There’s an excellent Czech phrase that sums up my Christmas shopping: “Co není v hlavÄ›, je v nohou.” (If it’s not in your head, it’s in your feet.) That phrase will come in handy the next time you realize you don’t have enough mineral water or booze or butter – or Christmas lights, as was my case.

I spent some quality time in line at the local hypermarket last night remembering that phrase as I waited half an hour in a checkout line that snaked through the aisles, looking around at all the people doing last-minute shopping. Slavs celebrating the birth of a Jewish king by buying goods made in China.

Who are these people? What do they want? I asked myself.

Yeah, but who are you, and what do you want? , the little voice in my head asked me. What does any of us want, after all? The man in front of me in line had a cart full of hockey sticks and booze. The woman behind me – poor soul – had a loaf of bread and some milk.

At one point a particularly brazen teenager came up to me as I was next to the cash register, asking if she could cut in. I tried to summon up my best RuPaul impression and tell her “nu-uh, sister! You’re going to the back of the line!” But all I could muster was a Charlie Brown-ish “uh, I’ve been waiting here a long time.” The girl, whose head must have been 2/3 nose, tried another line.

If you have to wait in an interminable line in a Czech hypermarket at 10 o’clock at night on the night before Christmas, I suppose there are worse places than the CD and DVD section. So I was lucky to be able to browse while shuffling along. As I waited in the line, I tried to put together two lists of Essential Christmas Media, Czech and English.

Essential Czech Christmas media:

  • Chorea Bohemica, “Vanoce s choreou” CD – Period Czech Christmas carols sung by an ensemble with not only good musical sense but a sense of humor as well. Excellent stuff, and their live show is also lovely.
  • Bambini di Praga, “ÄŒeské koledy” CD – Even if their leader is fighting off allegations of pedophilia, you have to admit the CD is really good. It’s like Czech Christmas sweets: Really sweet.
  • Tří oÅ™iÅ¡ky pro popelku DVD- the Cinderella story told with real swing and verve. And if there is ever a better fairytale princess than LibuÅ¡e Å afranková, I’ll eat my hat. The DVD has English subtitles, too.
  • PyÅ¡ná princezna – One of the classic technicolor fairytales. A spoiled princess learns humility by falling in love with a boy she thinks is a servant, but it’s really a prince. It may even be in black and white, but my memories of it are in technicolor.
  • Essential English-language essential Christmas media:

  • The Beach Boys Christmas Album, CD – In a year that finally saw the release of Brian Wilson’s Smile, I still have to put on “Little Saint Nick” when I get homesick.
  • The Sound of Music, DVD – Even if you, like me, believe the sixth circle of hell involves show tunes, this one’ll still get you. At one point in my life, I plan to try schnitzel with noodles, just because.
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer, DVD – J. Otto Seibold’s whimsical book about a dog who thinks she’s a reindeer and has to go to the North Pole is a favorite, and the Drew Barrymore-produced DVD is excellent. While many go for hyper-realistic computer animation, it’s good to see people going in the other direction, toward illustration.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas, DVD – It’s really a shame that Czechs haven’t really been exposed to “Peanuts”. You’ll see Snoopy from time to time – he’s a mascot at one of the malls – but he may as well be Hello Kitty; there’s no connection to anything, just another mascot. Which is a shame, because “A Charlie Brown Christmas” manages to hit the perfect note of melancholy, humor and naivete I feel at this time of year.
  • Finally, it was my turn to pay, and I was greeted by a checkout clerk who looked like she’d been around the block and then had been around the block on her head. But she was the cheeriest, happiest soul, which was a truly pleasant surprise.

    As I fumbled with everything, as is my usual habit at the checkout, she looked me in the eye and said, “you have a the happiest of Christmases.” To which I said, “And you too.”

    “Oh, I already am!” she said, without any irony whatsoever.

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