O holy crap!

Inspired by The Regis Philbin Christmas Album, a writer scours stores for the cheesiest holiday merchandise

Photo By Larry Dalton

There are countless traditions of the Christmas season: the yule log, a warm fire, delicious eggnog. Even Charlie Brown’s ugly little broken-down tree has a special place in all our hearts. But how about this year we make some room for Regis Philbin?

The male half of daytime’s popular talk show Live with Regis & Kelly offers the world a particularly perplexing holiday festival for the ears with The Regis Philbin Christmas Album. He vapidly drones his way through painfully by-the-numbers renditions of 12 Christmas classics, exemplifying an exploding trend of Christmas-themed goods that just aren’t worth the time it took to make them. Anyone who can make it through this audio cheese-fest in one sitting should consider himself a yuletide warrior for the history books. But why let the challenge end with bad Christmas tunes? It’s time to find out just how low the season can go.

Why stop at buying something they don’t need? Get them something they don’t even want!

The preposterous Christmas gift is as old as the holiday itself. One can only imagine the dejected looks and feigned appreciation of ancestral Europeans opening their stockings to find a novelty dancing Jesus. But never has there been such a flood of potential gifts that beg the question “Just how out of ideas were you?”

Photo By Larry Dalton

The most bountiful treasure trove of the useless and the ill-conceived is, without a doubt, your local dollar store. Apparently, if you’re cheap enough to do your holiday shopping at a place where nothing costs more than $1.08 out the door, the corporate bigwigs figure your loved ones should take what they can get.

On the other hand, nothing sums up the season like a dollar’s worth of selected readings from the Old Testament on audio CD. Hopefully the New Testament will come out in time for Xmas ’06; the only thing that fills one with more warmth and joy than hearing about how Cain killed Abel is hearing the same “expressive baritone voice” advertised on the packaging recounting the end of days via Revelation!

Another religious-themed highlight of the “we’re a penny better than the 99 Cent Store” emporium is a 16-by-20-inch velvet poster of Daniel and the lion’s den. This cartoony rendering features a jovial Daniel lovingly stroking some docile and confused-looking kings of the jungle and is even kind enough to let you fill in the color scheme yourself.

And have no fear, secular folks, the local dollar stores have your holiday shopping covered, too. Just try resisting the mystery grab bag, a nondescript paper sack filled with … something. Oh, how the mind boggles at the possibilities!

Though a few notches higher on the “classy” scale, Target has its fair share of laughable gift choices. Although utilitarian, the most head-scratching commodity has to be a gift set that includes one of several recent popular DVDs and a cheap digital watch. Maybe you’ll need the watch to keep checking how much time is left on The Chronicles of Riddick movie that came with it?

Photo By Larry Dalton

For a person you really don’t know that well, some tasty morsels are always a safe and sensible present. But no standard Hershey bar or beef jerky will do. Keep it chic, people! Even if Target’s brand of chocolate is premium goods, will anyone believe it when they unwrap a package of candy named Choxie? More likely, they’ll wonder whether it’s chocolate or some kind of heart medicine wrapped up in that fancy bow. And Christmas meat! Who started that tradition? A gigantic hunk of mystery animal is little more than a big sweaty hot dog—even if it is covered in a Hickory Farms label.

Speaking of dogs, your furry little friend won’t be left out in the cold come Christmas morn. In addition to the reconfiguration of every chew toy ever made to include Christmas colors and themes, there are several special items at your local pet store this time of year. The 34-inch rawhide candy cane is a highlight. That’s right, folks, almost 3 feet of chew toy! That better be one big, determined animal if it’s going to chew its way through that sucker by next December.

Hopefully, the rational among us can agree our pets would not have a good time spending the 25th in a full-on Santa suit, hat and beard. Though your pet may yearn for the days when plastic strap-on antlers were humiliation enough, now you can demoralize them completely with three separate pieces of apparel.

Establish your Christmas dominance! Fill your house with junk!

After a hard day of shopping for loved ones, nothing beats going back to an abode filled with more gaudy decorations and piercing Christmas tunes than the busiest store in the mall. Treat yourself right with a decorative gift just for you, like Safeway’s plastic motorcycle-riding snowman. He jiggles and sings “I’m just a snow machine,” working for nobody but you for as long as two AA batteries allow. He’s a steal at $19.95.

Photo By Larry Dalton

If 20 bucks is too much to spend on yourself, head on back to the dollar store. There you’ll find the single weirdest Christmas decoration ever, a Santa that must be seen to be believed. Labeled only as “Bendy Tabletop Decoration,” this seemingly drunken, faceless pile of wire and cloth lists helplessly to the right, providing a perplexing centerpiece for your holiday feast. If nothing else, you can keep the little ones confined to the kids’ table with this bad boy. They won’t be able to stand the grown-up area for long with his soulless, tangled beard facing them down.

The dollar store (and everywhere else that is open in the month of December) offers other simple but effective decorating standards: Santa hats and stockings. They’re a dollar each and positioned every six feet in every aisle of the store, prompting the toughest of choices: toilet paper or Santa hat? You may have edged out the cat food, Santa, but we all need to wipe with something.

For even more holiday cheer, holiday-music compilations offer the potential for a nonstop nightly carol block from Thanksgiving through Christmas. You’ll never get tired of the same 10 to 20 songs, if they are rendered in endless variations. There are carols performed by squeaky boys choirs, stately symphonies and everything in between. You can have yourself a New Age Christmas, a vocal jazz Christmas or even a techno Christmas.

Some albums stand out by name alone. Though Boney James is a respected musician otherwise, Boney’s Funky Christmas probably isn’t the best idea for a title. And who among us cried out for the Slow Jams Christmas collection to the point that it’s warranted three volumes and counting? When getting intimate with a lady friend by a roaring fire, Right Stuff Records, it doesn’t help to hear the O’Jays wishing us a merry Christmas, thank you very much.

Your standard famous folks get in on the Christmas act this time of year, too: Christina Aguilera, Chris Isaak, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett—even the Brian Setzer Orchestra butchers a few tunes in the name of commerce, which brings us full circle, back to the aforementioned Regis Philbin Christmas Album. Here’s hoping his bad-William Shatner-impression voice moves enough units to keep the eggnog flowing. That should be no trouble, since Philbin’s album had peaked at number 83 on the Billboard Music Charts as of press time.

The exhaustive hunt for holiday waste has yielded many questions. What poor soul could possibly enjoy hearing Donald Trump fire a reindeer on Philbin’s disc? And, more importantly, why does all this stuff exist? Perhaps corporations assume that since everyone probably has to buy something around Christmas, we will go on a materialistic feeding frenzy, snapping up everything red-and-white that we can get our candy-cane-sticky hands on.

But doesn’t that just shift the blame from the consumer to the easy target of evil corporations? If rudimentary supply-and-demand theory—and the triumph of the Reg—has taught us anything, it’s that somebody out there is buying all this stuff. It would stand to reason that we’re not far off from turkey-shaped chew toys on Thanksgiving, candy-and-sock gift packs on Halloween, and plastic dancing endangered species singing “Where have all the flowers gone?” for Earth Day. And, frankly, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. Ho, ho, ho indeed.