Ho Ho Holiday Memories!


by Roxanne Tellier

“Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop.”  “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” Oh NOes! Must be getting close to the holidays – the earworms are out in full force!

Here comes Christmas 2019. Before you know it, it will be a bright and shiny new 2020! Let’s hope that 2020 applies to our vision, rather than to our hindsight.

I’ve got a holiday gathering to go to this afternoon, and every year, it takes me a little longer to get ready to be serially hugged. But one of the perks of having written a weekly column for many years is that, now and again, we can reach back into those past ponderings and re-release them into the present, dusted off, re-edited, and ready to be digested anew.

For your Christmas reading, wonderment and wandering …. a few morsels from my past holiday tables …

Originally published December 14, 2014 – Zombie Christmas

Zombies love shopping on Black Friday .. Deals!

It’s lurching toward you … the days tick by, and you rock between anticipating and dreading the upcoming holiday season. You’re looking forward to seeing friends and family, but wonder how you’ll juggle all that you still have to do to get ready for the Big Day.

The pressure is on to try and create a meaningful experience that will leave everyone – including yourself – with lasting memories of “goodwill towards men,” exemplified by overeating and overspending, but you can already envision how exhausted you will be, and what the credit card balances are going to look like in January. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like a zombie Christmas …. 

I remember the year that I realized that Christmas presents were to be both given AND received. That was a shocker. My mum gave me a whopping $5.00 to spend on the family, and I trotted down to the Army and Navy Stores in downtown Edmonton. I bought gifts for everyone one the list; GrandMere and GrandPere, my aunt Noella, my sister, and my parents, and STILL had change jingling in my pocket on the way home. I was proudest of the perfume I had bought for my mother – Max Factor’s finest .. Sophisticat

The best Christmases are the ones that center on the very young or the very old. It’s impossible not to smile at the look of awe on a child’s face as he or she approaches Santa’s throne, grubby list in a damp, clenched hand, gathering up the courage to sit on the venerable old gentleman’s knee, and whisper their most secret wishes. Still believing in Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, still believing that anything is possible, that magic can happen. That innocence is gone so soon. 

Somewhere along the way, most of us go from true believers to frantic shoppers, desperate to find that perfect gift for our perfect someone, forgetting what the holiday season should really mean. We become Christmas Zombies, lurching through the malls, snatching up the toys and goodies strewn before us, all part of the multi-billion dollar industry that corporations count on to fatten their bottom line.

When, really, it’s all about the festive spirit, whether you call this festivity Christmas, or Hanukah, the winter solstice or Saturnalia, Festivus or Kwanza. It’s about the smell of holiday baking, the taste of buttery shortbread, and the eggnog spiked with a drop of rum, the cold raw scent of a Douglas pine, the twinkling porch lights that glow beneath a soft layer of fresh snow, the sound of carols and the snow crunching under your boots. Spending time with friends and family, making happy memories, not of senseless consumerism, but of this glorious feast for the senses.

originally published December 13, 2015 – Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past

My mum embodied the Spirit of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and she made every one of my childhood Christmases as merry and bright as she could. 

She’d grown up in the depression – she knew Christmas wasn’t about money. When times were tough, she’d tell us it would be a “Hoodoo McFiggin” year – that meant the only presents would be things she had to buy us anyway, just to keep us clothed and fed – underwear, socks, boots. Presents were lovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we really had, enough to share, was love.

She just had so damn much joy and childlike belief in the season that it all came naturally through her to us … the breathless lead up that began months before, when she’d start asking my sister and I what we were going to ask for from Santa, and the admonition that we must be very sure of what we’d tell the Big Man when the day came … this was serious business! We were to name only one important item we really, really wanted. If there were other gifts, they would be of Santa’s choosing. We’d spend hours arguing over what toys were best, what we really wanted, and we’d change our minds a zillion times before our visit to Santa’s Kingdom.

Nor were the needs of others to be forgotten. We’d be given a small amount of money, and a list of those we needed to delight with thoughtful gifts. It’s extraordinary how far $5.00 could go back in the sixties. We would have been mortified to not have a gift to give to any of the family who had brought a gift for us. Some years would find us digging through our own stash of precious things, in order to find something we could wrap quickly and present to an unexpected guest.

In the run up to the Day itself, we’d drag out the boxes of carefully packaged ornaments that Mum had collected through the years. She’d linger over the battered aluminum stars made from pie plates, reminding me that she and I had made those together, one year when I was very young, and recovering from the mumps. She’d carefully unwrap the fragile glass ornaments she’d had since she and dad first married, each colourful globe a warm memory. And she’d always linger over a set of orbs, some round, some tear-shaped, so transparent they reflected rainbows, so precious and delicate, “they’re like soap bubbles , Roxanne! Aren’t they beautiful?!”   

We had to have a real tree. She felt there was no point in having a tree if it didn’t come with that delicious smell, and the scratchy feel of pine needles under foot. The tree would find a place of honour in the dining room, and strict instructions about its care and watering were delivered. After the tree was set into the metal holder, she’d draw a bright red and sparkly cloth gently around the base, and then add puffs of ‘angel hair’ to make the tree look like it was floating on a cloud.

She’d drape the tree’s branches with long strands of tiny glass beads, the beads a little more worn every year, but shining nonetheless. The box of tinsel was precious too; after Christmas we’d gather as many of the used strands as we could and save them for the following year. We had two special toppers for the tree – one, a paper plate collage of an angel adorned with cotton batting that I’d made in first grade, the other , a plastic doll dressed as an angel, it’s halo tipped jauntily to the left, a scratch of pen ink faintly visible on it’s cheek.

Christmas songs would be playing on the little record player, and we’d all sing along as we decorated. Jodi and I liked to make up new and naughty words to some of the classics, just to make mum laugh, before she’d chide us to “Behave! Santa hears and sees everything you do!”

Once the tree was up and decorated, we went into a two week hiatus, where the other 50 weeks of naughtiness were replaced by determined niceness. We’d wait breathlessly for the Christmas specials to appear on the TV; without video or DVD, you had to be home to see “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or one of the other animated delights, most of which seemed to be Rankin Bass productions.  

There was also one special Christmas box that contained nothing but photos, recipes, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and a few very treasured books. Our favourite to read and to have read to us was Erwin L. Hess’ Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past,” a large full-coloured collection of holiday poems, stories, artwork and photos, from 1961.

“We remember our best Christmas.  A flashback appears and this favourite Christmas plays on a very special screen in a picture of color, and we see the scenes we remember so well.  Immediately our story we’ll begin to tell…It snowed early that year.  In those days the holiday spirit was in the air with the first fall of snow.  Sleigh bells jingled and that meant Christmas was near!” 

We loved that book; it epitomized an ideal Christmas, one that we’d never had, nor likely ever would. But it held a promise, so much so that the phrase, “Christmas and snowbound in the treasured past” became our family code for how we imagined paradise.

originally published December 20/2015  It’s the war on Christmas, Carol

As hard as it might be to imagine holiday songs battling it out, the plain fact is … Christmas songs mean big bucks. Over and over and over again. A Number One Christmas song can mean early retirement for the writer, with a nice pension income supplemented every year in December.

Sound cynical? Maybe. But it’s the reason why many writers and artists get their ho-ho-ho’s in gear in time to hit the December charts. Pop songs come and go; a classic holiday song lives forever. 

Picture “Jingle Bells” pummelling “Santa Claus is coming to town” a la UFC, though I would think songs like “The Christmas Song” and ‘Silver Bells” would never lower themselves to a fight. Perhaps they would slap each other’s little faces with their velvety gloves, and request a sunrise duel.

I tell you, the battles are real. In England, perhaps more so than anywhere else.

The furious fight for The #1 British Christmas Song first took shape in 1973. Three songs were vying for the top spot; “Step into Christmas” from Elton John, “I Wish That It Was Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, and “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade. The numbers were close, and since these were the days before computers were commonplace, the tallying went on right up until the last moment. 

Slade

Elton stalled out at #36, while Slade and Wizzard held their collective breaths … Wizzard took a respectable 4th place, and it was Slade by an angel’s hair! It seems most Britons preferred their seasonal greetings shouted at them. Still, 40 plus years later, both songs continue to enrich their writers, and keep the British public dancing.

“”The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade’s Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it’s been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.” – Jim Lea, Slade.

Things settled down for the next decade, but by 1984, another battle caught the public’s attention. Bob Geldof/Midge Ure’s Band Aid release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was tugging at our hearts, and the video, with it’s array of current and venerable pop stars, was delighting the little girls. So, no matter how adorable George Michael was in Wham’s, “Last Christmas,” Band Aid took the prize.

Both songs were re-released the following year, so George had another kick at the top spot, but alas… only came in second for the second time in a row. Maybe that’s what sent him off in his quest for love in all the wrong bathrooms.

originally published in December 11, 2016 –  Christmas Presents

Sometimes it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to dredge up the spirit of the holidays that we all need, and have always needed, to face a cold world and a new year.

But we must have hope, and we must inspire our children to have hope, and to have faith that we are stronger together, united, than we are apart. The sharing of a meal with loved ones has never had to be about the biggest turkey or the fanciest desserts; it’s always been about communing with those we love and care about, sharing our energy, and giving each other strength

and that’s what the Grinch (and Christmas) is all about, Charlie Brown…

Beggaring ourselves to buy expensive presents that are rarely received in quite the spirit we hoped, is not how we show our love to others. The true gifts we give to each other are those of support, of listening to what the other is saying, and to responding thoughtfully without concern for more than what is best for the other. And these gifts of love must be all about understanding that not a single one of us is perfect, or without traits that will annoy someone else at some point.

Yes, there are distractions. Yes, the world is a very scary place right now. Yes, those of us sensitive to world issues fear for the lives and souls of the vulnerable.

But we also owe it to ourselves, and to those we love, to find the time to gather together, and to share what we have with each other, in a spirit of generosity and community. It’s how human beings have coped with the vagaries of our times since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze, and regardless of what deity we worshipped at the time.

My wish for all is that you have time with loved ones, and that, if for some reason you do not have that opportunity this year, that you reach out and accept an invitation to join others who find themselves alone in the holidays. There is strength in community and we all need that shared strength to get us through whatever awaits us in the new year.

…………………………………………….

Wishing everyone a warm and peaceful holiday season! See you next year!

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City


Bruce Springsteen’s refusal to play North Carolina because of new, drastic LGBT laws might have shocked some people, but it didn’t surprise me at all.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band cancelled their Greensboro, NC concert because of the state’s new law blocking anti-discrimination rules for the LGBTQ community. The so called “bathroom law” clause in the bill forbids transgender people from using the restroom that matches the gender they identify with, and that’s a real problem for transgendered people.

missippi bathroom lawsSo far, North Carolina is just the latest state to go this route, following in the footsteps of Mississippi and those looking to do something similar: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.   As of last Tuesday, the National Center for Transgender Equality was tracking 49 bills across America, 32 of which dealt with bathroom access. More than a third (12) of those bathroom bills are still actively being considered.

From Funny or Die …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqASSN5S2CI

Also tucked inside North Carolina’s HB2 act is a sneaky little Trojan horse that strips workers in the state of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion, you no longer have a basic remedy,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh.

Conservative media and internet pundits sprang to attention at Springsteen’s decision. Most postings were sad admissions of the lack of truly ‘conservative ‘artists, and the pain it caused them to  have to be exposed to thoughts unlike their own, all in the name of entertainment. Like this poor fellow …

 “if I refused to watch any movie or show, listen to any music or laugh at any jokes by people who are flaming liberals, entertainment options would probably come down to a choice between Ron White or watching paint dry.”

States-transgender-lawRepublican Mark Walker unwisely weighed in on the controversy. “I consider this a bully tactic. It’s like when a kid gets upset and says he’s going to take his ball and go home.”

No, sir – it’s the state that’s doing the bullying. Springsteen is reacting to discrimination, and the loss of civil rights, levied by the state. And so is PayPal, recently cancelling its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte, that would have employed 400 people, following the passage of the law. Add to that basketball great Charles Barkley, who has urged the National Basketball Association to move its All-Star Game next year away from Charlotte, N.C., unless the law is repealed.

Springsteen’s been down this road before – remember Sun City?

sun city artists againstSpringsteen, Steve Van Zandt, producer Arthur Baker and journalist Danny Schechter gathered  together what rock critic Dave Marsh called  “the most diverse line up of popular musicians ever assembled for a single session,” in 1985 to record an album, and video, protesting apartheid in South Africa. The artists also pledged to never perform at Sun City, as long as apartheid was an issue. The group were dubbed Artists United Against Apartheid.

The Sun City video, described by Schecter as “a song about change not charity, freedom not famine,” featured  Miles Davis , Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Bono, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil Scott-Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone, with the signature background vocal sound created by Lotti Golden, B.J.Nelson and Tina B.

From Wikipedia: “The song “Sun City” was only a modest success in the US, reaching #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985. Only about half of American radio stations played “Sun City,” with some objecting to the lyrics’ explicit criticism of President Ronald Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement.” Meanwhile, “Sun City” was a major success in countries where there was little or no radio station resistance to the record or its messages, reaching #4 in Australia, #10 in Canada and #21 in the UK. The song was banned in South Africa.”

Said Jackson Browne at the time, “Sun City’s become a symbol of a society which is very oppressive and denies basic rights to the majority of its citizens. In a sense, Sun City is also a symbol of that society’s ‘right’ to entertain itself in any way that it wants to, to basically try to buy us off and to buy off world opinion.”

Could the Boss have seen North Carolina’s new law as anything other than “very oppressive and a denial of basic rights?”  Of course not.

The apartheid regime in South Africa finally ended in 1994.But injustice and discrimination flourish around the world.

Almost unknown, and virtually invisible, is a newer group against apartheid, this time in artists against apartheidthe Middle East. (ArtistsAgainstApartheid.org). No matter which side of the political fence you or your country are on, this group has the right to organize and protest.

“Artists Against Apartheid Declaration of 2010: Artists Against Apartheid is an international alliance committed to Equal Rights and Justice, and the elimination of apartheid in our world. While crimes of apartheid are ongoing in Palestine-Israel, we will stand in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS,) and the cultural boycott of Israel.”

A quick search on ‘artists against discrimination’ nets hundreds of thousands of results, from all over the globe, from Australia, to France, and to Mexico, with all stops in between and around.

We don’t hear much about the Guerrilla Girls, a protest group launched in 1985, that call themselves “the conscience of the art world.”  And as they admit, after 30 years of protest, there’s been very little change.

ageism after sexismNor do we hear about the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receiving more than 19,000 age discrimination complaints in each of the past two years.

That’s why it’s important when artists of Springsteen’s stature take a stance on injustice. As he said, he could have confined himself to making a political statement from the stage during the concert, but cancelling the concert, which officials have told the media will cost the Greensboro Coliseum a loss of about $100,000, “ is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

Most of us can’t make a big dent on injustice. The old saw about ‘voting with your wallet’ can certainly help turn the tide in some commercial issues,  but when governments pass laws that cause companies to decide against investing in your state, and artists to refuse to entertain you, the dilemma that the Religious Right and many Republican states must face becomes clear … as much as you may want and need jobs and entertainment, you’re gonna have to decide which is more important –  your fiscal duties or your need to control other peoples’ genitalia.

It’s The War on Christmas, Carol


by Roxanne Tellier

As hard as it might be to imagine holiday songs battling it out, the plain fact is … Christmas songs mean big bucks. Over and over and over again. A Number One Christmas song can mean early retirement for the writer, with a nice pension income supplemented every year in December.keep calm xmas songs

Sound cynical? Maybe. But it’s the reason why many writers and artists get their ho-ho-ho’s in gear in time to hit the December charts. Pop songs come and go; a classic holiday song lives forever.

Picture “Jingle Bells” pummelling “Santa Claus is coming to town” a la UFC, though I would think songs like “The Christmas Song” and ‘Silver Bells” would never lower themselves to a fight. Perhaps they would slap each other’s little faces with their velvety gloves, and request a sunrise duel.

I tell you, the battles are real. In England, perhaps more so than anywhere else. Being an unrepentant Anglophile, let me fill you in on some of Britain’s most infamous chart races.

“In the United Kingdom, Christmas number ones are singles that are top of the UK Singles Chart in the week in which Christmas Day falls. Novelty songs, charity songs or songs with a Christmas theme have regularly been at the top of Christmas charts. Traditionally the volume of record sales in the UK peaks at Christmas, with the Christmas number one being considered especially prestigious, more so than any other time of year. Many of the Christmas number ones were also the best-selling song of the year. Due to the common practice of dating a chart by the date on which the week ends, the Christmas chart is dated on or after 25 December, but comprises sales for the week before Christmas.”

“The official UK Singles Chart slade merry xmasbegan in 1952 after appearing in the New Musical Express; the positions of all songs are based on week end sale totals (from Sunday to Saturday until 2015, then from Friday to Thursday). Before 1987 they were released on a Tuesday due to the need for manual calculation. The emergence of a serious contest for the Christmas number-one spot began in 1973 when the band Slade deliberately released “Merry Xmas Everybody” as an effort to reach the top of the charts on Christmas” (Wikipedia)

Yep, the furious fight for #1 first took shape in 1973 in Britain. Three songs were vying for the top spot; “Step into Christmas” from Elton John, “I Wish That It Was Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, and “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade. The numbers were close, and since these were the days before computers were commonplace, the tallying went on right up until the last moment.

wizzard xmasElton stalled out at #36, while Slade and Wizzard held their collective breaths … Wizzard took a respectable 4th place, and it was Slade by an angel’s hair! It seems most Britons preferred their seasonal greetings shouted at them. Still, 40 plus years later, both songs continue to enrich their writers, and keep the British public dancing.

“”The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade’s Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it’s been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.” – Jim Lea, Slade.

and those losers in fourth place ….

Things settled down for the next decade, but by 1984, another battle caught the public’s attention. Bob Geldof/Midge Ure’s Band Aid release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was tugging at our hearts, and the video, with it’s array of current and venerable pop stars, was delighting the little girls. But no matter how adorable George Michaels was in Wham’s, “Last Christmas,” Band Aid took the prize.

Both songs were re-released the following year, so George had another kick at the top spot, but alas… only came in second for the second time in a row. Maybe that’s what sent him off in his quest for love in all the wrong bathrooms.

Hey, it’s not like the British taste is always impeccable. In 1993, Mr Blobby’s song/video took the Number One spot, and it wasn’t even about Christmas.

And in 1994, a boy band called East 17 kicked America’s perennial fave, Mariah Carey, and her “All I Want for Christmas is You” to the curb. No accounting for taste.

In 1996, 97 AND 98, The Spice Girls took the Number 1 spot each year … with “2 Become 1,” “Too Much” and “Goodbye,” none of which had much to do with the holidays at all. But it was the 90s – little did we know worse was to come.

Ah yes, it’s a mad world … speaking of which, Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for FearsMad World’ did indeed win out over Britain’s Pop Idol contestants, and their cover of John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ in 2003.When the Pop Idols fizzled at #5, glam rockers The Darkness tried to sneak in with ‘Christmas Time.’ But that was 2003, and we were all pretty bummed out that year. “Mad World” suited us just fine.

By the 2000s, reality show pop singers were dominating the British charts, but in 2009, Rage Against the Machine snatched the Christmas victory away from X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, with their song “Killing In the Name.”

Just how big is the big biz in holiday songs in England? It’s a huge market, and those who capture their nation’s imagination earn a permanent place in the hearts and pocketbooks of the fans. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues is said to have effectively retired on the proceeds of “Fairytale of New York“, which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. The song went to number two in the UK charts when it was first released in 1987. It was kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’Always on my Mind’.

shane macgowan new teeth.jpgFun Shane MacGowan facts: 1) He was born on Christmas Day, 1957, and 2) he recently had his famously horrendous teeth and lack of replaced by implants, in six surgeries that his dentist called “the Everest of Dentistry.” The whole process will be aired on SKY-TV this week, in a documentary entitled Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn. 

So who’s vying for that coveted spot this year? The Biebs is looking good, bieber xmas.jpgas he’s currently dominating the British charts, holding both numbers one and two with his songs Love Yourself and Sorry, respectively.

But close behind, and with a good chance to scoop the honours, is the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir ,all professional health care workers, with a new release of a mash-up of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Fix You” by Coldplay.

There’s a big reward waiting for those who climb the British Christmas charts, and the contenders will battle to the finish, with no place too low below the belt to avoid. How big, you say? Big enough to even dig out the disco, as this holiday release from Kylie Minogue demonstrates … only a cynic would say that everyone but Kylie seems to get the joke …

With visions of discoing Minogues pirouetting and bumping in your heads, it’s time for me to be off to our family’s Christmas celebrations. Happy Whatever You Call it to ALL! Thanks for reading my offerings during 2015. Have a wonderful holiday season. Hope you see you, all perky and fresh faced, in 2016!

New-Year-2016-Celebrations-Photos

(originally published December 20/2015 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/roxanne-tellier-its-the-war-on-christmas-carol/)