The Perfect Christmas?

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrated that holiday. This past Friday (Black Friday here in the U.S.), my sister-in-law and I made my brother turn from a Star Trek marathon so we could watch a Hallmark movie. Lest you misunderstand, I also was enjoying the Star Trek marathon. But around the fourth episode, I wanted to watch something else.

Anyway, the plot of the movie involved a woman following a list of activities she believed would make the perfect Christmas. For example, staying in a cozy cabin in the mountains (with the perfect covering of snow on the roof), singing Christmas carols, seeing The Nutcracker, making a gingerbread house, buying a real Christmas tree, baking, ice skating, taking a picture with Santa, etc.

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My brother glared at the television. “That’s every Christmas stereotype there is!” he declared, his lip curled.

I laughed, because he was right. But I couldn’t help recalling one Christmas season years ago, when a friend of mine and I followed a list of the quintessential Chicago Christmas activities. It included having lunch near the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s (which was Marshall Field back then), oohing and ahing over the Christmas display in the store windows, ice skating, checking out the Christmas trees at the Museum of and Industry (see photo below; it is not one of mine, however), going to see The Nutcracker (fail), etc. (Click here for a list of holiday things to do in and around Chicago.)

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We waited two hours just to get into the Walnut Room (see photo below; I did not take that photo either). While I was glad we checked that off on our Christmas to-do list, I can’t say the meal I had was memorable. It certainly hadn’t met my extraordinarily high expectations.

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And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Unrealistic expectations often put a damper on our enjoyment of the holidays. I learned that the hard way.

This year, I don’t feel motivated to rush around, doing holiday things while trying to manufacture the “perfect” Christmas season. Case in point: I skipped shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, over the weekend, I took in a good movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) with friends.

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And I don’t plan to stress about Christmas shopping. This year, I’m focusing on the things in which I truly delight, rather than the “have-to’s” of the season. Guess that means crocheting more reindeer to give away (not a have-to, but a want-to), seeing more great films (Moana, you are next), and having quality conversations with friends and family.

What, if anything, constitutes the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah season for you? What are your plans for the season?
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Crocheted reindeer thugs stage a coupe by blocking my coffee mug. While I’m not exactly sure what their demands are, I will make it a priority to find good homes for them this season. And yes, the keyboard below them is very dusty. It’s not one that I use these days.

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Rainbow Kate and her BFF Popette finally finished hanging the Christmas lights on Rainbow Kate’s house, to the delight of the children Kate babysat. But the delight turned to consternation when they discovered Kitty in the living room, drinking the last of the cocoa.

Christmas tree in the Walnut room from anadesigns.blogspot. Christmas tree at the Museum of Science and Industry from commons.wikimedia.org. Santa from hdwallpapersforiphone.blogspot. Fantastic Beasts logo from geeknation.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

What Do Girls Want? I’m Not Sure

Before I get into the post, I wanted to announce that I’m still reaching out to authors as I mentioned in my last post. Expect the interviews at some point.

Back in the day when I had a Barbie (or four), I tied a cape around her and made her a superhero. This was before Supergirl action figures existed. (More on that later.) A napkin made an excellent cape. And a parachute. My Barbie also was a spy who parachuted out of trees. She knew karate and had super strength. (Interestingly enough, the latest Barbie movie is Barbie: Spy Squad.)

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My BFF and I wanted our Barbies to be empowered before we even knew the meaning of the word empowered. Now, before I go any further, this is not a Barbie-bashing post. This doll has had enough controversy in her over 50 years of existence. (By the way, a really good book about Barbie is The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone.)

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Last week, I went to Toys “R” Us with a friend and her little son, and saw a huge display case full of Barbies in various professions. She’s a doctor, a spy, a businesswoman, a pet groomer—you name it. She’s even a pizza chef.

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Barbie’s handlers want her to be a role model. Female superheroes are getting their day too. Recently I read an article about a line of DC action figures for girls (including Supergirl)—something I would have wanted when I was a kid. You can read that article here.

Getting back to Barbie-like dolls, the Elsa doll pulls in more sales than Barbie. With her ice powers and staunch determination to be herself in Frozen, Elsa seems the picture of empowerment. (You’re probably thinking of the “Let It Go” song now, aren’t you? And after months of finally getting it out of your head. Sorry.)

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Her sister Anna, however, didn’t have ice power, but was heroic in a very moving way. (Which makes her my favorite from that movie.) Awhile ago, Time and Fortune featured articles on the empowering influence of Elsa and Anna. You can read them here and here.

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Now, many channels on YouTube feature discussions about toys, and include dolls in various fanfiction scenarios. (For example, Elsa marries Jack Frost; Baby Alive becomes a superhero.) So imagine my surprise when I saw not one but several fanfiction depictions of Elsa being kidnapped and having to be rescued. And those are just the YouTube videos. You have only to Google elsa kidnapped fanfiction to find a host of stories—some rawer than others. (There are several Anna-as-the-damsel-in distress scenarios too.) So much for empowerment!

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “Anna had to save Elsa in the film.” True. And what a beautiful moment of sacrifice. But Elsa was not hand-wringing helpless. So many girls had mentioned how much they love Elsa’s ice powers and let-it-go attitude. And since many of the YouTube videos are fan-driven (many YouTubers asked fans, “What do you want to see?”), fans obviously desired to see the helpless-Elsa scenario. (I saw one of those videos just today in fact.) Many of these fans are girls.

You might think, Who cares? But as an author who is trying to provide strong heroines in books, I care. Yet I’m confused by the mixed messages. Last year, many people complained about Black Widow’s damsel-in-distress scene in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. (I was not one of the complainers.) Which leads me to believe that people want to see strong heroines ala Wonder Woman, Supergirl, etc.

The audience for Frozen, the YouTube toy videos, the non-YouTube Elsa fanfiction, and Age of Ultron differs to a degree. After all, Frozen had a very high preschool fan base (girls and boys) who probably did not see Ultron. I wrote probably, because I saw small children in the audience at the theater I attended. But there is some overlap, obviously, since Frozen grossed over a billion dollars. Many teens and adults loved Frozen, and were inspired enough to write fanfiction or request it on YouTube. But many younger kids also watch YouTube, sometimes with their parents. They make their desires known too. Based on what I’ve seen online, not only do I wonder what they want but also whether they have a different definition of empowerment.

What say you?

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I asked these girls how they defined empowerment, but they remained mum on the subject. I guess I’ll let it go.

Barbie images from ricardodemelo.blogspot.com, shoppingsquare.com.au, and pixmania.fr. Black Widow action figure from tvandfilmtoys.com. Barbie Spy Squad poster and Elsa doll from fanpop.com. Elsa and Anna dolls from disneytimes.com. Elsa with ice powers from blogs.disney.com. Photo of Popette (Moose Toys), Donatina (Moose Toys), Hello Kitty (Sanrio), and Strawberry Shortcake (Hasbro) by L. Marie.