Monday, December 24, 2001

Traditionally Speaking

The holidays are nothing if not about traditions. And by their very nature traditions have a shelf life, falling by the wayside to make people nostalgically wistful for the way things used to be. One of the things that used to make Christmas Christmas for me was the decorating touch of a homeowner whose house sits merrily on a corner of an intersection on the way to my parents' house.

This guy had a simple and tasteful light display around the trim of his house and garage. His one garish declaration of independence and humor was he put an illuminated Santa on top of his basketball hoop. I never quite was in the holiday spirit until I saw the ultimate shot blocker Santa on top of that b-ball rim. I may have had the worst day shopping or wrapping presents or preparing myself for whatever stress is associated with the season but whenever I drove by Santa I couldn't help but smile.

Over the years the guy has added reindeer, candy canes, elves, wise men, nativity scenes and all the rest to his yard decorations and moved Santa from the hoop to the garage roof. This year Santa is gone altogether. Bah humbug.

The only other holiday tradition that resonates inside does so for an entirely different reason. Every year I was in grade school around Christmas time we would have an all school assembly where they would drag us down to the gymnasium and show us the 1956 French film Red Balloon. School assemblies were few and far between (who could forget the time Ian Mackinnon's father came in and played the bagpipes. You think Def Leppard is loud? Try saving your ears against the hurricane strength sound of bagpipe screeching off the metallic girders of a grade school gymnasium) so it wasn't as if I didn't appreciate the annual film tradition. Rather to this day I'm not sure what the point of the movie was.

I noticed that the movie was playing on cable TV the other night so I made a point to set aside the time to watch it. It was almost exactly as I remembered except the balloon was bigger than I recalled. The movie is about a boy who befriends a red balloon. He finds the balloon one morning and drags it with him around town. The next day the balloon follows the kid around the streets of Paris until an unruly gang interrupts their good time and end up killing the balloon with a slingshot. The boy's temporary sadness over the loss of his friend suddenly turns to pure delight as every balloon in Paris flies on over and gives the boy a literal lift.

Maybe it's that I've had my heart broken a time or two by people associated with the French. Maybe it's I have a bias against developing too close a relationship with a rubber product but the meaning of the symbolism of the movie still eludes me. There's something about mob mentality and the corrupt nature of gangs. There's something in there about both the educational and religious systems turning their backs on the kid as he brings the balloon with him into church and school only to get into trouble for doing so. Maybe it's significant that the color of the balloon is red- the movie was made during the mid 50's when everybody was scared about Communism. Perhaps the ultimate moral of the story has to do with dealing with loss but shouldn't the boy have felt a tinge more than a minute worth of sadness after he sees the deflated red balloon? Fickle kid.

Yup, I'll admit the holiday spirit is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. As my family grows (another two nephews added this year) the number of gifts I'm responsible for seems to be hitting the budget more than ever. Thus taking a cue from Major League Baseball I intend to propose something at our annual family get together this year. Either those large revenue generating members share more of their wealth with us poorer members or we contract this gift giving business and do more name drawing.

Happy Holidays all!

No comments: