Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Getting Into The Christmas Spirit

I'm getting into the Christmas spirit a little early this year, since Duloc Manor is one of the houses on the Holiday Home Tour. Over the past year, I've been boosting my collection of Rankin-Bass figures and decor. The tour is in early December, so now that Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I decided that it was time for an inventory.

Back in Chicago, I have a collection of character dolls and figures that are all still confined in their original wrappers (think Stinky Pete the Prospector in "Toy Story 2"). Personalities from Dennis Rodman (complete with extra dress-up outfits) to Ed Grimley to Dilbert to Drew Carey line the shelves of our condo loft, since there is no room for them in Duloc Manor. I've had some of my Rankin-Bass figures for a few years, but they've never been out of their boxes. After a decade of collecting, it was difficult for me to steel my resolve and destroy their "mint" condition.

The whole doll collecting neurosis is something I undoubtedly inherited from my mother. She had some strange traits where toys were concerned; I wasn't allowed to touch most of my childhood "playthings." They sat on shelves for admiring, not for tea parties or romps in the park or snuggling with at bedtime. Oddly enough, her obsession extended to other types of toys, too. I still remember my first grade birthday party, when I excitedly tore open all the packages in a frenzy of delight. The item that I had my eye on most was something called "Bangles," which was basically a big, purple box of beads and baubles to make your own jewelry.

Unfortunately, the minute the house was cleared of guests, good old Ma stacked up all my presents, marched them down to the basement, and placed them up on a high shelf where they remained until the house was sold many, many years later. Sometimes I would gaze up at them longingly, but I knew better than to do anything but look from afar. Somehow, I don't think a box of bangles had any collectible value; goodness only knows what was on Mommy Dearest's mind.

So now here I am, doing the same thing a generation later, which my brother loves to tease me for (but believe me, if I had kids, they would be allowed to manhandle and mangle their toys as much as they wanted...I'd no doubt have a tribe of little Sids). It was probably quite therapeutic to rip open those boxes and free the playthings within. By the time I had managed to wrestle all of the little figures out of the mountains of tape and twist ties, I was exhausted! I don't think the Crown Jewels could have been packaged more securely than those little plastic figures.

The family room had been transformed into a wasteland of plastic and cardboard...or, if you're a feline, a wonderful kitty playground. I let the cats romp among the refuse until I heard the garbage truck coming. Our trash pickup in Celebration has been very erratic lately, so when you hear the garbage men, you'd better make sure that your junk is out. I frantically shooed the cats and consolidated everything I could; I made it to the alley in the nick of time.

Slowly but surely, Rudolph and his gang took over the entertainment center and spread onto the table. In the front room, I placed my Christmas Story figures, and in the upstairs bedroom the Disney Cruise Line theme was challenged by Charlie Brown and his gang marching across the dresser with their motley little tree.

As my house filled with memories of my favorite childhood cartoons, I could feel an early bout of the Christmas spirit overtaking me. Maybe I'm too old to play with toys now, but it made me smile to see Snow Miser grinning above the television and the Bumble hanging from the kitchen light fixture. In the front room, a replica of the "fragile" (pronounce that frah-ghee-lay) leg lamp cast a soft, yellow glow. I think that's one of the reasons that I love Celebration so much; my childhood was deferred, so now it's wonderful to live just a stone's throw from the Magic Kingdom, where anyone can indulge ther childlike wonder, no matter what their age.

Being surrounded by decorations all day Monday put me into a Christmas music mood by Tuesday. I dug out my holiday CDs and slipped them, one by one, into my laptop to serenade me as I plowed through all the work that had stacked up while I was on vacation.

Soon, I was thinking back to my first Christmas season in Celebration. It was way back in 2002, when Duloc Manor was still just a big patch of sand and East Village Three was a spec of color on the map. My husband and I were residents in waiting who had stopped downtown for "Now Snowing Nightly," the annual hourly blizzard of soapsuds that reminds those of us who fled from the North of just why we prefer Florida.

In 2002 (and in 2003, when our new house was a mere three months old), The Celebration Company (aka Disney) still owned Downtown Celebration. As the soapy snow coated the street, they played a medley of seasonal tunes through tinny speakers. I really liked one of the songs, but it was something that I had never heard before...very upbeat and perky. Since they played it in '02 and '03, I assumed that I'd hear it in 2004, too. I was hoping to catch some of the words so I could hunt down the elusive tune on the internet.

No such luck...Lexin, the new owner of downtown, totally changed the recording. I won't even go into the corny verbage, and the montage of songs was completely different too. I was very disappointed, but then I forgot all about it until another Celebration Christmas loomed ahead.

Thankfully, a friend in town had the 2003 snowfall on video. He was able to pick out enough of the words, even above the children's laughing and yelling, to identify the mystery song as "Merry Christmas Everyone" by someone named Shakin' Steven, circa 1985.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as I've always been a fan of offbeat Christmas songs. I like some traditional tunes, such as "Carol of the Bells" and "Silver Bells," but I also love some obscure numbers like "A Spaceman Came Travelling" by Chris De Burgh and Little River Band's version of "Mary's Boy Child." Here's my ultimate Christmas song list so you can see my eclectic taste:

Carol of the Bells
Silver Bells
Do They Know It's Christmas
Theme from Christmas Vacation
Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (David Bowie/Bing Crosby Version)
Merry Christmas Everyone
Feliz Navidad
Mary's Boy Child (Harry Belafonte and Little River Band versons)
Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Step Into Christmas (Elton John)
A Spaceman Came Travelling (Chris De Burgh)
Snoopy's Christmas
Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (original version)
All Alone on Christmas (from Home Alone 2)

What Are You Doing New Years Eve (Dante & The Evergreens version)

I was able to locate a Shakin' Steven holiday CD on Amazon, but I should have remembered that God has a wicked sense of humor. I was shuffling through my CDs, most of which are Christmas collections that I bought for one or two songs. Thus, I only play those particular songs, and the rest of the CD goes unheard. Lo and behold! On an album called "It's Christmas Time," which I'd bought for "Do They Know It's Christmas" and "A Spaceman Came Travelling," the long-sought-after name popped off the liner and smacked me right in the eye. For three years, I've longed for that song, and for three years it's been as close as my music rack...right there on the CD I was holding in my hand!!

I quickly slipped the disc into my laptop and lost myself in memories of my very first Christmas season in Celebration. The computer's tinny speaker gave the experience an air of authenticity...it helped me imagine that I was on Market Street, dancing around in the bubbly "snowflakes" and marvelling that I was standing in a blizzard in a 70-degree land of palm trees.

Another year is rapidly drawing to a close; as soon as Thanksgiving arrives, the passage of time will jump to warp speed and Christmas will be here and gone...before we know it, it will be a new year already. I'm glad that I've gotten a jump start on the holiday season. You can never have enough happiness and goodwill, and you have to grasp those fleeting moments when you feel like a child again because they become so rare as the years advance.

I'll close with the immortal words of Shakin' Steven (that first verse sums up my feelings during the downtown snowfall perfectly):

"Snow is falling
all around me
children playing
having fun
it's the season
love and understanding
merry christmas everyone

time for parties and celebration
people dancing all night long
time for presents
and exchanging kisses
time for singing christmas songs"

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Learn more about Celebration on my website: www.celebrationinfo.com

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