Happy Eastern Orthodox Christmas everybody! Happy New Year, too.
To mark those occasions, best fest buddy Tom said he was going to be shaving off his beard on on before the Jan. 7 holiday. But no.
The beard has been keeping him warm during the tundra time between regular old Christmas and the Orthodox one. It also makes him look like a Greek restaurateur, a Russian bishop or the Santa from a community theater production of Miracle on 34th Street.
Now, he’s thinking about keeping it and coloring it red for St. Patrick’s Day, if the Vikings get to the Super Bowl or if they hold local auditions for Game of Thrones.
It would take me until next December to grow a beard as grand as his was, so for the holiday season I resorted to dressing, on occasion, like a teddy bear or a snowman.
The bear outfit was a tribute to Leo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Nah, actually it came from Walmart and came in handy for an ornament exchange party. Yes – I live in the suburbs where they hold ornament exchange parties.
Before I went to that party, we stopped at a pub, where somebody told me I had a nice butt in the getup. Who wouldn’t be happy to hear that? It made my night.
I brought an orange plexiglass blow fish ornament from Kohl’s to the gathering, because what says Christmas more than hanging the world’s most dangerous sushi on your tree?
I wound up bringing home a glass ornament with fake snow inside it, but no water like a snow globe has. So the fake snow just sits at the bottom of the ornament. I just don’t understand it.
For Christmas Eve, I made my usual stops at the neighbors for prime rib, then to visit the Dees clan, where they were still wrapping gifts just before 9 p.m.
The Dees family traditions include pizza served with french fries and packing a small house with generations of friends and family. I stop there pretty much every Christmas Eve and have done so since college, a sweet constant in my life.
I came home the frigid night to find my driveway blocked by someone at another neighbor’s party. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait that long for the hosts to find the guest, whom I told to park behind me in the driveway now that I was home. You’re supposed to be nice at Christmas, right?
On Christmas Day, it was so cold I broke out another costume, a snowman one. I don’t wear the mascot head. It looks like something out of a bad horror movie, with a carrot nose that borders on being pornographic. Instead, I wore one of those Yooper lumberjack hats with the faux fur front and flaps to cover your ears.
The problem with the outfit is the zipper is in the back. I could never be a crossdresser. Too much work. And I don’t have the legs for it, much less someone available to zip me up.
At my first stop, someone was kind enough to do that for me, making sure not to catch the zipper on my white t-shirt. Then the game began – how long could I go without having to go?
I made it through several bottles of water at stop one. At stop two, I was unexpectedly encouraged to stay for a very early dinner, much to the dismay of a very annoying dog who was frightened by my appearance and couldn’t stop barking about it.
I learned later that someone at that gathering did not remember me – a 240 pound, 6-foot tall beast in a snowman suit – joining the family for dinner. What does a guy have to do these days to have people pay attention to him, eh?
Anyway, I made it to stop three just in time to have the host graciously unzip me, so I could use her bathroom before becoming a yellow snowman. Past that I wore sweats and a Yoda Claus t-shirt. I am sooo Kohl’s.
New Year’s Eve is one of those hit-or-miss nights, but this year Tom and I headed to McNally’s in St. Charles. The beauty of it is they celebrate there at 6 p.m. Chicago time, which is when it turns into the new year in Dublin.
It’s pretty awesome to be able to be home by 9 p.m. and still feel like you’ve rang in the new year, particularly in the frozen zone Chicago was and often is this time of year. I probably would feel different about it if I were in Australia, or Key West, where 7 is a bikini size, not a temperature.
The night also happened to be my buddy Shay Clarke’s last night working as a manager at McNally’s.
They had a party for him a few weeks prior. That was supposed to be a surprise gathering, but the Irish aren’t really the best at keeping quiet, so Shay knew about it. And he tried to blame me, telling folks that he found out about it because I put it in the newspaper. No one reads local newspapers anymore, so that they didn’t see through Shay’s tall tale was amusing.
That night featured friends with thick accents telling jokes and singing songs. It felt like an updated take on James Joyce’s Christmas story, The Dead. I even found myself drifting off into a stream of consciousness involving the saddle shop down the block, a curio case in the pub that holds all sorts of Irish grocery store products and the hope of hearing someone try to cover Fairytale of New York.
Like that adieu, the New Year’s Eve bash featured what I thought was going to be a Captain and Tennille cover band. Alas, it was Joe Cullen and Kathleen Bremmer, so no Muskrat Love, no Love Will Keep Us Together, to Do That To Me One More Time for me.
Given my other seasonal garb, you’re probably thinking I dressed like Big Baby New Year for the occasion to compliment Tom’s Father Time beard. Even I have my limits, especially in arctic weather. Plus, me in a diaper and sash would scare small children, if not their grandmothers.
I did get compliments the blue 1968 White Sox cap I donned, which I hope confused some Cubs fans.
And I think I told a woman sitting near Tom that Tom was going to be taking over for Shay and putting gyros and baklava on the menu. But that could be a lie.
It was a nice to see Shay working this room for one final time, with an array of kindly people of all sorts there for the fun.
There were well-off St. Charles types, a table of older women from various further-away suburbs, a guy from Wisconsin who looked like Snape from Harry Potter, an elderly man in a suit who looked like he walked off the set of A Quiet Man, and a guy who was telling me about growing up in foster homes. That’s not to mention the folks from a wedding party taking place at the hotel across the street who stopped by for a drink, including a couple brave or stupid young women in backless dresses.
So, now all that’s left of this holiday season is to take down a wreath. And for Tom to shave off that beard. Eventually.