Ok, for starters, you have to know my family is a bit strange. There was a time I thought the things we did were normal, but my wife assured me that “no, normal people don’t do the things you do.” So with that said, I’m going to share a Christmas tradition my brother and I started. But the more I think about it, it’s something that was started well before we were even born.
When we were kids, there was this cassette tape floating around our house. It was a standard blank cassette tape from Radio Shack. Written on the label were the simple words “Soap Opera.” It wasn’t just a soap opera though; it was the Polish Soap Opera. The Polish Soap Opera was a tape my mom, dad, and uncle made when they were in their early 20s, sometime before my parents got married (that’s right, they knew how weird each other were and still got married). It was the story of Stash and Stella who were Polish mushroom pickers. Yes, you read that right. The story was a total of 5 minutes and half of it was fake commercials. It was ridiculous and made no sense to me, but it was pure gold!
As a kid, you always see your parents “adulting.” They are always busy caught up in the routine of their daily lives doing the things grown-ups have to do. Cooking, cleaning, driving the kids all over, being parents and going to work. So for me to hear this younger, uninhibited silly side of my parents, it absolutely blew my mind. And I loved it!
It was a big point of pride for me. When I was getting to know new friends, I would play this for them when they came over (I reminded Aya I played it for her too. And she still married into the family). It wasn’t just me showing them some dumb funny thing my parents did. It was me showing them my family. In some way it was part of my identity.
“Hey, this is my family. This is where I come from. This is me. If you don’t appreciate this, we aren’t going to be friends,” is what I was subconsciously saying.
The Polish Soap Opera was the beginning of what I saw as normal, but it didn’t stop there. My dad enlisted my brother and me for many projects over the years. We filmed puppet shows for my mom for Mother’s Day, made funny audio tapes and other presentations at family gatherings. But Christmas in particular became a platform for my brother and me to showcase a new project.
When I was still in college, my brother and I lived together. He is a high school band director and at that time had access to the school equipment. He had time off for winter break and I had time off at the end of the semester. He wrote an arrangement of Walking in the Air from The Snowman for percussion and we decided we should record it as a gift for my parents. It went over really well, so the next year we recorded The River Bottom Nightmare Band song from Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. After that, things just got ridiculous. We did a Santa Blues song sung from Santa’s perspective, and then we did a Guns ‘n’ Roses parody called Welcome to the North Pole.
After that, my mom decided to get in on it and suggested we make a Christmas zombie movie (yes, you read that right). Which we did, of course. That was the last thing we made, and that was ten years ago. Between kids, school, work, and travel, we hadn’t found the time or motivation to create anything. This year, we decided we should bring back another goofy Christmas presentation.
My family has a thing for Halloween, and my dad especially has a thing for zombies, big foot, and vampires. Long before any of those things were trendy. It’s just the way it is. So we thought we would just combine Halloween and Christmas together and do a variety show hosted by vampires. Not just regular vampires from Transylvania, but vampires from Pennsylvania.
We recorded the VandenBerg Vampire Brother’s Very Scary Christmas Spectacular. It has the ghosts of Christmas past choir, the One-Armed Zombies from Sandusky Ohio performing Sleigh Ride, the Wolfman performing Silent Night, Frankenstein performing The Christmas Song, and Bigfoot singing O’ Holy Night
It’s completely ridiculous and meant for a very small specific audience (ie; my very normal family).
The really special thing for me about this is to see the cycle start over. Ellie and Chloe have been requesting to listen to this all the time. They even have it memorized already. That was me 30 years ago.
I can’t decide if I should be embarrassed or proud to still be making these ridiculous things all of these years later. I thoroughly enjoy the creative process with my brother though. We don’t hang out and watch football. This is what we do. It brings us together. Ridiculous or not, we are creating something with love in our hearts to add to our family legacy. So yeah, I think I’m going to stick with proud.