If you’re a parent of a smart kid like me, you know the must-have toy this holiday is Lego Minecraft.
The only problem? You can’t find one. Anywhere. At least not in Lego or other brick and mortar stores.
Sure, you can get one on Amazon, but only after shelling out $120 or so, more than three times the list price of $34.99.
eBay you ask? Good luck with that. You might some luck there, but like me you’ll probably watch bidders push the final price to over $90.
I was lucky enough to get one during one of the (very short) periods of availability at shop.lego.com, and it’s a lovely little set. Probably not the best of the year (have a look at Brickset’s gift guide), but I can see why it’s popular.
This year, Christmas hasn’t felt like Christmas.
It’s my first ever “holiday season” abroad. I’ve been to the US from Boxing Day into the New Year, and for Thanksgiving, but never between the two. It just doesn’t feel right.
It’s not the shopping, although I should probably be more like the locals, who rush out on Black Friday in an orgy of sales to start collecting presents. Next year, I might even do that, rather than getting everything on Christmas Eve. Again. (Having said that: it was less hellish here than it is in London.)
It’s not that it’s less of a big deal than it is back home, although that’s certainly true. Muni runs a Sunday service tomorrow, while in London the Tube, rail system, and buses completely shut down. Heck, the drivers of the former are striking on Sunday because they wanted more overtime. (I don’t entirely blame them, either- just because the bank holiday in lieu is on Tuesday doesn’t mean Sunday shouldn’t be treated as one too.) You might get a taxi, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I feel sorry for the tourists who visit the UK at this time of year, and end up having to find the one takeaway in twenty that isn’t shut.
It’s not the music, although that’s different. Less 1970s pop/rock, more 1950s crooning and Mexican imports (like Feliz Navidad, a song that I hadn’t heard at all). Nor is it the TV, although again there are different expectations (more movies here, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas and The Christmas story; more heartwarming animation there, like the Snowman and Wallace and Gromit). I mean, I don’t have a TV nor do I listen to music radio, so I wouldn’t notice.
It’s not the food, since that hasn’t happened yet, although I have missed mince pies through the month, and the usual British menu is closer to what’s served for Thanksgiving than on the 25th. But it’s related, a bit.
It’s not the weather, although the lack not just of snow - if it does actually snow at my parents I think it’ll be the first white Christmas of my life - but of cold doesn’t help. But it’s related.
It’s not the lights. There are differences - they come on all at once in late November, rather than drizzling through the month (and, at home, into December) - but they’re still here. The Embarcadero Center is doing its annual impression of a cityscape in Tron, while there’s a huge tree further up California Street, and vast baubles in a plaza just off Market Street. There’s even a diorama with a tree, sledge and Narnia lamppost in the lobby of the office building I work in. But it’s related, a lot.
No, the reason it doesn’t feel like Christmas is that it’s Just Not That Dark. The amount of sunlight in San Francisco at the solstice is about the same as you get in the UK in early October. Sunset is at 5, and at midday it’s, well, pretty nice out. By contrast, in London the sun seems to barely be able to clear the horizon at nine before limping its way back down not long after three.
Of course, the lack of sun explains the cold, the need for lights (and the way it feels so awful in early January when they’re switched off, although I suspect in the US the old style of celebrating the twelve nights, between the nativity and epiphany, is basically ignored; the decorations will be gone by this time next week), and why the food was such a central part of the entire festival.
As Jonathan Meades puts it in his wonderfully opinionated column in the Guardian,
It was once a necessary feast, a welcome exception to the cold climate frugality most of our forbears endured most of their life.
After all, you’re in the middle of winter. Your stores have to last you into May or so, but it’s so damned grim you need something to look forward to. (On the other hand, once it’s gone, January is damned difficult. Mind you, even if the festivities were a month later, February is pretty rubbish too.)
Here, though? There were probably people surfing off Ocean Beach today. They’ll be wearing wetsuits, of course, but they have to wear them all year round. (Uninitiated British people: look up “Alaskan currents”.) I went for a walk this morning and had to take off my coat, because I was getting a bit warm. I might even still be producing enough Vitamin D to stave off rickets.
So, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Still, I’ve bought some gifts, I’ve got an invitation to eat at a friend’s tomorrow, and there’ll be turkey and drink and roast potatoes (and maybe even parsnips). So despite my innate bah-humbuggery, as they say here, happy holidays.