bother baking dessert when we have ours ready to go, says another. Gingerbread BLVD takes precious childhood memories and turns them into a marketing campaign — and the holiday spirit here has about as much a chance at survival as a sequel to Sony Pictures’ The Interview.

Cinnamon Shack. Notice the craftsmanship.
Cinnamon Shack. Notice the craftsmanship.

The saddest part of this corporate gingerbread subdevelopment is that it competes for attention with the work of a real guy out there, chef Jon Lovitch, who creates a large-scale gingerbread village every year and gives away the pieces for free at the end of the season. It’s called Gingerbread Lane, and it’s located at the New York Hall of Science — the last place on earth a kid would think to spend the holidays.

His is a much more magical place than this goods-hawking attention ploy, but it’s located far from well-trafficked Madison Square Park, which lures tourists and locals looking for a festive stop.

This tree is just a distraction to get you to start buying stuff.
This tree is just a distraction to get you to start buying stuff.

If you or visiting relatives must see a gingerbread village this year, go to Lovitch’s version. If you’re just looking for a holiday pop-up with genuine cheer, on the other hand, head instead to Miracle on 9th Street, a pop-up bar with holiday-inspired drinks. See the “Wise Men,” served in a frankincense-smoked glass, or “Bad Santa,” a warm rum drink with coconut milk in a jolly St. Nick-shaped mug.

It’s a silver lining in a town covered in tawdry tinsel.

Gingerbread BLVD and Miracle on 9th Street close on December 23; Gingerbread Lane is open until January 12.

Ghosts of product placements past perhaps?
Ghosts of product placements past perhaps?