The Fantasy of Christmas

Let me start by saying I love Christmas.  I am not a Grinch.  Ever since I was a little boy, it’s been my favorite holiday of the year.

“What was that?” Pat asked as the tree dropped past the kitchen window.

“That’d be Mike getting rid of the tree in his room,” answered my mother.

“Your son had a tree in his room?”

“Yup.  A full 8′, decorated Christmas tree.  Now that it’s petrified, it’s gone.”

“But you just took down the tree in your kitchen, living room, and foyer.  How many trees did you have?”

“Four.  We had four Christmas trees this year.  All live.”

Pat just looked at my mom like she was crazy.  Who has four live Christmas trees?  And, what 12 year old has a full size tree in their small bedroom?

Every year, I watch the weather.  As the clock ticks down to Christmas Eve, I just know it’s going to snow.  How cool would it be to finally have a White Christmas?  A Courier and Ives, sleigh ride through the candle lit streets, choirs singing behind stained glass windows, Christmas.

But in 45 years, it’s never happened. Usually it’s warm.  Sometimes rainy.

And that makes me wonder about the difference between the Fantasy of Christmas and the Reality of Christmas. Maybe all these years, all these dreaming of snow and mistletoe years, I’ve been duped by slick marketing?

For many Christmas Days, Matthew and I traveled.  We went to Egypt on Christmas Day.  Athens, too.  So, the day itself slipped by under my radar — I was too thrilled to be travelling to worry about packages tied up with string being a few of my favorite things.

But this year, we are home — we’ll be travelling to Rome in February.  And, as I shot the holiday party for one of my oldest clients, the feeling of being a victim of brilliant marketing just kept GNAWING.

Every year, we do a couple of Santa shoots.  Yes, Santa.  A deluxe version of what’s at the mall.  I confess, I try to love it.  but it’s tough.  The one shoot is great — it’s for an old client in a swanky Baltimore club.  But the other?  Mamma Mia!

They both feature kids on Santa’s lap and families with Santa.  But the one Santa is a challenge; the other ideal.    The challenged Santa wasn’t really cut out to be Santa.  I mean, he looks like Santa.  Beard.  Suit.  Rotund.  But, he keeps an eye on his watch.  He YAWNS.  He has a slight smell of moth balls.  The other Santa?  Why, he is a saint.  A true Saint Nick.  The photos below feature the Sainted Santa.  The other Santa will remain obscured.

And that’s what got me wondering between the Fantasy of Christmas and the Reality of Christmas.  These two Santas.  Good Santa and Bad Santa.   Good kids and bad kids.  Good Michael and Bad Michael.

Let me illustrate.  Here’s what we dream about for the holidays, the perfect setting, the perfect kid, the perfect everything:

And here’s what is usually our reality:

Travel is a lot like this.  People look at me all the time and say, “OH YOU ARE SOOOO LUCKY.  YOU GET TO SEE THE WORLD AS PART OF YOUR JOB.”

And, yes, I am lucky.  But have we been given a marketing snow job when it comes to hotels, too?  I remember sitting in the JW Marriott Orlando Lakes with my mom.  It’s probably THE best hotel in Orlando, top of the food chain.  But…
the room…
You entered, and there was a bathroom on the right.  Then two double beds.  A window with nice drapes.  A dresser.  A flat screen television.  A coffee maker.

Ehhhh-em.  I gotta say: it isn’t much different than the La Quinta.  It just isn’t.  True, everything is newer.  And the property is beautiful.  But, really, the rooms are identical.  And, remember, it was at the World’s Suckiest 5 Star Hotel where my cameras were stolen — another JW Marriott in another city.

Here’s the fantasy 5 Star Hotel Room, JW Marriott Orlando Lakes:

Price tag, about $300 / night.  And here’s La  Quinta, Orlando:
Price tag, about $70 / night.
I’m starting to think the same marketing genius who sells the ideal Christmas is also hired by Marriott to sell hotel rooms.  
Am I wrong?  Did I suddenly become jaded, the ghost of Christmas Past giving me heart burn?  I never felt this way before, even when I worked retail for Target.
I’d leave the store, after a 12 hour day, and listen to Christmas music.  Now?  Now I try, I really try.
But it’s just not there.  It’s been beat out of me by bad Santa, bad mall, and bad Christmas buffet for $70 a person.
I was chewing on all this as I left the good Santa shoot, and, just like in It’s a Wonderful Life, it started to snow.  Big, wet flakes drifting down from heaven and coating the grass and trees. Ahh, I thought, much more like it.  It was even too warm to stick to the roads.  Perfect snow.  Pretty, but I can drive 60 mph.
I put on Sirius XM Country Christmas Station, only to be hit over the head by Duck Dynasty Christmas music.  I gritted my teeth, trying desperately to hang onto Courier and Ives Christmas.
Then I reached the Bay Bridge, the half way point home.  When I was growing up, we’d eat donuts going over the Bay Bridge on our way to the beach.  Every time I cross the bridge, I think of that.  Donuts. Sunrise. Summer. Beach.  
I reached in the bag my mom gave me, the bag of Christmas cookies rattling on the floor of the passenger compartment of my car.  I stole two cookies from the bag, and shoved them in my mouth as the snow deepened on the bridge trusses and traffic slowed to a crawl.
The chocolate hit my mouth, and flooded me with memories of growing up.  
Watching my mom put together Christmas cards with photos she’d developed in her darkroom.  Polishing the pewter we used for Christmas Eve dinner.  Even visits from my Aunt Christina and Uncle Tim, who would come from South America and stay for the entire month (way longer than they should have visited, but I loved it.)
Maybe, just maybe it’s not a marketing scam.  Maybe, just maybe, Christmas is somewhere buried in my brain.  If I can ignore the Bad Mall, the Duck Dynasty, even the Christmas Rules You Must Live By, maybe I can learn to love the holiday again.  That idea nestled into my brain.  
I continued to drive home, satiated on mom’s chocolate chip cookies .  The radio off, I started humming, I’ll be home for Christmas
Screw it.  I love the holiday, just like I love a nice hotel room.  I’ll never change.  I’m going to make a turkey and traditional dinner — and, when we go to Rome, I’m staying at the St. Regis.
Because there is a difference.  Even if it’s only in my brain.  Marketing might be responsible for creating that 5 star magic, but I don’t care.  Bring on the down pillows and 1000 Egyptian thread count sheets.  Those are things you don’t see in photos.  And bring on fresh cranberry sauce, a free range turkey, and a few more mom’s chocolate chip cookies.  I’m even going to candlelight service at the Unitarian Church and yes, I’m going to watch It’s a Wonderful Life (again).
And, I’ll be home for Christmas.
Happily wallowing in marketing genius.