Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The TinkerX UnGrinch 25

I was involved in retail marketing for ten years, but it seems like more. Retail gives you various blech around holiday time, and that increases the time-dilation-memory factor. And while I know lots of non-marketing/sales people who are bone-weary of the over-commercialization of this time of year, I promise that if you feel that way, you got nothing on folks who've lived the dream from the inside of the tinsel machine.

If you're one of the people, like me, that thinks, "Geez. Can't we at least wait until after Thanksgiving before thinking about Christmas?" Well, in marketing, you start thinking about Christmas around September 15. And if you hate watching all the stoopid ads, well... try planning them.

I say this as a way of introducing part of my self-imposed anti-humbug plan. In order to cure myself of an ever-increasing volume of Grinchy holiday sentiments, begun during my time in retail, I'd like to share with you a bunch of the least Grinchy things I've experienced or come up with about the holidays over the years. These all relate to creativity, craftiness and the general ethos of this blog. They are non-denominational for the most part. Though, as one of my favorite lines from "Northern Exposure" went, "Dave's an animist, and he has a Christmas tree."

I do not guarantee that any of these are original to me. I'm sure other, fine creative people have had these ideas, too. If you know any of them, show link love in the comments.

1. Make a family calendar. I used to do this every year. Our theme was the "Color-it-Yourself Halendar." Hal being a stuffed orangutan I bought for my wife back when we were very young. Each month featured an outline drawing of Hal doing something... odd... and then the days were filled in with all the important family dates; birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Some years, I'd also include a weird or interesting event for every day of the year from Chase's Annual Events, or some other funky calendar. You can make monthly calendars using MS Publisher, or, with a bit more work, do one in anything that can create a table, including the ever-free and wonderful Open Office. Good to have, good to give.

2. Create your own ornaments. Yeah, it's not the most out-of-the-box idea, but so few people I know still do it. My favorite, as a kid, was to take a styrofoam shape (bell, star, even a simple ball), and stick a bajillion sequins to it with pins. Pretty. Shiny. And it keeps kids busy for hours while you do other holiday nonsense. And if just making ornaments isn't creative enough for you, force yourself to make ornaments that are alliterative; you know, where everything on your tree starts with the letter "B." That'll get you thinking.

3. Rewrite "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Let's face it, hollering, "Fiiiiive gooolden riiings!" is way fun. Way, way fun. You can not resist, so don't hold back. But what's even more fun, is hollering your own family version that only you and the clan know. Because, really... doesn't singing about how your true love gave to you... "eight maids a milking" make you a bit... uncomfortable? I mean... dude gives people for Christmas? That ain't right. Bob and Doug McKenzie not withstanding, your own version will be more fun. My son, just this morning, was singing, "Fiiiiive gooolden delicious!" Hilarious.

4. Lego nativity scene. 'Nuff said.

5. Indoor snow-ball fights. We spent two years of my childhood in California, after having lived in Boston, and with parents who grew up in New York. Snow ball fights are a required element of winter joy. Indoor? Substitute  aluminum foil balls, rolled-up socks, styrofoam (messy), newspaper wads, etc. instead of snow. The point is to throw things. Banzai!

6. Mall caroling. It's hard to find places to carol. Outside can get very cold. And, with kids in tow... well, it's tough. Check with a couple local malls and arrange for a time to invite anyone who'd like to participate to meet, get song books, and walk around the mall singing. See if you can arrange for an accordion player. Seriously. It adds to the cheer. If you want to charge a couple bucks to participate and also collect donations from listeners and then give the money to a local toys-for-tots charity, that makes the whole deal more righteous, and more palatable to certain civic types.

7. Toys from tots. Speaking of toys-for-tots... There are many fine organizations that gather up toys for kids who don't have them. And that's fantastic. But kids also love to make and give stuff around the holiday season, and may not have the resources. Organize an effort to provide a crafty sort of event where all the necessary parts and instructions for making a neat holiday gift are available to a group of kids who otherwise wouldn't have access.

8. Grown-up PJ party. Notice I did not say "adult." This is not a chance to play spin-the-bottle. This is about getting back to childishness. Come in PJs, bathrobes, bunny-slippers, blankets, etc. Bring your favorite (hopefully holiday related) bed-time story to read aloud to the group. Drink cocoa w/ tiny marshmallows (yes, and some brandy or JD) and have candy canes and graham crackers for snacks. Sit on the floor around the fireplace. Watch all the old
Rankin-Bass claymation holiday specials on VHS. Sing a few carols. Play...

9. Insane White Elephant. Last year, John Moore from Brand Autopsy set up an excellent White Elephant Blog. It ain't up this year. Oh, well. The basic principles of a White Elephant gift exchange apply, but anyone who has their gift taken can keep stealing from anyone who hasn't yet had their gift stolen that turn. The more people playing, the more fun. No "deceased" gifts in this version, either. Until you've had a gift stolen on any given turn, it's in play.

10. Make a truly edible gingerbread house. Every blessed gingerbread house I've ever been exposed to has been hands (and more importantly, teeth) off. Either too nice or too nasty to eat. Feh. Where's the fun? C'mon! I don't care if you stick six graham crackers together with peanut butter and put one gum-drop on top for a chimney. Figure out some way to do it, and then let the kids get all Godzilla on it. I suggest filming the fun, too.


11. Make your own envelopes. A dear friend of mine (Hi, Susan!) once sent me letters every few months in hand-made envelopes. Hers were made from interesting magazine ads. How cool is that? If you want to get fancy, do a search on the Internet for "make envelopes" and such. But the easiest way is to get the envelopes that go with whatever cards you're mailing, carefully bust 'em apart, trace them on funky paper (magazine pictures, wallpaper, wrapping paper...) and then cut, fold and glue (or double-sticky clear tape) them together. People may expect hand-made cards. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Or hand-made envelopes. Festivisimus!

12. Photoshop your kid(s) into classic pics. I first saw this done to the Raphael's "The Sistine Madonna, Detail of the Angles" painting (as shown). Although a much better job than the one I've done here, which is of my niece and nephew (Hi, Nate! Hi, Sophie!) Click on it to see a much larger image. The point is to have fun and take a picture folks will recognize and include people they will recognize. It doesn't have to be a serious pic, either. I would think that your kid climbing the Empire State Building to put a star on top would be hysterical. Use this instead of a regular picture-of-your-kids card because... well... because it's goofy.

13. Gift cards for chores, favors, hugs, etc. These were a big item when I was growing up. Don't know if other people did them. The idea was to make gift-certificates or gift cards that "entitled the bearer to (1) one doing of the dishes upon presentation of this card." You can make these intimate for your honey (I won't get into those variations here, thank you), or appropriate for work. For example, I once gave my boss ten "Andy will now pipe down" certificates. Upon presentation, I was obligated to shut my pie hole. She only ever handed me two. I believe she traded the rest in for some magic beans. Or they may be floating around on eBay... Hmmm....

14. "Puzzle Party" cards. Take, buy or make a nice picture and turn it into a jigsaw, either yourself or at Kinkos. Mail one piece to each person you're inviting to the party. When they come, they add their piece. Depending on how corn-ball you are, you can hold forth on how we're all a part of the holiday panorama of joy, etc. etc. It also serves to increase the guilt factor that motivates people to come to your party, since if they don't... their piece will be missing. Ha!

15. "Family News" cards from the future. I love this one. Lots of families I know write a very nice update about what's been going on over the last year. It's nice to hear, but... mostly it ends up being, "Dad's still working and maybe going a bit more stir crazy. Same for mom. The kids are in school and are a year older." Yawn... I like the idea of fast-forwarding a bit and writing your "Holiday Family News from 2025." Keep it just as straight-faced and boring, but mention which dimension Mary got lost in on the way to work this time. Talk about how the Martian embassy lost your passport on your 2nd honeymoon cruise, etc. etc. Much more fun. Cloning humor goes over big in this one, too.

16. Surrogate shopping party. So many of us have someone or several someones on our lists that are impossible to shop for or that we just have a mental block on. Fine. Get together for dinner and share an equal number of those folks with each other, along with a few details and a dollar ceiling per gift. Then release yourselves into a mall with a time limit. Then get back together and share the swag. I guar-ohn-tee that your friends will find stuff for your hard-to-getters that you'd never have thought of. If it ain't right? Well, 'tis the season to return stuff.

17. Decorate others' stuff. Carefully. Tastefully. Always within the bounds of office rules/etiquette and the law. But how nice would it be to enter your office (cube...) and find a wee, unexpected holiday trinket? Totally anonymous. Or to come home and have a strange, lovely wreath hanging on your lamp-post? Put a small, stuffed penguin with a Santa hat on someone's dashboard today.

18. Start a bizarre, personal holiday tradition. I heard somewhere (can't find it online, sorry... it may be apocryphal) that Amy Grant's family explodes their Christmas tree after New Year's Day with fireworks. I'm neither hot nor cold on Ms. Grant, but... that's flippin' awesome!!! So many of our holiday traditions are either copped from cultures that really aren't our own anymore, or have been entirely kidnapped by the media/mercantile world. Why not invent a new ritual that's just for you and your family? Stuff a sock with toys by the fireplace? Why? I sure as heck don't know. How about, instead, everybody in your family writes one line of a nativity poem. Or fight some gingerbread man wars. Or make advent candles from last year's used crayons. At my house, we've now been playing street hockey the day after Christmas for several years with all the in-laws. Why? Bob wanted to one year. After three years... It's a tradition!

19. Overtip, ridiculously, at least once. Food service is tough work. And around the holidays, it's even worse. People are out-and-about, running like mad, full o' holiday spirit, and, often, not very nice to the wait staff. And because we're spending more than we should on various baubles, bangles and beads... we're often a bit penurious when it comes to the everyday stuff. Which hurts the folks whose livelihood depends on our largess. So. At least once, between Thanksgiving and New Year, when you get good service and a nice smile with your meal... leave a $20 tip on a $13 lunch meal. Or, what the heck... leave $50 to cover a $22 dinner. Or $100 for a cup o' joe. Seriously. Don't make a big deal out of it. Do it, as the scriptures say, "In the dark." But do it. You'll make somebody's whole season.

20. Tell your faith's holiday story with sock puppets. You never real own a story until you tell it. I know this, because I played King Nebuchannezzar in a 4th grade production of, "Cool in the Furnace." I now own that story. Be that as it may... You can hear the Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, etc. stories again and again. But until you write out a script, make your own sock puppets for the players, fashion a stage from a major appliance crate and put on a show for the grown-ups... do you really grok the holiday's true meaning? I think not.

21. Do something to commemorate the Jólasveinar Boys.  An Icelandic holiday tradition involving gremlins that steal and eat naughty children...  Wee snarkies with names like "Crevice Imp," "Pot Licker," "Sausage Snatcher," "Doorway Sniffer" and "Butter Greedy." Imps that, in later, more mellow years, would come to leave potatoes for bad children rather than eating them. The children, that is. I mean, the kids could eat the potatoes, I suppose. But the Jólasveinar used to eat the bad kids. You get the picture. Do a lil' sumfin sumfin for the Jólasveinar this year. Eat a child. Leave a potato.  Your call.

22. Start a yearly journal. Very few people keep a journal. I'm a professional writer, and I don't. I'm supposed to, but I write at work, and I blog, and I write poetry and fiction and, and, and... So I've never had a daily journal. But what I do have is a notebook that I take out about once a year. Often around the holidays. And, in my case, I write in it the names of people -- everyone I can remember -- that I've met during the last year or so. And, of course, I go back and read the earlier entries and reflect on how lucky I've been to have known so many wonderful people. The names are my "touchstones" to the past. The names are bookmarks in my memory, because people anchor the most important events in my life, I think. Anyway... that's what's in my "annual journal" for the most part. Yours, of course, can be anything you want.

23. Share a resolution. We don't keep our New Year's resolutions, for the most part, because we are not really accountable to ourselves. We cheat and look the other way. So share a resolution with a friend or family member; let them hold you accountable, and vice versa.

24. Share a resolution. No, this is not a repeat. In this case, I mean make a resolution that includes another person. For example, resolve to have a game-night once a week with your family, or to go for a walk 3 days a week with your spouse. Resolve to send an email back-and-forth at least twice a month with a friend you don't see much anymore. Resolve to cook healthy for me, and I'll cook healthy for you twice a week. Resolve to help your boss with his annoying habit of not taking minutes/notes at meetings, and he can help you with your attempts at better process management. So many things that we want to accomplish are impossible alone. Resolve to be better together.

25. Thought gifts. They say (well, they say, "They Say") "It's the thought that counts." OK. So, this year, only give thoughts for the holidays. Make this they year that you and yours agree to take whatever your budget for gifts was and either give it to a charity or stick it in a savings vehicle; your call, I'm not preaching here. But for yourselves... take the time to actually say the things you haven't said. Give "the thought" behind the gift. If you're a spiritual person, pray or meditate on the subject for a bit. Do it in a card if you like, or via email. Don't make the logistics as much of a pain as shopping/wrapping/etc. That's not the point. But all the major religions that are celebrating this time of year have gift-giving as a central notion not as a potlatch per se, but as a metaphor for love, friendship, community, etc.

26. BONUS IDEA. I can't end on a serious note. It's not in my nature. So the bonus idea is a straight-up pimp for the Jumbo Mystery Box from Archie McPhee. I get one of these every year (although this year I have been strongly advised that the ladies want something non-McPhee in their stockings... geez), and use the contents for stockings, Secret Santa, random giftings, prizes for students, etc. You never know, around holiday time, when a bunch of Hindu god finger puppets, glowing eyeballs or rampaging Hun toy soldiers will come in handy.

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Have some happy holidays this year, eh? I hope this list has been fun to read, and maybe sparks an idea or two for how to be a bit less Grinchy and a bit more Jólasveinarish.

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