The Gingerbread Man is Brown
Christmastime as exotic fantasy and collective pretend play.
Welcome to my substack #11. Soundtrack to this post: Parathas for Santa Mixtape
1. At Union Station last week, I typed out a Christmas poem for a guy that hates Christmas. He wanted me to write a love poem for his fiancée, who he said was very weird, strange, an abstract thinker and a lover of all things Christmas. I had been invited to write poems under the rose lined awning of the information desk and I thought I would be writing improv poems about trains and traveling but here I was writing other peoples’ love poems. He hated the way she was able to find fake snow every where they would go, and hated every time he would hear jingle bells on tambourines. And all the smelly cheeses on charcuterie boards, which I guess is a Christmas thing. And he hates hot cocoa, but who hates cocoa? Later that evening, the fiancée tagged me with the poem on Instagram, saying she will frame it and hang it up every year.
2. Christmas is so exotic. A foray into White Culture, an odd sort of fantastical Americanism. Like democracy, just as mythical, but yet still, we all still operate as if the fake snow is real.
3.Have we discussed how batshit it is that we have a collective imagination of the belief of Santa and that this is speculative magical realism that we as a nation are all pretending together? We are all playing pretend that the imaginary friend named Santa Claus is real.
4. I love Christmas but my love for Christmas isn’t like your love of Christmas. As a Muslim family, I was raised to not “believe in” Christmas. Yes, Jesus was a prophet in Islam and had a miracle birth – but that’s more a miraculous fact than a belief a jolly man with a white bead will give you gifts. I was the kid that would tell my school friends that Santa wasn’t real because my Mommy said so. I would then go ask my Mom why we couldn’t have gifts and she would say Ramadan was our Christmas. But we never got gifts during Ramadan. I used to pretend to believe in Santa Claus even though I knew it wasn’t real, because I wanted to play pretend with everyone else too. I wanted to believe in the magic, and pretend like I heard reindeers on roofs at midnight, and that wishes become real. I wanted a reason to imagine.
5. I even wrote a letter to Santa, once. Put a stocking up in my room on Christmas Eve. I wanted to believe so desperately. Of course I was always saddened when waking up meant an empty stocking and no gifts under no tree.
6. My earliest Christmas memory was standing on the bleachers in the center of the mall singing Christmas carols with my school’s choir. I was seven years old and we were living in the Midwest. Singing in the center of the mall was a marker of the holiday season. Wearing a Santa’s hat, I would sing with gusto until I got to the words Jesus and Mary and I would go silent and just mouth the words. Maybe it wouldn’t be un-Islamic if I just mouthed the words. That was my child knowledge.
7. It is now Christmas Eve Eve Eve, and I have watched 80 Christmas movies this season so far. I start the day after Halloween and right into the New Year, an average of three movies a day. My lack of Christmas as a youth has self-corrected as an adult to an extreme.
8. Before the pandemic, I would host an annual Christmas party, exploring different holiday traditions I never grew up with. I baked cookies, and cooked chicken pozole. We cracked crackers, and wore paper crowns. I got a real Christmas tree. The party grew and grew. Sean made a Yule Log one year, and a Gingerbread House the year after. He was going to tackle the Croquembouche next. The Christmas before the pandemic, I went to Mexico City with Jenny, where we watch a racist nativity with a big nosed Arab mask dance around a manger. Afterwards we got Mexican Hot Chocolate with cinnamon-y churros.
9. This one year I dated a guy that sold homemade Christmas wreathes to fundraise for a service dog for his son. I would talk to him on the phone as he would go on foraging hikes to find berries to stick in his wreath. He was nice but boring and I’m pretty sure the only reason I dated him through December was because I was romanced by the Christmas Meet-Cute trope. I dumped him in the New Year because it was just too hard to be so bored.
10. I love a good meet cute, Christmas or otherwise. There are the classic accidental run-ins, grabbing the same peppermint mocha, or book, or toy. There are the cases of mistaken identity, where a man steps on a dress or a girl spills coffee on a man for them to only realize he is her boss. Watch enough of these movies, and you start to pick up on the tropes. You have The Royals where the woman is a cook, nanny, coach, decorator for a Royal Family who has lots the spirit of Christmas and the joys of being average. You have the Lost City Girl who works so hard she has to go to small town USA because her high powered job wants her to destroy a small cookie/candy/inn business in the town. Or The Lost City Girl lost her job before the holidays and returns to the small town she grew up in to only confront all the things she ran away from. Either way, the City Girl reminds us it is better to give up ambitions for a small town Working Man who needs a mother for his child. The Groundhog Day is my most hated trope – the stories where the protagonist has to replay the holiday over and over again. A little too reminiscent of the days in pandemic for me to find joy. My favorite trope is the fake boyfriend to the Christmas wedding because the girl is just over being the single girl at the family holiday. Once she spends time with the fake boyfriend, she realizes that maybe a relationship isn’t all that bad. This trope that I loved so much, is the premise to the Merry Muslim Christmas Rom Com I wrote a couple years back.
11. In all Christmas movies there is always a little bit of magic, a Christmas miracle. The children movies always have over the top magic – a Santa falling off the roof, a man with a beard disguised as a homeless man, a magical toy that acts as a portal. In Christmas Rom Coms, the magic is a bit more subtle and adult. Repeated chance encounter that feels like destiny. Making wishes on magical stars/carousel horses/ gingerbread cookies. A big cookie sale made to a person that looks an awful like Santa. A sick person in the hospital that is suddenly cured.
12. The Hallmark brand of movies always has a young child. Someone is always dead, and it’s usually the wife of the leading man. Sometimes they are working through the grief of a parent. There is always a unique reason why the out of towner isn’t spending it with their own family, either orphan or parents on a holiday cruise. The female protagonist is almost always White., unless of course, you are watching a BET, Lifetime, FreeForm, VH1, or Comedy Central Christmas movie. In a modern 2021 Hallmark twist, about 50% of the protagonists’ best friends are POC or gay, and usually both.
13. My all time favorite Christmas movies aren’t Hallmark movies at all. They are sentimental, and romantic, and a little bit weird:
The Last Holiday
The Night Before
While You Were Sleeping
The Spirit of Christmas
My Christmas Love
A Christmas Movie Christmas
14. It seems like everyone (except Hallmark) has a Christmas movie with a people of color cast – we are on trend. You must watch these movies before the season ends.
Candy Cane Candidate (Lifetime) An Asian American woman candidate lost her race and runs for mayor in her hometown for a special election on Dec 24th!
Holiday in Santa Fe (Lifetime) written by Cristela Alonzo!
Hot Mess Holiday (Comedy Central) all Desi, w/ guest Kal Penn!
Let’s Get Married (VH1) molly + Santa park + bachelorette party!
Boyfriends of Christmas Past (Hallmark) Desi heartthrob Raymond Ablack is my new crush!
Baking Spirits Bright (Lifetime) a South Asian family selling Nani’s fruitcake!
The Liddle series (Lifetime) there are three so far, Kelly Rowland as lead girl!
Gingerbread Miracle (Hallmark) a Mexican themed bakery w/ magical ginger cookies!
Love Hard (Netflix) I love an Asian American Rom Com!
My Favorite Christmas Melody (Lifetime) Starring Mya, singing!
Adventure in Christmasing (VH1) Tootie goes hiking!
15. Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.
16. I think Christmas Rom Coms are a tool for White Culture to establish mainstream Whiteness and push an anti-feminist pro-marriage heteronormative ideal. I’m not saying they are White Supremacists Right Wing Agenda movies – but I’m not NOT saying they are. The movies are a form of reverse redlining – encouraging Single White Ambitious Women with City Money to move back to the small town and abandon those ambitions to be a step-Mom and marry a Strapping Working Class White Man with Small Town Morals. As a single woman in my 40s, watching these movies makes it feel like if I only moved to a small town, there will be a hunky White Man Widow ready to be rescued by marriage with me. Except, we all know a single Brown woman in a small town is seen more as a threat than love interest. This is White Fantasy.
17. “How can you, a political Muslim activist and teller of counternarratives of the South Asian diaspora, be so overly into Christmas movies?” As if being an activist means being a militant devoid of culture and joy. This is my joy. I watch Christmas Rom Coms the way other people watch science-fiction movies. I like the predictability of the storylines – it is systematic. The girl always ends up with the boy in the end, with a kiss scene. There is always a meet cute. There is nothing gruesome and the hometowns are never in the path of an asteroids or a deadly pandemic. At worst, a snow storm where the car slides on black ice. It is an exploration of the exotic White culture with all their wacky traditions and myths. And given the state of the world living through a pandemic where 800,000 people have died and each day runs into each other – in these movies you can just be comforted by sameness of the fakeness worlds. It’s pretend. A glorious fantasy escape from reality because reality is really hard.
18. When I told my cousin’s boyfriend over Thanksgiving dinner that I had Christmas scripts written but they would probably never get made because they featured no White people, he tried to give me a vote of confidence. “When you go in for your pitches, they can just switch out the Brown characters for White characters, don’t worry about it.” I was taken aback, of course, because the stories aren’t just POC characters who can be replaced with White. They are about being POC. They have political twists to the storyline where race is central. They romance stories between a Muslim woman and a man of color, something which I have still never seen on screen. I don’t want to compromise on my stories, MY stories, to appease the mainstream. I just want to tell stories where people like me will feel seen.
19. I just also want to play pretend in a fantasy world where joy exists alongside my reality and desires. I want to believe that the unreal is possible.
20. And I’m convinced that Santa’s elves are just Muslim jinns in White imagination, anyways. Santa is the ultimate Jinn. Celebrating Christmas is creeping sharia. You think it’s a coincidence that the gingerbread man is Brown?