Christmas Is Still Here, Everybody

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8 AM on December 25 and the same time on December 26 are so different, you’d think we moved to another planet overnight. Santa won’t come again for another year, and there will be no massive gift exchange today. Christmas Mass is over. Relatives are starting to head out. You’ll wake up this morning with a massive headache and wonder if it was a good idea to eat twenty Hershey kisses before bed. (“They’re little, so it won’t matter…”) Some people have to go back to work today — the sound of that alarm is the worst thing I’ve heard all week. Things, for lack of better term, go back to normal.

Yes, the 25th of December is gone, and it won’t be back for another 364 days and nights. But christmas isn’t over, guys. Not by a long shot.

For one, we have something of a four-day weekend of Christmas events. There are still shows and parties all through the end of the year. Many families won’t even get together until this weekend, when people are off of work long enough to travel. And in an effort to make it to New Year’s Eve, AKA the night on which to make bad decisions, someone will host a party this weekend and still call it Christmas themed.

But more importantly, Christmas itself isn’t going anywhere. Christmas, as it is so often said, is nothing more than a frame of mind. That sense of humanity and festivity that we get, however briefly, can be extended. We don’t have to start hating each other just because of the date on the calendar.

Don’t spend your entire life savings on presents, but don’t be a grumpy, worldly guy that only tries to be a decent person on Christmas. Don’t think that charities will stop collecting donations just because Santa came around. People still need help in this world; if you missed the chance to serve Christmas dinner at a shelter or buy a less fortunate kid a present, do those things anyway. People still eat and kids still like presents.

Most importantly, for those of us that regard the 25th of December as a holy day, don’t forget that our joy is not limited to a calendar day. We can still rejoice in the fact that the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the beacon of hope and miracle that guides our lives, was born. The fact that He was born at all is worth celebrating all year round. The Angles may have said the first Noel, but we have free rein to say it whenever we want now. The King of Israel came to Earth in a body of flesh and blood. That’s a pretty big deal.

Enjoy yourselves today. For those in the area, Fredrick city is having its candlelight tour of historic churches tonight, and that’s always fun (there is also always food). For those out of town or uninterested in the tour, there are crazy sales today. Or you could go see The Interview, or that movie with Chris Pine in it (merry late Christmas to me…)

Don’t get caught in the post-Christmas slump. We can’t go full speed for a freaking month and then come to a complete stop on the 26th. If you slow down anything, go a bit easier on the candy today or you’re going to be sick until next December.

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On Christmas and Doing It Your Way

MR. HANKEY

Ah, Christmas. What a complicated, wonderful mess you are.

Christmas is a bit of a ridiculous holiday. Let’s be honest. To some, it’s a chance to celebrate the birth of their savior (during a month that most have said is not His true birth month); it’s just another day to those of most faiths. And we let ourselves do some silly things in celebration of this holiday. We drink liquid garbage (or as some call it, eggnog). One morning a year, we sit around a dead tree and eat candy out of socks. We willingly sing to strangers, oftentimes cracking out songs with really weird lyrics (a child shivers in the cold. No, forget the blankets—let’s bring him some precious metals, though I have no idea who he is. Also, which one of the guards let a shepherd boy into the King’s palace?)

Also, there's this song...

Also, there’s this song…

But with all of that, we still love the holiday season. I’m right there with you guys. And we’ve created approximately seven spajillion ways to celebrate the month of December. And guess what: nobody has the right way to do it.

Before we even talk Christmas, we have to have word about the Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Holidays question, because even in 2014 people don’t get it yet. Basically, the rule of thumb is as follows: Don’t be a dick. That’s it. If someone has a different belief system than you, this is not the time to go crapping all over them. If you want to say Merry Christmas, say it—but don’t make a big deal about it. Would Christ write a Facebook post about how people in this country are killing humanity by refusing to say Merry Christmas? No, he would not. Same goes for you, Jewish friends. We still love you; don’t get all hot and bothered if we accidently slip.

CH

And the rule applies to the Santa vs Jesus crew, too. Don’t demand that every room of every house you visit be graced by a gold-plated nativity; likewise, don’t start throwing shepherds and wise men and angels around just because you don’t consider them sacred.

Once you’ve decided that you’re not going to be a bigoted cottonheaded ninnymuggins, it’s time to have some fun, you-style. It’s your holiday; celebrate it how you personally choose. This is supposed to be a period of joy. If you don’t want to wear and ugly Christmas sweater or go caroling or eat gingerbread men, just don’t. But if you want to wear jingle bell earrings and blast Christmas music and eat three pounds of gumdrops, that’s certainly an option.

Wanna throw an extravagant party? Do it. Spike the eggnog? Even better. Sit in the comfort of your own home and eat to your heart’s content? Sounds like fun. Volunteering at the local shelter? Bless you. Opening up a black market for Princess Unicorn? Er… hey, gotta ride that trend.

MY HORN

Not everyone that has the Christmas spirit is outwardly bubbly about it. Have some patience with these people. I can assure you that they are likely just very private about this time of year. Oftentimes it’s out of grief—this can be a very hard time of year for a lot of suffering people. But you know what? Some people are so intensely dedicated to the meaning of this holiday, secularly or religiously speaking, that they can’t show it. What they feel is beyond description, beyond display, beyond words. (You have no idea how frustrating that is for someone that writes to communicate).

Santa-and-Jesus

Unfortunately, if you want to be around other people, you might have to out some of your preferences aside. For the sake of camaraderie and peaceful family gatherings, sometimes you just gotta suck it up and eat the fruitcake, spin the dreidel, and watch that godforsaken Christmas cartoon. And sometimes you will have to break tradition; it can’t be your way all the time.

The world will not end if you don’t watch every single Christmas movie or make seventeen kinds of Christmas cookies. The world continues to spin and real-world things get in the way. Don’t worry about it.

Next year, bud.

Next year, bud.

Take some time to make this holiday season happy by your definition. We put so much effort into chasing happiness that we forget that it is a concept that’s hard to define and even harder to achieve on a large scale.

In short, don’t be an overbearing d-bag, but don’t be afraid to celebrate the holidays as you see fit, no matter if you celebrate in public or private, loudly or silently, in church or by the punchbowl or on your couch.

Merry Christmas, you guys.

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Good Morning

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Nobody says the two most powerful words in the English language anymore, so let me change that: Good Morning.

You know what? I get it. Mornings aren’t great. Aside from the fact that you have to get out of bed (and believe me, I sympathize) mornings are usually filled with things you don’t want to hear any time of day. The world is in a bit of a sucky place right now. It seems like the news is one catastrophe after another: Sydney, Peshewar, North Korea and Sony, and the horrors of Finals Week. In a world where the news is constantly surrounding us on phones and TVs and Facebook, I understand that the first things you hear during the day aren’t usually going to be pleasant. And your day ends up in the crapper because the morning was a wash of depressing headlines.

So make today different. This morning isn’t as bad as it seems.

There are only seven days until Christmas. That’s exciting for everyone, whether you love or dread the upcoming holiday — it’s either almost here or almost over, depending on your point of view.

On top of that, and almost more important than that, finals are almost over. For those of you facing an exam today: take a break from studying this morning. Take a few minutes to breathe and rest; the morning of is too late to be cramming, and positivity and a rested brain are more important at this point.

Mornings are great because unlike the rest of the day, if you really want to, you can make your own time. Waking up ten minutes before usual is another ten minutes you can do whatever you want with.

Today, take a few minutes for yourself. Remind yourself that life is worth living. In a pinch, YouTube is a great way to start the day off with something good. So is googling baby animals. And good food — morning time calls for bacon.

The best way to have a good morning? Make it a good morning for someone else. As someone who had 6 AM commitments all through high school and a few months in college, I can tell you that the people that most often make your day are the ones that are decently okay with being up with you. Saying the words “good morning” is not only polite, it’s special — when you mean it. For bonus points, pick up a few doughnuts and bring them to work/class. Everyone likes the guy with the doughnuts.

Today is a great day. Babies will be born. Lives will start. People will marry. People will accomplish great things. You’ll learn something today.

Good Morning, guys. Go kick this one in the butt and thank it for the pleasure.

Potty-Training the Taliban

Warfare is never the first, best solution to a problem. But there are certainly times that it can be effective. When someone poses a threat to you or those you’ve sworn to defend, you have to retaliate. You fight the opposing armed forces, you win, and you keep them from ever threatening you again. Peace slowly returns and things return to a modified state of normal.

Then there are cold-blooded, deranged, sickening, mindless animals that decide to slaughter innocent people just to prove that they can.

This morning in the country of Pakistan, Taliban forces attacked a school for dependents of Pakistani soldiers. Casualties were mostly children; total death count is up past 120 people, with several hundred more wounded. Because of the nature of the school, these men—in uniform—were able to scale the wall unnoticed and attack. It’s made even worse by the fact that Peshawar, the city that these people called home, has been the site of massive terror attacks before. This life, one of death and fear and unpredictable attacks, is a repeated reality for them.

I don’t care what motive you have, killing schoolchildren is cowardice. Plain and simple. There is nothing to be gained by the loss of human life today other than the satisfaction of screwing the world up. This was not a strategic military operation. This was a terror attack.

This is the enemy. Not our own police force. Not the opposite political party. Not the entire Pakistani government. Not the nation of Islam. Just the minority band of extremists that think they can get what they want by killing civilians and scaring us into submission. We cannot fear them. If we give into fear, they win—and they keep killing people.

This minority group sincerely believes that it is their job to kill those that do not agree with them. And take my word for it: they’re not scared to enter the US. Look at Sydney the other day. Who the hell attacks Australia? These conflicts are not limited to the Middle East.

The reason that this is a problem though? The real reason? This movement is forged by an idea. This is not a racially-charged, patriotically-fueled war between countries. These groups are not representative of any people, religious or otherwise. Their brand of terror can convert anyone, anywhere. And if we do not send a message that we do not tolerate it, it will grow. It’s not limited by borders, age, race, gender, religion, or profession.

Technically speaking, the Pakistani military has been attempting to clear this mess out of their country. The Taliban is claiming that this attack was revenge for the death of some Tribesmen. But in reality, they’ve done more than that. And it’s all well and good that the leaders of the world can tweet their condolences and strong condemnation of this attack, but in the wake of recent beheadings, hostage crises, bombings, and all the trouble that’s been stirring up over the last decade or more, it looks like it takes more than that.

This is as much our problem as it is the problem of that part of the world. Because it could very well be us the next time. Think of Boston. Fort Hood. 9/11.

They wanted to send a message. It’s time we sent out own. And if it takes boots on the ground, so be it. Like an unruly dog peeing in the house, they think that they can continue these abominable acts because we’re not stopping them.  Time to housetrain the dog—by any means necessary.

The Hallowed Field of Army/Navy

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Today, two teams of heroes will clash on the field of battle. Today, brother will fight against brother. Today, all feelings of unity will be set away for an afternoon of no-punches-pulled competition.

Today is the Army/Navy football game.

It’s hard to explain why this game is so special. I’ve asked many friends over the years and I’ve gotten many different answers, and they’re all valid:

This is a game that is fought by two teams of men who are so dedicated to a cause that they’re willing to give their lives to it.

This is a game that will pit a Squid son against his Grunt daddy.

This is a game that deserves its own hallowed Saturday afternoon all to itself — no other games are played today.

This is a game steeped in 115 years of tradition — played by organizations that care about tradition above almost everything else.

This is a game that kills the spirit of unity in the US Armed forces and allows us, for just a few hours, to play with the objective of victory instead of cooperation.

This is a game that represents millions and millions of people. The players on the field represent soldiers and sailors past, present and future, as well as their families and support groups.

This is a game that’s fair. Most colleges have football teams that are staffed by guys too big to even be in the service, and this game eliminates that disadvantage.

This is not a game. This is a war, and we take it very seriously.

This is your year, Black Knights. Go ARMY, beat Navy!

My First Love: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph

When I was first exposed to the fictionalization of Santa Claus and Co., I didn’t have a hard time accepting that The Man With The Bag was actually just My Folks With A Bank Account. The hardest thing for me to deal with was the death of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Rudolph was my childhood hero at all times of the year. I memorized the read-along storybook (the *beep* turn-the-page kind) before I could even read properly. The big action figure in the picture above is one of my most prized childhood toys – I wish I hadn’t torn the antlers off, but it’s just part of the charm now. The ornament on the far left is the only one I’m adamant (read: slightly anal) about putting on the tree myself.

The very first stories I ever wrote were weird Rudolph fan-fiction of sorts. They didn’t exactly follow the canon of the animated special we’ve all seen a thousand times. No, in my stories, Rudolph could literally fire lasers out of his nose and Dasher was an explosion-obsessed supervillain. Christmas was always saved at the end, obviously, but not without a little bit of destruction.

I was watching the original animated special the other night and I realized, probably for the first time, that Rudolph isn’t exactly a butt-kicking superhero as I once imagined him. For most of the story, he just kind of runs away. He gets knocked down whenever he does fight. And he saves the day by… existing.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a great story with legitimate character development and an important message for kids and adults everywhere to accept everyone’s differences and fight adversity – a message that is more and more important these days. So Rudolph is still a hero, he’s just not Rambo.

Meanwhile, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to love his sidekicks as well. Yukon Cornelius is corny and goofy, and though I’ve memorized all of his jokes I still laugh at them – especially the sequence where they get away on the iceberg (“I thought you wanted gold.” “I changed my mind!”). Hermy is the man; he pursues his dream and doesn’t seem to care that Christmas society (and the viewing audience) is constantly laughing at him. Clarice is a top-notch role model for kids – and she’s adorable.

I mean, come on. That's precious.

I mean, come on. That’s precious.

When I sat down and thought about it, Rudolph’s hero-ability kind of pales in comparison to his friends. But maybe you don’t have to be a kick-butt, eccentric character to be cool. So what if Rudolph isn’t a superhero? He was my hero as a kid, and in a more realistic sense, he’s my hero now. I could learn a thing or two from him. Everyone could.

10 Thoughts On The Star Wars Teaser Trailer

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Earlier today, the first official teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens debuted online and in a handful of movie theaters. If you’ve been fighting the urge to watch it in fear of spoilers (or if you just want to watch it again and again and again and again, like I do), click the big red button:

Though I have no  experience in film or critique, I do feel qualified enough to give a few of my first impressions.

FA1

  1. I liked the concept of a masked man-killer. That was my favorite thing about a stormtrooper: you knew there was a person in there, but you never saw a person. He was human and inhuman at the same time. So am I excited to see this? Not really. But it could potentially be interesting to see the personal story of an exceptional stormtrooper. Maybe.

FA2

  1. So… a soccer ball mated with an astromech droid?

FA3

  1. This screamed I, Robot to me. Is this a remaining faction of imperial troops trying to kill the new republic? Is the fight still not over for the rebellion? We’ve received word that the movies will not necessarily follow “canon” that the fans have established since release of Return in 1983, but Disney has declared the Expanded Universe—the fan-determined future of Luke, Han, Leia and Co—will “fit into” their new storyline. But there are no promises. They technically have artistic freedom. So really, we don’t know what’s happening. At all.

FA4

  1. Well, this looks familiar:

Speeder Bike

Callback? Or am I seeing things?

FA5

  1. Oh. My. THAT is the single coolest shot in the entire trailer. I could always use some more X-Wing dogfights in my life. It’s just beautiful. If I wasn’t excited before, I was sold when I saw this. Just… way to go, Disney. Thank you so much.

FA6

  1. Now, this is simultaneously extremely stupid and mind-blowingly awesome. That second blade isn’t particularly useful unless used in super-close, super-careful combat; the crossgaurd (also called a quillon) on a sword is meant to protect the wielder’s hand, not chop it off. But that little extra blade could do something we’ve never seen before. It’s Star Wars; anything could happen And is it cool looking? Yes. Yes it is.

FA7

  1. Finally, we see something that even casual fans will recognize right off the bat: the Millennium Falcon, in all its butt-kicking glory. Again, always happy to see air/space combat. Also the first time I knew I was watching a J.J. Abrams production because I saw my first lens flair. As a huge fan of Abram’s work with Star Trek, I’m not surprised.
  1. Voice-over in the trailer. I’m not a movie person, but these ominous voice-overs remind me of 70s/80s movies—ET, the original three Star Wars movies, and The Omen come to mind first. Granted, those trailers usually did a narration thing, and this trailer uses what I suspect are in-universe quotes (one of the characters might say this but I can’t tell). So not a direct connection, but I also think that it threw me off more than any other element of this trailer.
  1. John Williams’ music. This isn’t specific to the trailer, but I just wanted to add that I am very, very, very excited that Mr. Williams is up to working on these next films. Star Wars would lose a lot of its appeal, to me, without his name on the score.

FA9

  1. I have to wait a full year for this? If they push the release date back at all, Disney is going to have a mob of impatient fans to deal with. And I will be a member of that mob.

Who’s ready for trailer number two? Anybody have any thoughts?

All photos and screenshots are property of LucasFilm