I’m not really much for Christmas. I mean, I’m not one of those scrooges who actively grouses about it, complaining about the blurring of the lines between church and state when school and government calendars are explicitly linked to a religious holiday. I don’t grumble on and on about the tyranny of the heteronormative nuclear family at Christmastime, trotted out in endless commercials and holiday movies and songs and television programs, all telling those of us without that kind of family because we’re queer or whatever that there’s something wrong with us, and we’re missing out on what real love is. I don’t even get into complaining about the relentless waste of capitalist overconsumption linked to year-end liquidations that happen only to create the conditions for the production of even more things only capitalism could ever convince us we need. Nope, I’m not one of those scrooges—it mostly just isn’t that important to me.
And then I met the ladyfriend. We started dating in spring, and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around I was sunk, full on in love, too late to check out when she started playing Christmas music in November and let me know that she wouldn’t tolerate listening to anything else until the new year. This was nowhere on her OkCupid profile, and I was stuck. At first I assumed she was kidding, and then I tried the old “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” strategy, picking up a wide array of classic Christmas on vinyl from Normal’s up in Waverly. Could Gladys Knight and the Pips make me love Christmas? Nope, but it was worth a try. And here we are, a second Christmas together, and here I am, begrudgingly making a list of the Top 10 Spirit of the Season Holiday field trips, in no particular order. Maybe “joining ’em” is a long game.
1. Tune in to WLIF 101.9. The ladyfriend did this right before Thanksgiving, and it’s been wall-to-wall Christmas music ever since. That’s all it plays. For real. You’ll start recognizing Kenny G.’s “Silver Bells” after just a few sax notes. God.
2. Get your holiday photos taken at JCPenney's portrait studio. I wait for the annual Festival of the Groupons for this one—they're always offering a coupon for a photo sitting and 42 photo Christmas cards for like 20 bucks, and it's totally worth it. If they're going to make you Celebrate Family at this time of year, take yours—whatever it looks like—and get yourself celebrated with official pictures.
3. Line the streets for The Mayor’s Christmas Parade. I love parades, always have, always will. This year’s was a particularly slow slog, with the huge gaps between marching units, the dearth of local city high school bands (thanks, Dunbar, for representing the city in the city’s parade), and the ultimately fruitless wait to see SRB walking in those giant heels of hers, but that’s what makes the holiday parade so much fun—complaining about the politicians, shouting out the names of the gazillion beauty queens shivering atop classic cars, and dodging the Shriners.
4. Get a tree. The ladyfriend wanted a live tree this year, and you know that’s nothing but a decade of pine needles in every splinter of the wood floor, but hey, it smells great, and the cats love having a new friend. We got ours at the local hardware store, because the holiday parade went long, and we couldn’t get out to a cut-your-own farm that afternoon. “Fine, I guess we won’t get to go on a hayride or see Santa,” the ladyfriend moped. Good god what have I gotten myself into.
5. Drink hot chocolate. You can do this at home, which is awesome, because it's cold out, and it counts as holiday spirit while mostly just being about chocolate.
6. Go look at the lights on 34th Street in Hampden. That's what everyone else is doing, so it's obviously a great field trip, especially if you bring your car and try to park in Hampden.
7. Drive out to the suburbs and stare at lights. Better yet, combine field trips and bring hot chocolate in to-go mugs, turn into that Christmas music station and pray for Mariah Carey (her songs are pretty good—oh god it’s happening I’m falling for Christmas), and drive to Howard County’s Symphony of Lights at Symphony Woods in Columbia. That shit is total Christmas crazy. $20 for 20-30 minutes of driving through lights that move in time to the music that plays through their very own special private holiday radio station. This is a once-every-three-to-five-years field trip for me, so I’m off this year.
8. Go ice skating. The ladyfriend took me ice skating at Patterson Park last Christmas, and she brought the hot chocolate to help make it go down easier and that sort of helped. I'm terrible at things that require balance, and I'm easily terrified if I think I might fall, so me and this holiday activity aren't a great mix. On the plus side, they play not-Christmas music there sometimes, so it can be a welcome reprieve. Now you can ice skate down at McKeldin Fountain on their tiny swimming pool of a rink. I'm hoping the Christmas season will be so jam-packed with other holiday-themed field trips that we'll forget this one.
9. Take in a Christmas-themed play. The ladyfriend took me on a surprise date to Frederick, Maryland to see Maryland Ensemble Theatre's "A Revolutionary Christmas." It's an original play set in Revolution-era Frederick, and it has it all: homecoming from war, family togetherness, newfound love, an origin story about Christmas trees, and a whole lot of historical accuracy, all for a bargain theater price.
10. Drive somewhere really, really far away to be with family. This is a popular one that I gave up years ago—leave me at home with my cats and I’m happy. It returned as a holiday field trip last year when the ladyfriend insisted on driving us to St. Louis to meet the family. I made her take a detour in West Virginia to visit a place called Biscuit World—if it’s Christmas, at least give me a present, amirite?—and a few hours later that field trip found us at a gas station in Indiana in a dark rain, me projectile vomiting inside the car, just an hour outside of family togetherness. Now that’s some holiday spirit. This year we’re flying. Safe field tripping to all, and to all a good night.