My Christmas 2016 baptism by fire commenced today.
First up: a trip to the Northern Neck after an achingly short six hours' sleep to assist my ultra-organized parents with the first rumblings of the season, a morning endeavor that involved stuffing tiny glass ornaments into tiny stockings and then tying even tinier ornaments onto the stocking's ribbon hanger before putting a gift tag sticker on each.
It was just this side of mind-numbing, set to Christmas music, natch.
Post-lunch was spent on the third floor of their house - easily the most sweeping view of the Rappahannock river - digging through dusty boxes to locate tree essentials (stand, skirt, lights) among the scores of ancient brown cardboard boxes that hold their holiday artifacts.
And I'm not being unkind by calling them artifacts. The Smithsonian would.
I mean, we're talking about things such as the crumbling box that has for six decades held their manger scene, the one Mom bought at the Kresge in D.C. the year they married and the pieces of which still have the prices stamped on the bottom.
So you have some idea of what I was dealing with, Joseph and Mary are each marked 29 cents, but the baby in the manger is untarnished with anything so tawdry as a cost.
With glitter on my face and the ancient dust of Christmases past under my fingernails, I drove home into the setting sun for more holiday madness.
Having taken the advice of Comedy Coalition last week - "Wrap yourself in holiday cheer and get your tickets today before all comedy is outlawed forever" - I stood, ticket in hand, waiting on the sidewalk for Mac to pick me up for RVA Tonight's Christmas Spectacular.
After dinner in the service of my hired mouth, we joined the throngs at the Byrd Theater for an evening of comedy, interviews and music based on the saddest of holiday propositions: Santa isn't coming this year.
Holding up the Cheer-o-Meter, it was clear that we were dangerously low on holiday spirit after the events of that Tuesday in November that shall not be named.
Trying to bolster morale, co-host Matt told us that the good news was that NASA discovered 1200 new planets this year.
"So after the inauguration, we've got lots of options," host Beau Cribbs cracked from a set depicting his living room, right down to the band in the kitchen and the lurking elf near the Christmas tree.
When the point of the Christmas elf was questioned, Beau observed nonchalantly, "To normalize the idea of a surveillance state." Yikes.
Looking hard for more things we bid farewell to this year (besides the obvious: Prince, Bowie, Cohen), our hosts name-checked "American Idol" ("They saw America was dying, so they just went away"), Beau's liver and the first amendment.
Funny, not funny, right?
Guests kept showing up in Beau's living room, including mayor-elect Levar Stoney in a requisite awful red and white snowflake holiday sweater (and Levar Stoney socks given to him by his "team"), who good-naturedly answered Beau's burning question, "Can you describe what it felt like to kick Joe Morrissey's ass?"
After the theater erupted in laughter, applause and cheering, he explained that during the campaign, it was important for him to find ways to motivate himself. He found his way with, "I'm going to end this man's career."
When asked about former employer and mentor Terry McAuliffe and his role in all that, Levar didn't hesitate to kiss and tell. "He wasn't governor-ready when we got him. It took a lot of work."
Then it was back to his own debt.
"How many months do you have to do Jon Baliles' laundry? Asking for a friend," Beau wanted to know. "No laundry, I just had to take him to a few VCU basketball games." Lots of belly laughs at that since the pics were all over Facebook.
When asked if he'd been given any advice about his first year in office, Levar said he'd been advised not to try to do too much.
"I'm looking for some singles," he explained before realizing how that sounded. "I'm talking baseball here!" Laughter continued. "Don't go for home runs!" Applause. "I didn't mean that like that, either!"
Of course he didn't.
Holiday cheer arrived in many forms, from commercials for the Nog Bullet (for instantaneous egg nog) and an overly-complicated and frustrating board game, to everybody's favorite organist Bob Gulledge leading a singalong on the mighty Wurlitzer (flashback to every Christmas Eve of mine for the past 20 years, but obviously a novelty to many).
Even so, Beau was still not feeling it, so Matt suggested he sing his feelings, causing him to grab his guitar to sing "Blue Christmas," only to have songbird Natalie Prass walk out (looking absolutely fabulous in winter white palazzo pants and matching sweater) and join him onstage.
She was joined by Eric Slick, the drummer for Dr. Dog (and a solo artist as well), the two having met at the National.
He shared that Dr. Dog had just dropped a new album with all proceeds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which got enormous applause from the liberal-leaning crowd.
Natalie debuted her new self-penned holiday song, "Everyoneshavingfunbecauseitschristmas" - its profits are going to SPARC - and followed that by saying she'd do one we knew and proceeded to sing X-tina's "This Christmas," which helped get the Cheer-o-Meter to 99%. Finally.
When it ultimately hit the red zone, it was because the entire cast and band did "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," complete with sax solo, snow falling from the balcony and the jolly old elf marching down the aisle and taking the stage with the cast.
"Did we just save Christmas?" Beau asked incredulously and the crowd gave him his answer. Maybe we can still have a merry Christmas despite the Fascist waiting to take over our country!
It's practically a Christmas miracle.
Mac, also known as Miss Christmas, wasn't content to let our holiday-themed evening end there, so going home involved a drive-by to ogle the insane decorations on a house in Randolph followed by an attempt at the Christmas house in Oregon Hill, except they'd already pulled the plug for the evening so we were left to admire the sheer amount of plastic figures, but, alas, no lights.
Legend has it that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know, and we've got 23 days before the first of the twelve days of Christmas even begins.
Ho-ho-ho, here's hoping they never outlaw comedy or music to get us through it.