Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nutcracked-out

As I have mentioned on this blog, my family is fond of traditions. Well, "fond" doesn't really cover it, actually; we cling to traditions with a passion bordering on zealotry. Christmas, naturally, is the time of year when our freak flags fly highest: Our annual tree-selecting outing, full of teenage humiliation and peppered with profanity, was so deeply ingrained that I wrote about it for my college essays.

Everyone, I realize, has their own Christmas "norm". I remember being horrified to discover that my best friend from college considered Amy Grant's Christmas album to be a timeless classic, and I'm sure there are people for whom the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack is among the deeper circles of hell. Little things like white lights versus colored lights on the tree make people crazy. Some people order Chinese and open presents on Christmas Eve, and some people roast turkeys and wait until after breakfast on Christmas Day. One tiny shift in the whole tradition vaccuum can ruin even a normally sane person's mood.

That is why, last night, running like crazy -- in heels, in the rain -- across four lanes of traffic on Broadway seemed like a good idea. Because if I hadn't I would have missed The Nutcracker. And I have never missed The Nutcracker.

Every year since 1983, my mother has taken me to Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet perform George Ballanchine's wacky fairytale. We've missed a few years, but altogether I bet I've seen it about 23 times. At this point it's all about the tradition, by which I mean you can only see a ballet so many times before you stop really wanting to see it and start feeling more compelled to see it. I can still remember a time when just hearing the overture got me totally nuts. I would sit there in my red velvet dress and patent leather shoes and I would practically explode from joy at the thought that Christmas was mere days away. Now, much like building up tolerance to a drug, The Nutcracker doesn't really do anything to me anymore. I enjoy it, don't get me wrong, but I don't get all fluttery inside anymore. I find myself engaging in grinchy adult activities like trying to figure out how on earth they can fit a 50-ft tree in the rafters above the stage, or whether the marzipan shepherdesses hate their outfits as much as I do. My first impulse, when an excited child leaps up to clap after a particularly enthralling solo, is to say, 'Sit down, I can't see!' What in the world has happened to me?

Luckily, my mother is a hardcore Nutcracker believer. She watches with rapt attention every year, delivering blow-by-blows afterwards like a seasoned sports caster: "The children were very strong this year, but the mice have been more convincing, don't you think?" God love her. The Nutcracker may not thrill me anymore, but the tradition of going reminds me that Christmas is, indeed coming. And after the show, enjoying the grown up pastime of drinking a bottle of wine, I can bask in the sense of peace and joy that comes from having a Christmas heritage that involves dancing candy canes. Not everyone is special like my family, and I mean special without quotations.
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