Welcome to the second edition of my now-annual series, Christmas Memories in Crayon. (Not to be confused with my maybe-annual series, Thanksgiving Memories in Crayon.)
Below are five mini-essays about assorted Christmas memories, supplemented by bad crayon doodles. I may have written about a few of these memories before, but, well, just gonna be honest here… I really wanted to draw and color the Zelda game box, even if it meant repeating myself.
When I was a kid, the Christmas season didn’t properly begin until we carted the decorations down from our attic. Honestly, that was one of my favorite days of the whole year.
Giant cardboard boxes littered the living room, dusty as hell and smelling faintly like glue. Strands of lights, still coiled like snakes, were tested in every available socket. Christmas arrived not with a flurry, but a full-blown blizzard.
The thing I loved most about the ordeal was admittedly kinda weird. Like many families, we used newspaper to wrap our decorations before returning ‘em to the attic in January. Unlike many families, we almost never refreshed our newspaper stock.
Even by the later part of the ‘90s, I was still finding crumpled pages from 1985 in those boxes. Reading old comics and checking out the obsolete movie ads became an annual event, totally outside of the Christmas season’s bubble, but still so integral to its success.
My mother still makes these every Christmas Eve, though now it’s more just for tradition’s sake. Struffoli — or “honey balls,” as we’ve always called them — are tiny balls of fried dough, smothered in honey and covered with sprinkles.
They taste harsher than they sound, and to be real, I’ve never liked the things. You ever see one of those animal videos where like, a chameleon or a parrot will keep trying to eat something that looks like food, but isn’t? That’s me and honey balls. Every time I try, I leap back with an exaggerated blink before settling into the Samara-got-me face.
Even so, I would be incredibly disappointed if my mother stopped making them. Bowls of struffoli, congealed into masses that look not unlike levels from Q*bert, are as important to our Christmas Eve dinners as red wine and shrimp… though more in the way a poinsettia centerpiece would be.
I recall one phone convo from years back, when she was flirting with the idea of ditching the struffoli. I can’t remember every heated detail, but I know the call ended with me shouting “I don’t have to eat them to need them there” before slamming the phone down, or at least pretending to, because it was a cell and you can’t really do that with cells.
The Legend of Zelda!
In 1987, we opened our presents at midnight on Christmas Eve. (Which yes I know is actually midnight on Christmas Day, but sometimes the right thing is the wrong thing. Don’t act like you wouldn’t have been confused if I wrote it that way.)
We always opened our gifts at midnight, and still do. I made out like a bandit that year, scoring action figures from all of my favorite lines, and oh yeah, a copy of The Legend of Zelda for my Nintendo. I’m not sure if Zelda was *the* hottest gift of ‘87, but it was certainly high on the list.
Zelda launched with a prebuilt reputation, so though I had not yet played it, I knew that it was going to be beyond the scope of any game I had played. As exciting as it all sounded, I was far too manic on Christmas Eve to provide Zelda with undivided attention.
Instead, I spent the wee hours sprawled out on my bedroom floor, darting between new action figures while trying to figure out what a “rock tumbler” did. The Zelda game box sat alone on my bed, visible but out of harm’s way. (We treated those gold cartridges like actual gold, at least for a while.)
Every now and again, I’d glance up at the box and feel warm inside. Even after all of my other presents lost their new car smell, I still had that GIANT ASS GAME to contend with. It virtually guaranteed a never-boring winter break, and indeed, I played Zelda nonstop straight through New Year’s Day.
A Christmas Story Marathon!
The Turner Broadcasting tradition of running A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight started in 1997. I was there from the beginning. That year, my hair was vermillion red and I wore cadet shoes that I could see my reflection in.
I caught a lot of those marathons back then. I still lived at home, where my parents hosted both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I spent the bulk of the holiday hiding in my bedroom, watching that terrible transition between the Parkers’ toilet and the pot of stew for the billionth time.
Spending time with Scut Farkus isn’t as easy as it used to be. I now celebrate the holiday at parties where I have no control over what’s on television, if there’s even a television to control. Making matters worse, I seem to be my family’s only true Christmas Story fan.
These days, our Christmas Eve parties are staged from a house where all of the televisions are in side rooms. Each is bogarted by an army of small children. The only exception is a teensy little TV that hangs under a cabinet in the kitchen. The set is so old that I’m amazed it can still get cable.
This kitchen is beyond chaotic on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, the television stays off so as to not add to the noise and mayhem. Whenever all backs are turned, I put on A Christmas Story and savor the few minutes I’ll be afforded before someone notices and turns off the TV.
The image is washed out and I have to set the volume lower than the average ear can perceive, but I still feel like I’m doing my duty by watching that marathon. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it, and a silent Ralphie on a 10” screen is better than no Ralphie at all.
…speaking of A Christmas Story, I’ve long envied the Parkers’ Christmas Day dinner at Chop Suey Palace. Hell, I’d settle for takeout. Chinese food sounds so perfect for December 25th, but I’ve never been to a Christmas party where it was even considered.
However, for a few years during the early 2000s, I did meet with friends for late night drinks and appetizers, at this great spot with out-of-this-world wonton soup and the best collection of ceramic tiki tumblers. The restaurant was and remains a fave, but it’s especially precious on Christmas Day.
It hasn’t been renovated since the ‘70s, and if you remember the Bamboo Lounge from Goodfellas, it looks a lot like that. With only the faint glow of pufferfish lanterns to light our faces, we’d lose hours in the bar, bullshitting over Mai Tais and fried rice. It was pure bliss.
I sure miss that little tradition. (Even if only for the chance to guiltlessly eat garbage, because that’s what Christmas is for.)
Thanks for looking at bad crayon art, and for reading about Zelda and honey balls. If you’d like to see more Christmas memories rendered in crayon, here’s last year’s edition.