Throughout their career, Christmas was largely misunderstood; their surreal, sarcastic sense of humor was overlooked by critics who largely didn't get the joke, and poor distribution and promotion of their first two albums kept most potential fans from even discovering them. As a final cosmic joke, their third and best album didn't even get released until well after the group had broken up and re-formed as the equally satirical cocktail lounge hipsters Combustible Edison.
Christmas was formed in Boston in 1983 by Connecticut natives Michael Cudahy (guitar, vocals) and Liz Cox (drums, vocals). Hooking up with bassist Dan Salzmann, the new trio gigged around the Cambridge and Allston club scenes before a friend, Uzi member Phil Milstein, recommended the band to the tiny indie Iridescence Records. The label released the trio's debut single, "The Ballad of the Invisible Girl" backed with "Wilhelm Reich," in 1984. The single led to the trio's appearance on the legendary Massachusetts post-punk compilation Bands That Could Be God, with two new tracks ("One Hundred Million Flowers" and "My Little Book of Lies") alongside efforts by their scene contemporaries Busted Statues, Salem 66, Beanbag, Moving Targets, Sorry, the Outpatients, and Dinosaur Jr. precursors Deep Wound. Somewhat surprisingly, out of all of those worthy bands, Christmas was the only group who wound up with a major-label deal. Big Time Records, a former Australian indie that became RCA Records' alternative subsidiary, signed Christmas in 1985 and released their first album, In Excelsior Dayglo, in 1986. A surprisingly low-key and largely acoustic record with a folk-rock influence that had not been apparent on the trio's earlier recordings, the album emphasized the funnier songs in their repertoire, including the surreal concert favorite "Fish Eye Sandwich."
Unfortunately, like nearly every release on Big Time, In Excelsior Dayglo was hopelessly under-promoted and disappeared almost immediately upon release. Christmas spent some time extricating themselves from the label and suffered a further setback when Salzmann left the group. The remaining twosome drafted Cudahy's brother Nicholas as their new bassist and signed with IRS Records. Their second album, 1989's Ultraprophets of Thee Psykick Revolution, was released to reviews ranging from uncomprehending to downright hostile, but time has shown it to be a more varied and engaging album than the debut, with a sharply satirical wit and much catchier melodies. Unfortunately, it didn't sell very well either, and IRS dropped the group shortly after its release.
The Cudahy brothers and Cox moved from Boston to Las Vegas in late 1989, where the trio discovered the underground cocktail culture that inspired Combustible Edison. However, that innovation didn't happen overnight; after moving back to Boston, Nicholas Cudahy left the band and was replaced by James McNew. The new trio played a few gigs and recorded their third and best album, the mature but still skewed Vortex, in early 1991. No label seemed to be interested in the tapes, however, and when McNew was offered the job of bassist in Yo La Tengo, he took it. Fed up, Cudahy and Cox dissolved Christmas and, with Nicholas Cudahy back in the fold, formed the lounge put-on Combustible Edison. When Yo La Tengo signed with Matador Records in 1993, McNew persuaded labelhead Gerard Cosloy (an old Boston scene buddy who had compiled Bands That Could Be God) to finally release Vortex.