I am a man who loves tradition.
Year in, year out, we find comfort in tradition. It help define us. It gives us the opportunity to break away from our daily life and say, “Look, here, I do this every year. I think this is important. This is special.” Tradition helps us make sense of a world that is often senseless and it reinforces the notion, no matter how untrue it may be, that things will always be the way they are right now.
For me personally, it is the end of the year that is thick with traditions of all kinds, beginning in late August and culminating in a fever pitch of friends, family, food and festivities that we collectively refer to as the Holidays. Call me a sap, but this is my favorite time of year.
But, just because I love tradition doesn’t mean I am at all traditional.
For example, when I say I am going to listen to Christmas music, I am not talking about Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman (thought I do have a special fondness for God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen). I’m not even talking alt X-mas tunes like I Shouldn’t have Given him a Gun for Christmas by Wall of Voodoo (though I am not complaining that it is playing as I write this). No, for me, Christmas music means Peter Gabriel.
Why? I got Peter Gabriel’s Us for Christmas in 1992 and I listened to it over and over again. Then, for my birthday (December 10th) in 1994, I got Passion, his groundbreaking soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ and, despite the fact that it should really be more a soundtrack for Easter, the lack of lyrics and the choir in With This Love mixed with almost feverish repetition that made it interchangeable with Yuletide. In 2002, I received the his remastered discography over the course of my birthday and Christmas, and 3 and Security joined the ranks of my Christmas carols.
Nothing says ‘Santa Claus’ quite like listening to Intruder on Christmas Eve. “Intruder’s happy in the dark,” indeed.
My weird Christmas music doesn’t stop at Peter Gabriel. David Bowie’s Outside, Q Lazarus’ Goodbye Horses, Primus’ Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese and practically anything by Beirut conjure visions of sugar plums to dance in my head. Jim White’s quiet alt-country has, for reasons I can not adequately explain, has almost eclipsed Mr. Gabriel as King of the Christmas music, perhaps because he actually does have a Christmas song, Christmas Day, which is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. But that doesn’t really explain why I will be humming Alabama Chrome to myself over Christmas breakfast.
But hey, this is coming from a guy who wraps his Christmas presents while watching Dexter.
The show, for those of you who somehow do not already know this, follows the adventures of a Miami-based serial killer who kills criminals the police can’t catch. There is nothing even remotely Christmasy about it.
When the show premiered, I wasn’t yet ready to accept Michael C. Hall as anyone other than David Fisher from Six Feet Under. It also didn’t help that serial killer stories are always a hard sell for me. After the finale, though, the buzz finally got to me and I watched the first episode three days before Christmas, while I was wrapping my gifts. I finished the season in the very early morning, two days before Christmas, and a new tradition was born.
My favorite Christmas tradition, though, is playing videogames. (Of course.)
My earliest videogame memories involve the family playing the ColecoVision together in the TV room. No one is sure, looking back, exactly when that was, but I do have distinct memories of playing the insufferable Smurf with my Aunt Donna in the light of a Christmas tree.
Later, I devoted a Christmas vacation to unearthing the secrets of The Legend of Zelda (we used to meet up with the extended family on Christmas day at my paternal grandmother’s house for dinner. There was no NES there so I had to make do that Christmas night with the Legend of Zelda instruction manual). The week between Christmas and New Year’s quickly became prime time for playing videogames.
My parents got me some damn fine games as Christmas presents. Final Fantasy, Crystalis, Sid Meier’s Pirates! (NES), Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, Circle of Blood, Colony Wars and Grim Fandango made for some fine memories. The year I got SSI’s Gold Box collection of all three Dragonlance games (Champions, Death Knights and Dark Queen of Krynn) I don’t think I pulled myself away from the computer the entire week and I did it all over again the next two years. Hell, if I had a floppy drive, it’s a good bet I would be playing them tomorrow.
I’ve continued the tradition with games I’ve bought for myself, like Hordes of the Underdark and Gears of War. This year, I saved Kirby’s Epic Yarn exactly for this reason.
I have plenty of other strange Christmas traditions and associations. Ray Harryhausen movies, Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine series, Lego, practically anything with an Edward Gorey illustration on it…in recent years, the Doctor Who Christmas Special has become something to get excited about, this year even more so with it being aired live simultaneously in the US and the UK (9 PM EST!) and half of Team Unwinnable showing up at my place to watch it.
It will be a good time.
I think these things are special and important. They help me make sense of a world that is often senseless. I am without a father, two grandfathers, an Aunt Donna, a cat and more friends of the family than I care to list. But these traditions remind me that I am still here, along with the rest of my family, my friends, my girlfriend and Peter Gabriel playing on the stereo.
And that’s all right by me.
Merry Christmas, folks.