I grew up in Las Vegas, where it snows once every 10 years, and pretty much never on Christmas. Our family bought real Christmas trees and then sprayed them with aerosol cans of fake snow that smelled suspiciously like mom’s Aqua Net hairspray. Other neighborhood families would decorate their trees with casino chips, doing double duty as ornaments and gifts.

When you’re a kid, Christmas magic is Christmas magic, no matter where you grow up or whatever odd form it might take. I imagine Christmas in Florida is a little bizarre, too. Holly wreaths hanging from the necks of plastic pink flamingos?

As kids, we did occasionally see snow. Las Vegas resides in high desert country, surrounded by arid, brown mountains. In an hour you could be atop Mount Charleston, which not only got real snow but had a small ski area with a rope pull. This is where I learned to ski, dodging bleached blonde snow bunnies in gold lame ski outfits all the way down, occasionally taking out one or two of them.

On holiday vacation, school kids would hang out at the new-concept shopping mall, where you could see some commercial Christmas decorations and maybe an animatronic Santa Claus. The pawnshops downtown, in the shadows of Fremont Street’s neon-bright casinos, were a fun place to shop for Christmas gifts. Not only could you buy used cameras and family jewelry, pawned by lost-their-shirts gamblers, you could find cool switchblades, num-chuks and replica samurai swords. The kind of Christmas gifts my friends and I longed for.

People (like myself) complain about Maine’s harsh winters, replete with blizzards, subzero temps, ice storms and power outages. But honestly, our weather travails pale to those in Las Vegas, where seemingly endless summers promised weeks of hundred-plus-degree days, paint-peeling sandstorms and the occasional flash flood that turned highway underpasses into car-swallowing lakes.

The holidays in the Northeast are like bright, shiny objects that get you through the late fall and early winter months without too much cold-weather angst. In Vegas, the holidays were like surreal fantasy events imported from Los Angeles, our sister big city, adjacent to Disneyland and Hollywood, the movie capital of the world. “Viva Las Vegas” was one of Elvis Presley’s better movies (which isn’t saying much if you’ve seen any of them).

For Christmas I gave my high school girlfriend a night on the town to see a dinner show. The big event was The Fifth Dimension performing at Caesars Palace, where I worked summers as a lifeguard. (The group had a hit version of “Aquarius” from the play “Hair.”) My present from her – a Mormon girl – was a Santana album with the cover model’s bare breasts covered up with a handmade paper doll’s bikini top. Yep, sweet Mormon girl.No, Christmas in Vegas wasn’t exactly your Norman Rockwell experience, like it can be in snowy, traditional Maine. It was different. Weird different? Maybe. But I say, vive la difference! Or better, with apologies to Elvis, Viva Las Vegas!


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