12.2611: Best Christmas Ever, pt. 53

Christmas Eve: Everything felt a bit subdued, and I don’t know why. Not that it was bad; nothing was bad. Everything was great. Not that anything went wrong; all according to plan. I just had the sense at the end of Christmas Eve that Time had laid down a marker, that’s all.

In the afternoon I took Natalie to see “Arthur Christmas,” because A) it was Christmas, and B) I love being out and about on Christmas Eve, right before everything shuts down, and C) it was Aardman, and I love Aardman, and have associated them with our Christmases ever since one of the Wallace & Grommet DVDs came with some clever BBC 2 idents, full of those Charming British Holiday Touches like wearing a crown, or pulling apart crackers. We got to the mall early, and wandered through the stores to kill some time. She wanted to go to the Apple Store to see if the case for the iPod Touch was still there. That was her big hope for Christmas, the Touch. I played dumb about the case - which one? Huh. Whatevs . . . when of course it has been purchased weeks ago, taken out of its box, taped into a very large box and wrapped, so the size of the box would be at odds with its heft, and shaking would reveal nothing. I numbered it to make sure it’s the penultimate gift opened. (The last one: a small box that contains a piece of paper telling her to look under the sofa for a long box whose tell-tale shape is obviously a Harry Potter wand.) We went to Bath and Body Works, a store she’s always loved. I’m less impressed now. Once they had stuff I really liked, but they changed the labels and package design, and everything has a cheap feel that screams THE SEVENTIES ARE BACK. But she’s very interested in lip gloss. While she tried out various flavors and colors I looked at the Manly Section, and noted a new fragrance from the Bigelow collection. The bottles and labels are designed to look vaguely medicinal, like something from 100 years ago - hand-lotion you need a prescription to obtain. Sniff: hmmm. This I like.

She wanted to get some of the lip gloss but was put off by the price, and didn’t expect it as a gift today because OMG I have so many presents already, no dad it’s okay. So we went to the movie. Sat through the previews and cracked jokes and gave each other looks of anticipation or dismay. Finally, the feature -

no. NO. It started with a Justin Bieber video full of elves dancing robotically, and J-Beeb pulling his jacket off, interspersed with three-second excerpts from the movie. NO. NO. But: a deal had been struck; this was the song of the movie, and the advertising would say “as heard in ‘Arthur Christmas,’ and the movie would be allowed to say it included the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Justin Bieber, and money would flow this way at that. The song ended. I unclenched. The movie unspooled, and I noted with grim pleasure that the Bieber song was only heard for a few seconds in the opening sequence. That was it. I still have horrible memories of Steve Tyler’s face in Elf form in that ghastly zombie krep-fest “Polar Express,” and I couldn’t imagine anyone at Aardman would say “sure, we can make an Elf that looks like Bieber and put him at the end for the obligatory musical sequence.” They’d rather die. Or so you like to think.

Every year sees another computer-enabled soulless holiday movie, either with talking dogs or unwilling Santas or the like, and they all end up rerun on cable somewhere for a few years until something else as loud and crass and banal comes along. All movies in this category will henceforth retreat in shame from the example of “Arthur Christmas,” which was charming, funny, smart, heartfelt, brilliantly voiced, and shot a harpoon into your heart at the end. There’s Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and Arthur Christmas. I sat there thinking: well, this is just the best thing ever in the genre. Can’t think of another movie that hits kids and grown-ups alike with such skill.

Afterwards we went back to the Bath & Body Works, and I got her the lip gloss. Picked up the cologne for myself. She put some on as we walked through the Mall, and joked: I feel like a supermodel. And she threw her hair.

When we went through the department store we passed a cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber, and I recoiled in mock horror. She gave me an elbow. She paused at some shoes, and said they were cool.

“This is a change,” I said. “You’re interested in shoes and lip gloss and you give me grief for making fun of Justin Bieber. Did you like that video before the movie?”

“The video was okay,” she said.

“Ooooh,” I taunted. As I have done before, knowing the result. “You like Justin Bieber.”

“Dad,” she said. “I don’t hate him.”

And the Finger of Time drew a line, a line that was the boundary between then, and the times to come. And like every father who has ever lived I saw how Us would become the adjoining realms of Me and Her - the former a land ringed with towers and battlements and sentries alert for the fires of invaders, the latter an Elysian expanse of forests and gardens, snakes and thorns.

STOP REWIND RESET: here and now. I gave her a hip-check and she hip-checked me back and we went to the car and went home . . .

. . . where Wife was putting away the groceries from the trip to the store. Afterwards she went running, God knows how many miles; I napped deep, daughter napped, and then woke for supper. Swedish meatballs, the tradition. Jasper Dog got a meatball and licked all the plates and oh, what the hell, here, lick the whole pot. It probably kept him busy while we went to church. Up in the balcony, glorious music, good sermon, topics being Silence, Simplicity, Wisdom. Sought out my man Kurt, one of the church’s many pastors, for a Christmas hug and a promise of a cigar exchange soon. Home for dessert; dog licked the plates. Wrapped the last presents while listening to some old radio shows. Jack Benny. My grandfather loved Jack Benny. So do I.

Daughter poked her head in my studio. “Do you want to do a story again?” she said.

The previous night we did a little play with her stuffed animals: two twin brothers, one a pedlar, the other a coffee-shop owner. The King lost his precious relic at the coffee shop, but since it looked like junk, the coffee-shop owner gave it to his brother - and then a dragon took it. So they went on a Quest. First they had to consult a librarian who knew spells to put the dragon to sleep; then they had to get the spell ingredients from Bewilda, the witch (take care; she is in league with the dragon) and then they had to get the stuff back from the dragon. It was all delightful and we had a great time. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, though, so daughter wisely chose a preexisting narrative for the second night: we did a Christmas Carol with all her stuffed animals.

Jasper wandered up and introduced another element to the protean tale: he gently picked up Bob Crachit in his teeth and set him down a few feet away.

It was odd that he was there in the first place; he only comes upstairs when he’s nervous or needs something. Lately he’s been wandering up to see what we’re doing, and it takes effort; the stairs are so steep and dark, and his back legs are halt. But up he comes up anyway.

Everyone went to sleep and I did the stockings and put in lots of Milk Bones in his.

Christmas Day was perfect. Everyone loved everything - except for one gift we thought had an outside chance of hitting a sweet spot not completely formed. Wrong. Her reaction was heartening: oh, how do I tell them this isn’t me, really, without seeing ungrateful, or disappointing whatever expectation this gift suggests? This is where you step in and say it’s perfectly okay not to want it; back it goes to Best Buy. (The matter of receiving its value in a gift card never occurred to her, which was also gratifying.) Since we have the family dinner at Jasperwood, my wife spent the entire afternoon in five hours of serious cooking, with the usual small disasters and great triumphs. We had more French people over here than ever before - French bro-in-law, of course, his French daughter (who’s been living here for a decade and is utterly Americanized, no accent, able to switch to French in .0005 seconds, usually to argue with her father), his mother from Paris, who speaks no English, and his old college pal, come to visit to see America and have a hamburger.

After the meal we played Password, and if you want to consider a clusterfarg, imagine the game played in two languages. Rules were cast aside. Hyphenated clues and multiple attempts were permitted. The vintage wines the Frenchman brought were exhausted; I poured my house stock, and lo, the Australian wines were deemed sufficient. Mark this day.

Hugs and goodnights. Daughter dances around the house with her new iPod Touch, FaceTime calls me from here and there (it’s our new mode of communication; beats shouting) and the fourth session of kitchenwork is completed. Wife retires to do a puzzle; daughter is still filling her iPod with apps; I’m in the kitchen wearing my new sweatshirt, which says ASK ME ABOUT MY BOOK. Last year I would have grimaced to receive something with such a sentiment; not now. There’s half an hour of Christmas left; the music on the cable channel has switched to the uptempo stuff that says “party” instead of the slow contemplative stuff.

There’s no snow. In the end it didn’t matter a bit. And Jasper doesn’t mind, I’m sure. He’s outside right now, sitting on the ground in his accustomed spot. I have no idea what it smells like, but I’m sure it’s fascinating.

Best Christmas ever. Really. Until the next.


(Hey! Behind the scences fun. I'm on a different computer with a different html editor and it's past midnight, and adding all the comments codes doesn't work. give me a while to figure out the particulars.)