My Mom passed away Thanksgiving weekend.
So now I will always remember her during that holiday, especially with any and every dry turkey served. She did have a great recipe for coleslaw, though, which worked well on a leftover turkey sandwich with some pickled beets.
Kids may not realize that Christmas season used to start after Thanksgiving, not after Halloween. Back when the first Daley ruled Chicago, at Christmas time, my Mom would oversee us creating Ray Rayner-type centerpieces made with Styrofoam, glitter, toothpicks and Elmer’s Glue. In middle-age and beyond she loved those gaudy sweaters and sweatshirts.
And, like any Chicagoan of her age – and the shopper she was – she liked going to the State Street Marshall Field’s in December for the window’s, the Walnut Room tree, and the running up of the credit cards.
So this past Sunday, I headed downtown with her in mind.
Compared to a few decades ago, there are way more things for people to do during the Christmas season in the Loop than there used to be.
The tree in the Daley Plaza even comes from the boonies – in this year’s case, Elgin – which draws in more of us tourists. There’s also the Christkindlmarket close to the tree, filled with German chackies mom’s love, street food, and, for me, a souvenir mini-mug for my gluhwein.
The ornate downtown theater palaces are all revived now and not showing kung fu and blacksploitation movies like they did when I was a kid.
And attached to the relatively new Goodman is Petterino’s. It’s a restaurant made for Christmas, with its sketches of celebrities I barely or flat out don’t recognize hanging throughout, and a vibe that harkens back to the pre-rock 1950s.
In my version of American mythology, Christmas – and particularly through its songs – comes from spots from places like the predecessors of Petterino’s. During my imaginary Yuletide, the musicians all stop by to smoke and drink cocktails before and after shows.
They’re all wearing suits with skinny ties and talking with or about dames. Winter means long wool coats and matching hats.
I have pictures of my folks from this era that reinforce this, my post-World War II version of December.
Offering their own take on my idealized Christmas, the guys in Celtic Thunder were in town Sunday night at the Chicago Theatre.
Accompanied by the Chicago Metropolitan Orchestra, they made it through 26 songs, most of them standards, with just a few Irish touches thrown in for good measure. They performed with a backdrop that reminded me of Hardrock, Coco and Joe, not to mention Suzy Snowflake.
Of course, Celtic Thunder is One Direction for old people – which gets even more confusing because the Rolling Stones are all old people now.
Yet, the amiable show reminded me of Andy Williams’ Christmas specials, too, but with jackets and ties instead of sweaters. The Thunder guys’ suits could be mistaken for Rat Pack days, but there was nothing that boozy about the show.
Well, that’s not counting a cover of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, the beautiful, brutal, open-ended ballad from the 80s in which a drunk and his junkie girlfriend reminisce and bicker on Christmas Eve about what their lives could have been and might still be. The narrator, though, isn’t very reliable. Example: he croons about the non-existent NYPD choir singing Galway Bay.
Either way, it’s the most popular Christmas song of the last 25 years in the UK and Ireland, and you can find plenty of videos online of people there singing along to it. Maybe it makes them all nostalgic for how parents fight during December.
In Chicago, the big Celtic Thunder sing-along came – as it usually does – at the end of the show with Ireland’s Call. For the holiday show, the guys wore Santa hats with their black dress kilts for the number.
What they didn’t do all night was mention Celtic Thunder member George Donaldson, who passed away in March at the age of 46 from a heart attack.
It would have been very Irish of them to say something. After all, as James Joyce concluded the best Christmas story, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Rest in peace, George. Sing something seasonal for my Mom.