The presents are wrapped; everyone’s asleep. Is there a better way to celebrate the embers of Christmas Eve than a mince pie, a weird black forest gateaux-flavoured liqueur, and an ’80s throwback titspoitation slasher? If there is, fuck you, because it’s too late to come up with an alternative.
The last two weeks went by too quickly.
That first weekend of packing, organizing, last-minute gift-buying and remembering that I cannot wrap anything and then plonk it in a suitcase went by immeasurably slowly, though. Like a dolphin trying to run after a dinosaur.
On my last working day of the year, it turned out that no-one else from my team was in the office. I probably could have turned up whenever I felt like – perhaps a bit of shopping, grabbed a few coffees, maybe a mimosa and a crepe from Gulu-Gulu, then work from home with a beer using Coven’s free WiFi?
It was tempting. But
fear of being caught honesty got the better of me and I left on time, actually turning up at the office earlier than usual. Why? Because no-one else in Salem seemed to be at the train station, either. Two weeks before Christmas and it was already starting to look like a ghost town.
But I got to spend time with the family. This was something I can never get in America. I can blog and complain all I like, but when I go home to England, there’s really no reason for me to blog at all.
I’ve had a cold for the past 2-3 months. So it’s probably not a cold anymore. The fact that I attempted to treat it with 2 days of leftover antibiotics actually made the damn bug stronger. But yes, it is a bacterial sinus infection (I’m not the kind of moron who treats colds with antibiotics), caused by having to commute and work around some rather thoroughly disgusting, unhygienic troglodytes.
I took a cue from my roommate and carried on with the painting, including some more sci-fi-themed Crimbo cards. The cheap bristles on from my cheapo brush were ideal for giving my Chewbacca a bit of a 3D effect. Take THAT, Georgie.
Scheduling time with friends and family took up so much of my time I felt like I wasn’t home enough, as in, inside the actual house. But everything had changed so much. My parents had taken up the carpet, taken down the shelves and taken out the old rotting wardrobe, and repainted the walls. Everything echoed a bit. My clothes were in piles everywhere. A bit creepy, like I was dead.
The living room had been cleared within 20 minutes of 6 people beginning it all (I supervised), old couches were thrown out and the entire layout/dynamic/TV placement of the whole room was turned around. The cat, having no idea where to sit now (as she’d been told to stay away from the cluttered area where the couches now sat), continued to sulk under the table until a box was offered next to the telly. But not before we put a Winnie the Pooh Christmas hat on her head.
Speaking of the cat, as soon as I walked into the door, she stood at my feet, looked up at me, meowed a rather angry/impatient meow, and immediately punched me in the leg then bolted off like a lunatic.
(This is what she does when she wants to play)
Mince pies, Christmas, mulled cider, my birthday, video games, CAEK!!!11 and lots of dinners, lunches, shopping trips and Big Bang Theory marathons. It all went by too fast. If I ever get a salary increase/permanent job offer, I’d like to try to get back more often. I wasn’t jet-lagged coming back here (because it was a same-day arrival), but awfully so going to England. Even a long weekend or a week off scheduled around a bank holiday (US) would work. I miss it too much. It’s good to have somewhere far away to come back to, somewhere you know you belong.
Salem is a beautiful city. It makes such an effort to cram a variety of events into the Haunted Happenings calendar in October, and tourists stampede here in sage-seeking droves. You can’t swing a dead witch’s familiar without hitting something spooky or Hallowe’en-themed; it’s easy to pick at least one thing per day to do in October. It’s a really…happening time of year.
In rolls November for the lull. Fair enough – it’s getting colder, and that one day of Thanks means that everything is more family-centric, travel-centric and indoor-centric than touristy. Most of the tour companies and 3D haunted houses pack up shop for the season, and some realize that a month’s worth of takings isn’t enough for Essex St retail rent, and abandon ship entirely.
So during December, you’d think that a small town like Salem that knows how to party like a big city would get in on some of the
over-commercialised adorably tacky Christmas gaudiness. You’d expect there to be tons of events: christmas parades, tree-decorating contests instead of pumpkin-decorating contests, or caroling performances instead of haunted houses.
Nope. None of that. The “32nd Annual Christmas in Salem” offers some tours of historic homes, and plugs for the Christmas Carol-themed Trolley Ride. While I didn’t get to see the former (although it seemed interesting), I’ll probably shell out $22 for the latter, just for lack of choice. Abysmally slim pickings from a small city (sorry, it still feels like a small town to me) that is so deeply mired in luring in tourists for one month out of the year, to essentially capitalize on atrocities that have nothing to do with $200-seances, cheesy ghost hunt tours or cat costume contests. Even though that last one (and many of the other events in October) were fun to attend, it seems that there’s nothing for us residents to enjoy once the Haunted Hubbubings dies down.
Something I had never done, even as a tourist, was to go to the House of the Seven Gables. Participating in the Christmas in Salem program (along with like two other businesses), they were offering sort-of tours of the house that is now next to the house where Nathaniel Hawthorne spent four years of his childhood (the house that was actually moved from a few streets over). It’s a big tourist attraction, and is near the ferry, an ice cream shop, two bars and the oldest candy shop in America.
This time of year, you can still wander through the house, sort-of guided (“go into this room now”), but the rooms are occupied by actors citing monologues from famous Christmas stories. The problem with monologues is that they are literally just one person talking. Not to you, but at you. In an old-timey voice in a bad accent saying old-timey prose/poetry.
So I got to listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales being performed by a Cornish/Irish accent that was supposed to be Welsh, a rendition of The Night Before Christmas that lacked the genuine enthusiasm required for old-timey poetry recitations, Anne Frank with a wicked awesome New England accent and some Bahston-tahkin’ Ebeneezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley. The Little Women scene was OK. And we got to meet the unofficial resident cat:
For the Anne Fahkin’ Frank portion of the performance/tour, we had the option of entering the attic through the Secret Passageway, which was so narrow and winding that it freaked out every single senior citizen who was in our group (i.e. everyone but me):
Later that evening we went to a Krampus-themed art show at The Fool’s Mansion. If you don’t know who Krampus is, click here. Summary: he’s a Nordic Christmas tradition, and is an evil, devil-like beast who actually hangs out with Father Christmas as his Bad Cop. If you’re nice, Father Crimbo gives you a gift; if you’re a bratty little arsehole, Krampus comes to steal your soul. People actually dress up as him as a holiday tradition. Look at all the fun he’s having here:
It’s the only suitably plausible way to goth up the Christmas season, so I would have been shocked if no-one in Salem hadn’t tried to get in on something like this. Like most art shows, most of what was on sale was horribly expensive and probably best for a niche audience (myself sadly included), but for us miserable cheapskates, almost every piece of proper artwork was condensed in postcard/Christmas card form. Drinks and snacks were free (unlimited mead, red wine and children’s souls), and a good time was had by all until approximately 2am (four hours after it was actually supposed to shut). I think the DJ wasn’t sure what he was supposed to play at a Christmas-themed Goth night in a shop selling Nordic-inspired holiday art, so he played the Edward Scisshorhands theme three times and then started to play the Pet Shop Boys (WHY is that considered Goth music here??).
It’s December 1st, so that means it’s Christmas every day! There is one particular radio station in Boston that plays round-the-clock Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving, so as a Brit I feel a little behind the times. There’s really no post-holiday breathing room, here; the stores were already carrying Christmas-themed flannel bedsheets during the second week of October (sadly, this carries forward when, halfway though December, you start seeing Valentine’s-themed crap).
One thing I was unable to find that readily was an advent calendar. In England, you can’t move without swinging a dead Selection Box; everyone and their mum has an advent calendar of some kind. It’s the perfect excuse to allot a daily morsel of chocolate (portion control, good for diets) and get into the
holiday Christmas spirit.
I went everywhere searching for something that I had taken for granted all these years. All I could find in Walgreens was some dodgy-looking thing that looked as if someone had left it there from another store. None of the amazing chocolate shops or gift shops in town carried anything like this, and even the mall was a dead end (what a surprise). All I could find was this Whitman’s brand “chocolate countdown calendar” that had pictures of Snoopy all over it. I’ve yet to try it because I am currently hiding under the blanket from the freezing cold (was perfectly fine all day before I set foot back in this house).
Another thing I’ve been unable to find here over the years has been christmas crackers. I had a long conversation at work with a colleague who was astounded that I couldn’t seem to find any, because apparently, they had them in every supermarket. He said they were near the biscuits and cakes. Then there was a pause and I figured out he meant snack crackers. The only place I’ve ever, ever found them locally has been in Williams-Sonoma, who they are selling some pretentious toff Victorian-inspired bollocks for $20. For a pack of 6. SIX!
I grew up celebrating Christmas – not because I was born in England, but because my parents themselves had grown up with their families celebrating all kinds of holidays, just because they knew a lot of people of different faiths. And they grew up in India! So to me, it’s interesting how different the holidays can be when moving from one English-speaking country to another.
Even though I’m heading back for Christmas, I’m still interested in what I can get here that I can also get in the UK. But I’m not interested in buying UK imports of things (there’s a reason Woolworths used to sell 99p crackers), I’m interested in the American take on those things. But the Christmas season is just beginning here – I’ve noticed that every business and public part of Boston had their decorations up starting today, and I’m seeing more and more houses on my street decked out with Crimbo lights. I know there’ll be loads more put up by this weekend.
Most people at my work have already bought their tree, set it up, and done all their Christmas shopping. I have yet to do any of those, even for the short portion of the holidays that I’m here. If I can get a tree like this, though, I might have to finally rent my own flat just to have a place to display something as awesome as that.