Our author in his disguise
By Eric Lutz
A couple years ago, I took a job working with kids to supplement my lavish freelance income. When I applied, I was under the impression my duties would be to provide after-school homework help to elementary age kids. But what it actually consisted of was playing basketball with a bunch of eight-year-olds and teaching them the importance of not hitting each other in the face with their hats. It was awesome.
On my first day at the school, my new boss pulled me aside: they needed someone to play Santa at their upcoming “Breakfast with Santa” event, and she was wondering if I’d be up for the job. Breakfast with Santa, I would later learn, consisted of kids taking turns sitting on my lap, telling me what they want for Christmas and eating cereal while their parents snapped pictures.
Now, Santa and I share very few characteristics, physically or personality-wise. We’re white guys who love cookies and are generally pretty pleasant, but I think that’s about where the similarities end.
Santa Claus: old, fat and jolly. Eric Lutz: young, thin and jolly for—at best—a sum forty-five minutes in the last year. Read the rest of this entry »
By Amber Peckham
In the year 2000, when I was thirteen, my mother seemed to give up on trying to surprise me with Christmas gifts. I was now allowed to choose all my presents, even stand in line with Mom while the bar codes buzzed over the checkout laser, watching as she forked over the family’s hard-earned cash for a new Playstation game or a stack of books six deep that I couldn’t wait to dig into.
Mom forced me to go to Walmart with her on Black Friday that year. She claimed it would be good bonding time for us, but really, she needed a second soldier on the field of retail battle, and my dad was too tired to tag along. For us to get all the best deals, we would have to split up. Mom would head toward the clothing side of the store to grapple for flannel pajamas, socks, and jeans, while I would be deployed to the toy section. I was a slight girl, with mousy brown hair to my waist, unassuming and small. It would be easy for me to fight the crowds, and rabid adults would be less likely to grapple with a child. The two of us would reconnoiter in electronics, where the gem I had chosen to cap off my Christmas crown waited in the video game case as my reward—Final Fantasy IX.
This particular year, there was one toy which outshone all the others, one present my little sister Antonia had talked about day and night since the commercials began airing on Nickelodeon months before. This holy grail of holiday satisfaction was known as Poo-Chi. Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
My grandfather’s hands were large, his knuckles knobbed like branches, his palms calloused from years spent on my family’s farm in Blackford County, Indiana, and from working the line at the Delco Battery plant in Muncie. But he handled the pieces of his Lionel model train with ease, lifting the cars from their plastic casing one by one, connecting the couplers end to end with the sort of precision mastered only with practice and care.
There was a Santa Fe locomotive, silver and shiny, with lights that flashed as it whistled, with red and orange stripes painted down either side. There were cargo cars: yellow, blue, brown. Some had plastic windows, or tiny handles on doors the size of my child thumb. The wheels were small as dimes. My favorite car was the caboose, painted red of course, with a tiny black gate at the rear.
The train came out of its box just once a year, at Christmas, when gifts were piled around the tree set up in my grandparents’ living room. As my grandfather built tunnels with the boxes for the train to run through and tinkered with the speed settings on the transformer, my grandmother worried the tinsel on the tree, and turned the ornaments so they faced just so, and wondered aloud if the star atop it all was crooked. All the fanfare, all the fuss, it was all for us, their grandchildren. Read the rest of this entry »
By Helen Kaplow
The unforgettable hat, the shining toy train, the pair of ice skates—thanks to cinematic magic, these items have come to represent Christmas joy itself. But don’t just watch them on TV, bring them home for the holidays.
Miracle on 34th Street
A perennial holiday favorite since this film’s debut in 1947, no one has ever played Santa Claus more convincingly than Edmund Gwenn. And it’s a movie filled with the exciting clamor of Christmas shopping and our yearning for just the right gifts.
Kris Kringle: What do you want for Christmas, Peter?
Peter: A fire engine, just like the big ones only smaller, that has a real hose that squirts real water. I won’t do it in the house, only in the backyard. I promise.
Harried Mother: Psst! Psst! Macy’s ain’t got any. Nobody’s got any.
Kris Kringle: Well, Peter, I can tell you’re a good boy. You’ll get your fire engine.
If in Chicago, Kringle would head to Chicago Fire and Cop Shop. A family-owned store on the Southwest Side run by a retired fire fighter and police officer, they sell a big line of fire-and-police-related gifts, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, Christmas ornaments and toy police cars and fire trucks. 4038 West 111th, Oak Lawn, (708)425-2884, chicagofireandcopshop.com. Read the rest of this entry »
By Vincent Francone
Thanksgiving, 1996. The Aspidistra Bookshop was open 364 days a year. If it wasn’t Christmas, the store wasn’t going to close. My family refused to believe this. Who would stay open on Thanksgiving?
I explained to my mother that I would not be coming home that year, that even though the trip was short—just an hour or so from Lakeview to the southwest suburbs—I had to open and close the store.
“Who’s going to buy books on Thanksgiving?”
Not a bad question. I didn’t expect many people to wander in, though few surely would, mostly the oddballs who fit right in among the dusty books and empty beer bottles that littered the shop. They haunted Clark Street drinking endless cups of coffee at McDonald’s and trading conspiracy theories before coming to our store to make my day a bit more surreal. They asked me questions like: “Do you know who really discovered Halley’s Comet?” But they never bought anything. Read the rest of this entry »
This season, bypass the Hallmark card aisle and spread some holiday cheer by representing Chicago and its artists with these five city-centric Christmas cards. Read the rest of this entry »
The Malört water bottle/Photo: Tim de la Motte
By John Greenfield
The holidays are all about consumption, but the nice thing about giving a sustainable transportation-oriented present is you’re encouraging the recipient to use less resources, by walking, biking or using transit when possible, instead of driving. Most of the following gift ideas are also locally produced and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of fuel was expended in transporting them, and by spending money at a mom-and-pop instead of a big-box you’ll be promoting pedestrian-friendly retail. Unfortunately, one present you can’t give right now is a glitch-free Ventra card.
However, you can promote one of Chicago’s more successful transpo initiatives by giving the gift of Divvy. The bike-share system will be operating all winter long, so if you buy your loved ones twenty-four-hour passes ($7) or yearly memberships ($75), they’ll be able to hop on one of the baby-blue cycles right away. Passes and memberships entitle the holder to an unlimited number of thirty-minute trips, so they’re perfect for short trips and errands, plus “last mile” rides from transit to one’s final destination. DivvyBikes.com; email Gifts@DivvyBikes.com to purchase gift certificates. Read the rest of this entry »
By John Greenfield
A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. Can’t get much more politically correct than that. Read the rest of this entry »
Breakdown: In only its fourth year, the Adrenaline Sports Management (ASM) Santa Hustle 5K has already expanded to seven locations across the country, with Chicago’s being the first and largest of the season with around 8,000 runners this year. And almost all of them listened to their inner holiday spirit and donned the Santa shirt, hat and beard included in the goodie bag on race day, leading to a red sea of Santas of all shapes and sizes. Christmas music blared at base camp and along the course, and a vast spread of cookies and milk was available after the race. Having runners group themselves by pace seemed to work well and kept the course open, even for the trip back along the Lakefront Trail. Whether you’re a runner or not (ASM says about eighty-five percent of participants this year do not consider themselves “runners”), this well-organized, family-friendly fun run is a perfect way to start December in a very merry mood. Read the rest of this entry »
Breakdown: Along with gathering together with friends and family to eat as much food as possible, a quick morning race has also become a traditionally popular family activity to take on during Thanksgiving, with more than ten races in the Chicago area taking place today and several more scheduled for this weekend. Now in its thirty-fifth year, the Lifetime Chicago Turkey Day 5K (or TD5K for acronym lovers) is one of those races, and probably the most convenient for those celebrating T-Day in Chicago proper, especially since it starts at the sleep-in friendly time of 9am. Starting on Cannon Drive in front of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the race spends a good deal of time on a blocked-off lane of Lake Shore Drive before following the Lakefront Trail to finish back on Cannon Drive. Changed from an 8K to a 5K, this year’s race drew around 6,000 people, which led to a somewhat last-minute waved start, with new waves being released every thirty to sixty seconds. Read the rest of this entry »