ULTRA X’MAS for the holiday disinclined

Silliness for salvaging sour grapes

Holidays bring out the grinch in me, but not because I’m a cynic. I’m a sentimental crybaby and I get drunk off social energy, despite being an anxious mess. Some members of my family think I’m a little psycho feminist commie freak, though, and that dampens my holiday spirit.

There’s a sort of schadenfreude to holiday traditions. Someone must be taking some perverse pleasure in watching people squirm in the knotted web of family ties we avoid until specific points in the year. But I’ve made the decision not to opt out and I’m tired of dreading the holidays. What else can I do, in this situation, but turn to the bards for inspiration?

Pop sensation Misia landed in my life a few years back when I was looking up Japanese 90s R&B albums. In my journey through her discography, one of her albums became paramount to my happiness and success: So Special Christmas.

In the first track, “Gloria -glorious evolution-,” Misia’s voice has a throaty heft reminiscent of Shakira’s warbling as she lilts over her cover of the gospel carol “Angels We Have Heard on High.” A deeply horny saxophone saunters onto the track at one point, which someone made the highly disorienting choice to pair with nostalgic strings.

But the track that changed my life was “ULTRA X’MAS.” Starting out with Misia wishing listeners a merry Christmas in Hawaiian — “Mele Kalikimaka” — Misia muses that she’d like to try going to Hawaii to close out the year. Then she poses a devastating question: did the character Ultraman have something like Santa Claus in his childhood? In essence, who do superheroes hope will come to comfort them?

Misia hasn’t quite convinced me that she knows what Christmas is, and I don’t condone the tourism industry that is curdling Hawaii as we speak.

At the same time, her music, the way she throws every genre she’s aware of into a vat and just stirs it all together, has inspired my approach to the holidays. I too can create reprehensibly weird holiday plans, combining the old with the new the way Misia brings together classic Hollywood strings and a sexual sax.

I’m not going to celebrate the holidays. I’m doing ULTRA X’MAS.

My brother and I are annually filled with a terrible purpose which we channel into building architecturally compromised gingerbread houses to the sound of Justin Bieber’s Christmas album. We also force ourselves to play co-op video games together, start a new K-drama or rewatch Twilight. These are old traditions, and they’re important.

What’s new is spending time with people who like the person I am. My friends are more involved in my holiday plans than they used to be. Discord movie nights with long-distance friends, soup with the girls and going to shows with my besties bracket the occasionally tense dinners.

So when a relative unveils the fourth iteration of their life partner who you have to call “uncle” even though you were introduced to him when you were 25, hold fast to the knowledge that the good, the weird and the bad bits are what you’ve chosen to mash into the potatoes of your holidays.

Happy holidays, ULTRA X’MAS.