There were no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or quivering bowls of figgy pudding in our home. We simply took the food-based Christmas carols at their word. Instead, each season my mother would prepare what she called “Cajun Christmas.” Ham hocks were lowered into giant pots of collards, Dixie beers were chilled, and shrimp heads were pinched off into vats of boiling gumbo. The downside to living in what was essentially Paul Prudhomme’s kitchen was that I had to lie whenever someone asked “Did you eat enough turkey?” Rather than trying to explain Cajun Christmas in the checkout line at Kmart, I made up tryptophan antidotes.
“Oh, sure,” I’d say. “We all woke up with mashed potatoes in our hair.”
High school provided me with another unique holiday tradition. I knew a girl named Nicole. Both friendly and attractive, she stirred the sort of thoughts that earned me a lifetime membership on the naughty list. No matter how cold it was, each year she’d come to school dressed in this Mrs. Clause getup – or was it Mrs. Clause’s naughty niece? It might have just been the sleeve off a regular-sized Santa suit. Anyway, she completed the outfit with an elf hat and a pair of white patent leather high-heeled boots. In the school yearbook, she was voted most likely to be shown a mistletoe belt buckle.
I was walking behind Nicole one day when she was wearing the outfit. The hallway was packed, and two girls walking next to me were talking about the Nicole.
“Where does she think we are a strip club,” said the one in flannel.
The other girl said “Looks like Santa’s Little Slut left the North Pole.”
Considering where we were, I thought the comment was well aimed. However, the girl that said it didn’t have a whole lot of room to talk. She was wearing black lipstick, and had a large permanent marker X drawn on her forehead. Flannel girl was laughing now, but Doom Girl’s face was scrunched up as if Rudolph took a shit in her cornflakes. It’s funny the things our brain chooses to remember. I haven’t seen Nicole since high school, and I can no longer quote Shakespeare, but for whatever reason, that girl’s comment has stuck with me ever since.
Last year was my first Christmas overseas. In a spirit similar to Cajun Christmas, my wife and I celebrated Tropical Christmas in Ko Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. A political protest had shut down Bangkok’s airport the week before, causing many tourists to cancel their plans. Locals tried to make Westerners feel at home by decking the bars with red and green tinsel, fake trees, and cardboard Santa faces. While walking to the beach one morning, we stopped to watch a hotel employee risk his life by climbing a full-grown palm tree to string some colored lights.
I woke up early Christmas morning and placed our presents under the tree, a short, potted palm on the communal patio. A Thai maid stared at the presents as she passed by, and it made me wonder if folks wrapped presents here. When Takayo woke up, we got dressed – bathing suits and flip-flops – and opened our presents under the tree. Hers was a cashmere sweater. Mine was a wool shirt.
“This is like a bad joke,” said Takayo.”
“That Santa has some sense of humor,” I said. Both presents were from my mother.
At a suckling pig restaurant in Lamai Beach, our Christmas dinner came out clenching an apple between its jaws. We walked to an Aussie bar after dinner and took a table overlooking a side street. The pink neon signs down there read Huggies, Boom Boom, Backdoor something-or-other… Half of that sign was missing. There was a lot of scooter and foot traffic. Three Thai women stood outside Huggies. They watched the passing traffic, and occasionally cat called “Hello!” or “Yoo-hoo!” The women all had black hair to their waists, and wore tight red dresses, red high heels and red elf hats with a furry white ball on the end.
A silver fox with a little round belly pulled his scooter over. A working elf walked over to him, whispered something into his ear, and then jumped on back. Her hair waved goodbye as they drove out of sight. Another elf came out from the bar to replace her. This one was dressed all in satin from her breasts to her thighs. Because she was so tall, I pegged her for a ladyboy. I had to laugh like hell when the next silver fox pulled up.
“It’s like a feeding frenzy out there,” said Takayo.
I was taking a sip of beer at the time, so I couldn’t answer. But what could I have told her? That I was flooded with Yule-time memories? That it actually felt like Christmas for the first time since we’d arrived? Rather than trying to explain some distant teenage infatuation, I leaned toward her and said the first thing that came to mind.
“Looks like Santa’s Little Sluts have left the North Pole.”