Oh, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

by Rob Wyatt

Email: grumpit@carolina.rr.com

I hadn’t seen so much green since I’d been overrun by a plague of frogs during my last round of golf.  Who knew Saint Patrick’s Day would be such a big deal here in the States?

A large, red, sweaty, big-breasted individual of indeterminate sex, wearing half a pint of Guinness and a ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish!’ button on his or her bright-green T-shirt slapped me on the back.  “Happy Shaint Paddy’s Day,” he, or she, belched in a heavy, Texas accent.

“Yeah, I suppose,” I replied distractedly, wiping myself down from the light shower of dark stout, and resuming my slow progress towards the bar.

“Are you not wearing the green?” the barman asked as he placed my bottle of Budweiser in front of me.  “All us Irish should be wearing the green today.”  He was sporting green jeans, a green sweatshirt and green hair.

“All us Irish?”  I raised my eyebrows.  “You know I’m not Irish, Marcus, and you told me your parents came over from East Germany the minute the wall came down.”

“Oh, we’re all Irish on Saint Pat’s Day, young fellow.” 

At least he didn’t add, “To be sure.”

I retreated to a far corner of the bar and tried to watch the golf on the telly.  Tiger Woods holed out from a fairway bunker on the eighteenth hole to win the tournament.

“The luck of the Irish is certainly with Tiger today!” the TV commentator chuckled.  Tiger was wearing khaki-coloured golf pants and a dark green shirt.

“To be sure,” replied the other commentator.

The television flickered off as a trio of Japanese businessmen, sporting green sequined ties, hijacked the karaoke machine.  They broke into a soulful rendition of My Old Kilarney Home, moving the busty Texan to tears.  I had trouble refraining from crying myself.

I’d been in America for nearly nine months now, and had to admire the zest with which the country celebrated its holidays.  I arrived in early June, and already every building was festooned in red, white and blue, in anticipation of The Fourth of July.

“Do you have The Fourth of July in Britain?” a checkout girl had asked me at the supermarket.  It had soon become apparent to me that Americans did not recognize England as a country in its own right.

“Uh?  Oh, you mean ‘Independence Day?’” I asked, bewildered. “Like, from the English?”

“Sure,” she said brightly.  “Do you celebrate it?”

“Well, only in as much as we’re glad to still be alive and kicking, having survived a gruelling twenty-four hours getting through the third,” I replied gravely.

“Why, what happens on the third?” she asked, bemused.

“The same as on the fourth, but as it applies to the second.”

She frowned.  “Oh, I just love your accent,” she said, resorting to the standard American response for when they don’t understand a word you’re saying

The Stars and Stripes hung from every available pole, branch and car aerial.  You could even get blue-tinted tomato ketchup to squirt onto your white hot dog in your red bun.  It tasted as bad as it looked.  Bad taste seemed to sum it up really. 

At least the fireworks were spectacular.  For a couple of weeks in early summer, the air seemed to be permanently filled with showers of bright sparks and patriotic songs.  And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…  Of course, in July everyone was American, and Marcus’s hair was blue to go with his red shorts and white shirt.

By mid-September, the country had turned a sickly orange – probably from eating too much blue ketchup.  Pumpkins appeared on every front doorstep, and the shops were full of huge bags of Halloween candy, orange-iced everything, and Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky facemasks – scarier costumes you’d never wish to see. 

On the night of October 31st, I answered my door to a little girl dressed as Harry Potter, a large plastic sack already overflowing with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey bars.  “Trick or treat?” she squealed.

I smiled.  “Ooh, treat please! What shall I have?” I wondered and delved into her bag, looking for a Milky Way.

Her father appeared from the shadows, dressed in a mini skirt, high-heels and a Monica mask, and smoking a fat cigar.  “Get your filthy hands away from my daughter, you limey pervert!”

“Er, I don’t quite understand,” I blathered.

“Give her some candy before I…”

“Sorry, I don’t have any.”

“We’ll take the cash equivalent,” he growled.

“But I only have a twenty dollar bill.”

Harry and Monica glared at me, smiling menacingly.

As soon as I’d paid them off, I bolted the front door, and headed to the bar to drown my sorrows and cash a cheque.

“You do look splendid tonight, Marcus.  Love the hair!  Are you a natural orange, by any chance?”

Before I’d downed my first Bud, Thanksgiving was upon me – The Start of The Holidays, as it’s officially known here.  You’ve never seen so many turkeys.  Bernard Matthews would be so proud.

I learned that Thanksgiving celebrates the first harvest of the pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower.  Apparently they wouldn’t have made it through the first year at all without the help of the Indians – beg pardon, Native Americans – and they dined together gratefully on roasted wild turkey and corn on the cob.  It’s a wonder then, that for the next few centuries the pilgrim’s ancestors treated the natives in much the same way as their forefathers had treated the wild turkeys.  It seems that nowadays, to make up for it, the US Government gives Native Americans small tracts of land to call their own, and doesn’t make them pay taxes or obey state laws.  As a result, it seems that everyone’s a Native American, and not just at Thanksgiving.  At least it means you never have to drive far to the nearest casino or discount cigarette store.

The worst thing about Thanksgiving was pumpkin pie – presumably they have to do something with the rotting pumpkins they bring in from the front steps. 

“What’s this orange mush?” I had asked Marcus, prodding it suspiciously.

“It’s a Thanksgiving favourite.  Everybody loves pumpkin pie.”

“I bet the Indians didn’t.”  The filling was the consistency of wallpaper paste, but didn’t look as appetizing, or smell as good. 

The strangest aspect of Thanksgiving (aside from serving melted marshmallows on the vegetables) was that all the shops had massive sales the very next day.  How did this country get so far without realizing that you don’t cut the prices just before Christmas?  People were going to buy the stuff anyway, for goodness sake!  Still, I did manage to pick up an all-in-one popcorn maker, ice crusher and shoe polisher for a really great price.  More fool them, I say.

So, from the fourth Thursday in November until the first day of January, it was Party Central.  It’s A Wonderful Life was on every TV channel about ten times a day, the only breaks being for news of the latest government sex scandal, or to show the Disney version of A Christmas Carol, starring Mickey Mouse and Scrooge MacDuck. 

With so many holidays flying about, Marcus didn’t know where to turn, so he simply shaved off all his hair and wrote, “Happy Holidays” on his forehead.  You can’t say “Happy Christmas” apparently, in case you offend the Jews (Hanukkah), the African Americans (Kwanzaa) or Charlie Brown fans (The Coming of The Great Pumpkin) to name a few.  I’m not sure how Guy Fawkes Night would go down here.  You’d probably have to say, “A penny for the guy or gal,” except, of course, it would be, “A dollar” (or twenty).

Come New Year, the partying was finally over.  Marcus grew his hair again, and the displays in the shops were instantly overrun with cupids and red, shiny hearts – Valentine’s Day was only forty-five days away.

Despite the Day-After-Thanksgiving-Sale cock-up, you have to hand it to the marketing blokes over here.  Everyone buys Valentine’s Day cards for everyone else.  They give them to their postman, babysitter, next-door neighbour’s goldfish, boss, sister, teacher and priest.  I even got cards from my bank, septic tank pumping company, dentist and hairdresser (but we won’t go there).

Marcus, predictably, dyed his hair red, and I spent my Valentine’s Day sipping Bud, nibbling Hershey’s Kisses and watching the all-day When Harry Met Sally marathon on the bar’s TV.

I wandered back to the bar, stepping over a prostrate Texan in the arms of a Japanese businessman. 

“Same again, Marcus.  What’s on the menu tonight?  Irish stew, by any chance?  Or is it steak and Guinness pie?”

“Corned beef and cabbage.”

“You what?”

“It’s an Irish favourite.”

“I’ll take your word for it.  Pass over that bowl of pretzels, would you?”

At that moment, the front door burst open, and a team of Brazilian woman football players congaed into the bar, singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling at the tops of their voices.  They were, of course, all wearing green.


©2002 Rob Wyatt

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