Tag Archives: Christmas

The calm before the holiday storm

holiday chaosAs you pop that fun-sized candy bar you just rummaged from your kid’s dwindling Halloween booty into your gullet, consider this:

You only have two weeks left.

Two weeks before the grocery store starts looking more like a Caligula-era Coliseum, when otherwise mild-mannered citizens try to scratch each other’s eyes out and grocery carts become crashing chariots in an epic battle just to get that last can of pumpkin on the shelf.

Two weeks, before your sister-in-law passive-aggressively implies that her stuffing recipe is better than yours. Two weeks, before your father complains about the Thanksgiving sleeping arrangements. Two weeks, before you have to inspect the fire extinguisher in case Uncle Pete starts another grease fire while frying the turkey.

Two weeks, before your wallet begins it’s annual hemorrhage, as you fall prey to holiday shopping pressures, buying a gift for every Tom, Dick, Harry and school janitor. Two weeks, before you have to feel guilty, because you bought yourself two pairs of shoes and a handbag while out shopping for Aunt Gertrude.

Two weeks, before your neighborhood begins an earlier-than-ever home decorating extravaganza, attempting to turn your street into the Las Vegas Strip. Two weeks, before everyone wraps their houses in more twinkle lights than the Andromeda Galaxy, lines their sidewalks with plastic decor, and fills their front yards with giant blow up snow globes.

Two weeks, before little kids you don’t recognize, but who claim to be from your neighborhood, and who won’t take “no” for an answer, show up on your doorstep asking you to buy rolls of wrapping paper, tubs of cookie dough, tins of caramel corn, cans of ham, jars of scented candles, kitchen gadgets, poinsettias and wreaths.

Two weeks, before you open the mailbox to find piles of holiday cards containing three-page update letters chronicling every significant and insignificant event in the lives of people – and pets — you have not seen in years. Two weeks, before you have to juggle multiple invites to family holiday parties, school holiday parties, work holiday parties, neighborhood holiday parties, cookie exchanges, secret Santa gift exchanges, elementary school holiday choral concerts, high school holiday drama productions, and middle school holiday band concerts (ear plugs not included).

Two weeks, before you find yourself stumbling through life in a leftover turkey tryptophan haze. Two weeks, before your body begins its slow transformation from reasonably unhealthy to alarming levels of egg nog induced cholesterol and Christmas cookie induced diabetes. Two weeks, before your rapidly expanding thighs cause so much friction, you fear you might spontaneously combust if you walk too fast while wearing your favorite corduroys.

Just. Two. Weeks.

With such a short time left before the chaos begins, use this petit repose to preemptively rest, relax, and brace for the inevitable holiday onslaught we all know is just around the corner.

Reduce your home décor to a tranquil minimum – throw your skeletons back in the closet and your gnat-infested jack-o-lanterns in the trash. Let your intestines rest up for the impending month-long holiday smorgasbord by eating light meals that are easily digestible. Avoid holiday newspaper inserts, commercials, emails offering shop-early discounts, and those gaudy in-store displays that went up before Halloween was even over.

As for me, I plan to resist any urge to shop, decorate, celebrate, overindulge, photograph, or wear novelty sweaters. Instead, I’m going to hibernate with my family of five in our little base house, and be thankful for the peace and quiet while it lasts.

I’ll take heed. I’ll take stock. I’ll take two weeks — and I won’t call anyone in the morning.

The Holiday Games

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My December column in Military Spouse Magazine!

Ah, the holidays — that wonderful time of year, when selfish materialism and greed are banished as we ring in The Season of Giving.

Right? . . . Well, not quite.

While it’s true that even Scrooge himself can’t resist gift giving during this time of year, there’s a persistent evil lurking at holiday get-togethers and office parties. It tempts us, taunts us, and threatens to turn us all into ruthless criminals.

What, pray tell, is this wicked presence which endangers our merriment?

THE WHITE ELEPHANT GIFT EXCHANGE, of course.

Otherwise known as a “Yankee Swap,” “Parcel Pass,” or “Dirty Santa,” this apparently innocent holiday game rouses merciless thievery and coldblooded materialism in even the most virtuous of participants. But do not fear! It is possible to keep from getting sucked into the criminal maelstrom, as long as you keep your wits about you.

As you walk into the holiday gathering, you will most certainly be drawn in by sparkly decorations and twinkling lights. Remember — you are a human being, not a ferret. Do not get distracted by shiny objects and lose all sense of morality!

Before the competition begins, you will engage in enjoyable chitchat with your fellow attendees. It will seem like loads of fun, and you might even chuckle. Get a hold of yourself! Never lose sight of the fact that the people you are nattering away with are about to rob you blind.

As you mingle, you will be enticed by celebratory cocktails, tasty finger foods, fancy-schmancy cookies, and the Holiday Party Staple – red and green M&Ms. Go ahead and feast – you will need your strength, after all – but beware of overindulgence which might cloud your thinking.

At some point, the host will ask you to gather around for the gift exchange. As the first few people open their chosen gifts, others will utter friendly “oohs” and “ahhs,” and everyone will undoubtedly remain civil at this early stage of the game.

Don’t be fooled by the jovial ambiance! As more merchandise is revealed, eyes will dart, mouths will water, and brains will calculate odds as the participants begin to silently strategize.

During the fourth or fifth turn, someone will nervously propose “stealing” an already opened gift. This timid suggestion is all it will take to shatter the courteous atmosphere, giving way to what will soon become a bloodthirsty battle. Participants, who have been repressing their competitive fervor, will soon burst into sputtering chants of “STEAL! STEAL!” Holiday merriment will turn into hectic mayhem as the scene becomes reminiscent of a Roman Coliseum.

The partygoer-turned-thief will rise to her feet and lunge at the desired gift, seizing it from her prey as the crowd erupts in hoots and applause. The victim of the theft will seethe with vengeance and plot her revenge.

As the snarling guests mercilessly snatch gifts from each other, the host, in an effort to maintain some semblance of order, might offer, “Now, remember everyone, a gift is dead after it’s stolen three times.” But the mere mention of “death” will only ignite more savagery in an already depraved scene. Contestants may murderously shout, “It’s DEAD!” and the crowd will gnash their teeth as if a bloody carcass has been dragged back to the den.

When all the gifts have been killed, reality will dawn upon the guests. They will realize that they just jeopardized friendships, offended co-workers, and engaged in quasi-criminal behavior for a boysenberry scented candle, snowman ornament, or reindeer chip-n-dip platter that could be purchased for $10-20 at any Exchange.

Still, what fun would a holiday gift exchange be without the thrill of theft, murder and mayhem? So, remember folks: steal the gift you want before it dies, mercilessly exact your revenge, and have a very Happy Holiday!

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TIPS for making a White Elephant Gift Exchange even more fun:

  • Propose a theme. Rather than leaving the field wide open to anything from auto parts to lip gloss, narrow the choices to items such as holiday ornaments, holiday entertaining, kitchen items, books, or (my all time favorite) fashion accessories!
  • Bring a “Hidden Treasure” gift. Wrap up some old thing that no one would want, such as an ugly hat or outdated DVD, and keep quiet as the guests avoid your gift. At the end, tell the seemingly unlucky recipient that something is hidden inside, and watch guests’ reactions as she unveils a gift card or trendy jewelry!
  • Be specific about the cost of the gifts. If you set vague parameters such as “around 20 bucks” or “at least $10” guests might worry that they haven’t spent as much as everyone else. It’s better to tell everyone up front to spend, for example, $15 – no more, no less.
  • Throw in a “dud” gift. The poor slob who ends up with the 8-track tape of KC and the Sunshine Band, the hideous embroidered holiday sweater vest, or the old fruitcake will feel like a loser for sure. But add an ironic twist by awarding the loser a special bonus prize at the end like a bottle of wine or centerpiece!
  • The Annual Lazarus gift – if your group has a white elephant exchange every year, it is fun to have a recurring nonsense gift. The one who ends up with the Lazarus will have the honor of keeping it until next year’s party, so it is fun to make this gift a bizarre display piece such as a singing trout plaque, a scary clown figurine, or velvet Elvis painting.

 

Merry Christmas and may 2013 bring a heaping helping of Meat and Potatoes to all!

 

Do you see what I see?

IMG_4584 2Ever since the Navy ordered us to live in sunny Florida, I just can’t seem to locate it. I keep waiting for Marley to show up at my bedroom door, but where will I find Christmas Spirit in the meantime?

Growing up in idyllic small-town western PA, finding Christmas Spirit was easy. All I needed to do was climb onto my mock-brass twin bed with the Kliban Cat sheets, scratch a peephole out of the intricate frost that had formed overnight, and stare out at the Currier and Ives winter wonderland right outside my window.

No effort on my part was required — it was involuntary, automatic, purely intrinsic to my circumstance. With dissolved candy canes coursing through my veins, I’d grab the parka handed down from my brother, and my Steeler cap (a Western PA requirement), and head for the hill behind our house. The kids in our neighborhood would sled, ruthlessly pelt each other with snowballs, and eat gritty icicles broken off the gutters until our numb faces could not feel the snot running out of our noses, which were in imminent danger of becoming gangrenous.

With a warm sludge of hot cocoa and fresh baked cookies in my belly, I’d thaw before a roaring fire, staring up at the hazardously hot but beautifully bright lights on our tree. There was one bulb in particular, a transparent magenta screw-in candlestick bulb, which seemed to emit pure saturated pink splendor, infinitely refracted by sparkling silver tinsel. I was hypnotized by its magical brilliance and spilling over with joy, anticipation and awe.

I didn’t look for it – The Spirit of Christmas found me, drew me in, captured me. I was helpless to fight it and gladly surrendered.

But here I sit in a Starbucks in North Florida in December. Despite the fact that they insist on keeping the central air at a frigid sixty-odd degrees, and I’m surrounded by trendy holiday decor, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

After I get my vente latte’s worth of free Wi-Fi, I’ll go out into the sub-tropical 70s Florida winter and head for my minivan. I won’t have to put on a coat, or scrape any ice off my windshield. I’ll drive home on roads clear of rock salt and ash. At home, I might open the windows to let the ocean breeze in. Maybe I’ll take the dog for a walk on the beach. Or maybe I’ll just sun myself in the back yard.

Woe is me….

I’m not quite sure how these Floridians can take it! If the Christmas Spirit is not going to find me down here, then I’ll just have to recreate it for myself.

First, I’ll turn the AC down until my nose starts to run, then I’ll blast “Let It Snow!” on a continuous loop. I’ll double up on deodorant and put on a wool sweater and boots. I’ll cut out paper snowflakes until my fingers bleed, bake a million chocolate chip cookies, and string miles of popcorn. I’ll make our artificial tree glisten with the magical electricity of a thousand LED lights, and in the absence of a fireplace, I’ll set the house ablaze with dozens of pine scented candles. And then, I’ll hang candy canes on every…

Wait just a minute here.

As I sit in this trendy coffee shop buzzing with flip flop and Ray-ban adorned Floridians, I wonder if I need to rethink this. I hear the ring of the cash register and realize that it sounds a little like jingle bells. I sip my latte, and smell a hint of cinnamon. I suddenly notice the cranberry red hue of the Florida Seminoles t-shirt worn by the man sitting next to me. And then, I look up at the trendy pendant light hanging overhead. I hadn’t noticed before, but the blue of its cobalt shade is mesmerizing.

“Merry Christmas,” the strange man in the cranberry Seminoles shirt utters as he gets up from our shared table to leave, snapping me out of my hypnotic gaze. In that moment, I realize that the Christmas Spirit comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, locations and climates, but I had been too clouded by my own memories to see it.

“Merry Christmas to you, too!” I eagerly reply to the festive gentleman, happy to have finally seen the light.

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A Christmas Carol, Redux

Thanksgiving was over, to begin with.

For some reason, my sports watch alarm went off at midnight, waking me from a strange dream, in which I was unable to run from a monster, molded from leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy dripping from its outstretched arms, due to the weight of my own enormous thighs.

I started to drift off again, when a form suddenly appeared at the foot of my bed. She wore a floor-length polyester red and green plaid skirt, a white ruffled blouse with huge tab collar, a crocheted vest, and a Christmas tree pin.

“Hi, like, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past, and I’m here to take you on, like, a pretty decent trip back to the 1970s,” the apparition said while twirling a segment of her long hair. No sooner did I grasp the ghost’s braided macramé belt than we were whisked on metal roller skates to the home of my youth.

It was about two weeks before Christmas 1974, and my mother was preparing her shopping list while my brother and I decorated the Christmas tree with silver tinsel, careful not to rest the tiny plastic strips on the bubble lights, which might burn the house down if we were not careful.

My mother’s list included the names of our little family, along with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. She had saved enough in her Christmas account to buy fruitcake, tea towels, Avon perfume, Barbis, Tonka trucks, and decorative tins of ribbon candies.

Although my brother and I loved to go downtown to see shops decorated with lights and mechanical elves, we begged to stay home so we would not miss the new Rankin Bass special, “The Year Without a Santa Clause,” which our console television might pick up if the antennae were turned just right.

My mother agreed to put off shopping one more day. Instead, she wrote out her twelve Christmas cards and served us cocoa in Santa mugs with cookies, which we were disappointed to find contained prunes, raisins, molasses, mincemeat, anise, or some other objectionable ingredient. Nevertheless, we lay contentedly on the green shag rug listening to a Burl Ives record, gazing up at our tree and its Styrofoam egg carton star.

I reached out, trying in vain to re-experience my youth, but was wrenched from my trance when a bubble light scorched my arm. “Ouch!” I exclaimed, and was abruptly heaped upon my own bed, surrounded by nothing but the dark night and a faint tapping sound.

There, seated on my bed, I saw the second apparition, her thumbs poking away at an iPhone. She glanced at me and said, “Hey, how’s it going. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present, but hold on a sec, I have to answer this.”

Finally, the specter finished texting and proclaimed, “Alrighty, touch my yoga pants and let’s do this thing, because I’ve got carpool duty in a couple hours.” I grabbed her spandex waistband and was transported to scenes of unimaginable Christmas chaos.

First, we saw the three-page Christmas list I made right after Halloween, which included gifts for the school lunch ladies, Anna’s ukulele instructor, the seven neighbors we like and the three we don’t but can’t leave off the list for fear of inciting neighborhood drama.

Next, we joined a stampede of Black Friday shoppers, all poised to pepper spray each other over the last X Box 360 at Walmart. The Spirit took me to Starbucks, where we paid $5 for a Mocha Peppermint Chai Tea and $300 for gift cards for the kids’ teachers. Then we dashed home to type, print and mail out 150 copies of the annual family Christmas letter, replete with exaggerated superlatives about the kids and the daily activities of our dog.

Then, we ate, and ate, and ate. Everything from gallons of hot dip to platters of cookies packed with peanut butter chips, candy chunks, marshmallows and M&Ms. We washed it all down with cartons of egg nog which, according to the sell-by date, would still be edible come Valentine’s Day.

Finally, the Ghost dropped me in front of our HDTV virtual fireplace glowing beside our artificial tree with its economical LED lights. Exhausted, I pleaded, “Have mercy! Haunt me no more!”

Just then, a figure approached from the shadows. “Are you the Ghost of Christmases yet to come?!” I yelped in fear. The apparition only nodded and handed me a small high tech device. With a swipe, I activated a life-sized holographic Christmas tree. A second click started microwaving a frozen Christmas Tofurkey dinner with all the vegan fixins. In mere nanoseconds, I sent personalized Christmas video messages to friends of friends of friends on Facebook.

But then, the Spirit pointed a long finger at the futuristic device. On the screen appeared countless images of people sitting alone in the dark clicking buttons on Christmas. “Oh, no Spirit!” I cried, “I will heed these lessons and honor Christmas in my heart!”

I awoke in my own bed, and rushed excitedly down the stairs, shouting to my daughter, “Turn off that virtual fireplace before you dot another i, Lillian Molinari!” To my husband I demanded, “Off with you to the Winn Dixie for the fattest turkey in the freezer case!” I ripped up my three-page shopping list, put on my Sinatra holiday CD, and resolved to keep Christmas well.

The Spirits taught me that Christmastime needs balance. I shouldn’t go overboard and complicate the holiday with obligation, commercialism, and stress. I should spend less time at the stores or in front of the computer, and more time with family and friends. I must never allow the gifts, food, and decorations to overshadow the real reason for the season.

And lest I forget, God Bless Us, Every One!

A Time for Hope, Cheer, and Ruthless Criminal Behavior

During this season of giving, people everywhere are transformed. The Spirit of Christmas inspires generosity, compassion and joy in us all. But sometimes, in the midst of all this merriment, mania causes our personalities to swing wildly in the other direction, resulting in violence, theft, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What, pray tell, could cause such extreme behavior, you say?  Why would any decent person want to hurt others at Christmas time? What could ignite cruelty during a spiritual season such as this?

The answer is simple: The White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Otherwise known as a “Yankee Swap,” “Parcel Pass,” or “Dirty Santa,” this apparently innocent holiday game rouses merciless thievery and selfish materialism in even the most virtuous of participants.

Case in point: Last week, my bunco group got together for our monthly game and a white elephant ornament exchange. Most members shopped beforehand, picking out something unique, handmade or artistic.

The class clown in me always goes for the laugh, so I couldn’t resist when I saw glass blown German ornaments shaped like acorns and walnuts. I bought one of each, envisioning the hysterical laughter that would erupt when, as the recipient opened my ornaments, I would blurt out, “Who doesn’t like a nice pair of nuts at Christmas?”

We arrived at the hostess’ apartment at the designated hour and placed our tiny packages under her sparkling tree. Wine glasses filled, chit chat ensued, and we were all enjoying the friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

An hour into the night, we were filling up on hot dip and red and green M&Ms, when the hostess called us into the living room to start the ornament exchange.  Light laughter and conversation continued as we casually plopped onto couches and chairs.

We had no idea of the carnage that was about to befall our group.

After some flimsy debate over who should pick first, our hostess announced, “Ok, ladies, why don’t we go in alphabetical order, according to the first letter of our middle names.”

Three women claiming some derivation of the name “Ann” went first, and they each picked from the wrapped gifts under the tree.

One by one, they gently unraveled the tissue paper from around their chosen ornament. Eyes darted around the room and lips muttered as brains calculated. Just seconds before, we were more interested in idle chit chat and cranberry cream cheese spread, but now that merchandise was being revealed, we began to silently strategize.

Suddenly, our casual attitude toward the parameters of the game changed, and questions arose.

“Hey, by middle name, are we talking about God-given names or what we use now?” I asked when I realized that it would be better to use my original middle name, Lynne. Why didn’t I consider gift exchange strategy when I decided to keep my maiden name after getting married? Stupid, I thought.

“No, it has to be the name you are using now,” another wife interjected, adamantly.

With some grumbling, the game continued. After four or five women selected from under the tree, the rest of us considered our options: a plastic reindeer standing on an ice cube, two adorable hand-made wooden ornaments, a tiny cuckoo clock replica, an intricately painted German ornament, or one of the unwrapped gifts under the tree.

Hmm…

Suddenly someone cried “Steal!” and our mouths began to water. “Yea, it’s no fun if we all just pick from the wrapped gifts, you’ve got to steal!” I added, wiping the spittle from my chin.

A chant ensued, “Steal! Steal! Steal!” as the designated woman rose from her seat. A tiny grin could be seen on her face as she lunged toward a wooden ornament, snatching it from her victim. We all erupted in hoots and applause, as if the living room had just turned into a Roman Coliseum.

Seething with vengeance, the victim of the ruthless theft plotted her revenge.

The scene quickly turned from one of holiday merriment to hectic mayhem, as my bunco group turned into an unruly mob.

As the snarling women snatched ornaments, our host tried to maintain order. “Now, remember ladies, the gift is dead after it is stolen three times.”

But the mere mention of “death” only seemed to ignite more savagery.

The last woman to steal shouted, “It’s DEAD, it’s DEAD!” in a murderous rage, and we all gnashed our teeth as if she was carrying a bloody carcass back to the den.

The final victim had no choice; she had to pick the lone gift left under the tree. It was the acorn and walnut ornaments I had brought, and as she revealed them, I weakly offered my “pair of nuts” joke. The women, still wounded from battle, could only force a few bogus chuckles.

As we said goodnight, I realized that we had just had an epic war over silly stuff that we could purchase for less than $10 in any local store. But what fun would that be, without the thrill of theft, murder and mayhem in the midst of delicious cookies and twinkle lights?

So remember folks: steal the gift you want before it dies, avoid the duds, mercilessly exact your revenge, and have a very Merry Christmas!

Ow, Christmas Tree!

My hands look like they’ve been hit by shrapnel. The Persian rug is imbedded with sawdust, pine needles and sticky spots of sap. The trunk of our Christmas tree, which can be clearly seen through the sparse branches, is warped in the middle.

That’s what I get for telling my husband to pick out the tree without me this year.

I had the perfect day planned. The neighborhood looked like a winter wonderland with fluffy white snow stuck to every surface. Neighbors merrily buzzed about, bundling kids for sledding and stocking up on holiday provisions.

My husband, Francis, and our son met the Boy Scout troop early to help with the annual Christmas tree sales event, and mid-morning, I walked our dog to the lot to check up on them.

The scene was sweet: twinkle lights draped, music playing, kids savoring candy canes, a fire crackling. Dads could be heard wishing customers a “Merry Christmas” as uniformed boys loaded trees onto cars.

Whatever “cockles” are, mine were warmed.

“Hi, Honey! Did you get us a good tree?” I inquired. “Sure did, you wanna see it?” he offered, excitedly. 

As Francis opened the back of our minivan, the smell of fresh pine tickled my nose. “Looks good, Hon,” I said without much thought.

On the walk home, I ran the afternoon plan through my head: bring decorations up from basement, put up tree, make hot cocoa, set up Lionel train, play Christmas music while whole family decorates, gaze at tree while snuggled up in family room. I love this time of year.

An hour later the boys came home, brought the wrapped tree up to our apartment and started to put the stand on the trunk. 

Francis has never been handy, and moments like these are always a bit tense. 

Sensing he needed assistance, I grabbed the top of the tree. “Ow!” I wailed, looking down at four tiny pin holes in my thumb. “What kind of tree is this, anyway?”

“I don’t know…a fir, a spruce, how the heck do I know,” Francis stammered.

Wearing gloves, we secured the tree in its stand and began to lift.

“Uh oh,” I said when the tree was at ten o’clock.

“What?” Francis barked, nervously.

“It’s not going to fit. How tall is this thing, anyway?”

“I don’t know…but we have high ceilings, right?” 

“No, Hon, we have low ceilings, remember?” I said, trying to remain calm.

I instructed Francis on where to find our saw. He hates tools, and refers to hardware stores as “haunted houses,” so home repairs are generally handled by me. But in the spirit of holiday tradition, and while the kids were watching, we thought it best to not reverse conventional gender roles.

My husband emerged from our basement with a saw and stood, befuddled, over our tree.

I’d seen this look on his face a thousand times, and knew exactly what it meant: he had no clue what to do. 

Quickly measuring the tree and ceiling heights, I declared, “According to my calculations, you need to cut off one foot eight inches, plus four more so the angel will have some headroom.”

Francis took a step toward the top of the tree, poking out from the netted wrap.

“No! Not from the top!”

Wincing, I held the spiky middle while Francis timidly sliced at the barbed trunk. A few painful minutes later, the bottom of the tree surrendered, and we were able to get the remainder upright in the family room.

“It looks so small now,” our son observed as we gawked at the maimed tree before us in a pile of sawdust and needles. “And it’s crooked too.”

We ascertained that the top of the tree grew at a slight angle from the rest of the trunk, so we resolved to disguise the problem with as many lights as possible. It took another hour to untangle the massive snarl of wires we found in the basement, which only produced two working strings of lights.

Francis haphazardly threw (the tree was too painful to touch) the lights over the scrawny branches, while I went to the basement to scrounge up some more.

“Are we ever gonna put the ornaments on?” our youngest whined for the thousandth time. After drowning their disappointment in several mugs of hot cocoa, the kids finally abandoned us and ran off to play.

Around five-o-clock, I had sufficiently disguised our crooked tree with four strands of mismatched lights, but Francis lay on the floor with the train set, emitting various expletives.

Having found the manual too confusing, he randomly stuck straight and curved pieces of track together and jammed frayed wires into the terminal. The train would not budge.

I didn’t want to reinforce Francis’ if-I-screw-this-up-she’ll-fix-it-anyway habit, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened the manual, found the diagram of track configurations, assembled the track in an elongated circle, stripped the wires to expose fresh copper, inserted the wiring into the correct terminal, made sure the wheels were properly positioned, turned on the power, and away she went like the wind. 

Exhausted by the fiasco, I ordered Chinese take away for dinner. 

“Great job with the train, Dad,” our middle child said as she crunched into a spring roll.

“And the tree looks terrific, too, Dad,” our son offered with a mouthful of rice.

“Yea, thanks Dad!” our youngest exclaimed as she threw her arms around Francis’ neck.

“You’re quite welcome, kids,” my husband said with a wink, “that’s what dads are for.”

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Commercialism? Humbug!

As I put my skeletons back in the closet (literally) and threw the gnat-infested jack-o-lanterns in the garbage, I was seized by the desire to dig out my ceramic light up Christmas tree and plug it in.

WHAT? Start decorating for the winter holidays before Thanksgiving?  Have I been brainwashed by the evil retail industry? Isn’t it gauche and simple-minded to succumb to the influence of premature in-store displays and television advertising?

But, but… I really want to plug my ceramic Christmas tree in and see the magical glow of its tiny plastic lights.  I don’t care if the kids are still rationing their Halloween candy. I don’t care if I haven’t planned my Thanksgiving side dishes yet.

Christmas is coming soon enough, so should I wait until after Thanksgiving to celebrate just because elitist social commentators say that we are being conditioned by commercialism?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for toning down the Christmas shopping frenzy, which has become replete with obligation and thoughtlessness (a whole other topic) but what’s so bad about celebrating a little early? I say not a thing, and I’ve come up with an impressive list of reasons why:

First: The Sights. Let’s face it — Thanksgiving décor leaves a little something to be desired. This season’s dull browns and golds benefit from a little cheering up with Christmassy cranberry and green.

And who doesn’t like a twinkling light? Unless you have an LED lighted cornucopia or plug in pilgrims with moving parts, you are going to need a few strands of lights and a velvety poinsettia to brighten up your Thanksgiving anyway.

Second: The Tastes. While serving egg nog in November may arguably be taking things too far, turkey and all the trimmings are traditional for both occasions in many households; dishes can be mixed and mingled while respecting the individual holiday customs.

Moreover, I’d bet my Cuisinart that your family won’t protest if you start baking cookies now. Sure, you might gain your holiday weight a little early, but those bulky Christmas sweaters are a great disguise. And besides, the prolonged disgust you will have with your plumpness will give added motivation to stick to your annual New Year’s resolution to lose ten pounds.

Third: The Smells. Indian corn and gourds don’t have much aroma, so unless you are willing to wait to smell the roasting turkey on Thanksgiving day, I suggest baking a little gingerbread or dropping a few cinnamon sticks into your hot toddy. If the tree farms haven’t opened for business, why not light a pine scented candle to awaken the spirit of Christmas?

Fourth: The Sounds. As far as I am aware, there is not a catchy compact disc compilation of Thanksgiving songs by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Neil Sedaka or Barbara Streisand. The only traditional Thanksgiving song known by most Americans is “Over the River and Through the Woods,” a song adapted from a poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844.

What most Americans don’t know is that the song actually contains six stanzas of which only the first two are widely known.  In order to get to the line containing the word “Thanksgiving,” one would need to know the last four stanzas which include virtually unknown phrases such as “To have a first-rate play” and “Trot fast, my dapple gray.”  Most of us start out robustly singing the first two stanzas, then trail off mumbling when we can’t recall the rest of the words. Why suffer that non-crescendo when you can all sing a rousing uninterrupted round of “Jingle Bells?”

Other than the sizzle of the roasting turkey pan juices, I think we can all agree that the Thanksgiving sounds could use a little supplementing.  So slip in a good Christmas CD and tap your toes while you cut the veggies for the relish tray.

When it really boils down to it, Thanksgiving and Christmas have become intermingled in such a way that they can no longer be completely separated. So I say to heck with it. 

The real reason we won’t climb into our musty attics or descend into our moldy basements to retrieve our Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving is because someone has said that doing so would mean we were being indoctrinated by the commercial advertising media. Whether it be some snooty social commentator or the advertising media, we are being told what to do any way you look at it.

Phooey! Not to bring Independence Day into this too, but I say hang your stockings and bake your Russian Teacakes when you damned well please.  Besides, would it be so bad to get your shopping done a little early and actually be able to relax when December rolls around?

Today, I plugged my 1972 ceramic tree in and let out a little gasp as the tiny pegs glowed in all the colors of the rainbow. I stared a while, as my brain tapped into a bank of dusty but fond memories of holidays past. “Oh Christmas Tree” popped into my head and I began to hum. Call it gauche, simple minded, brainwashed or indoctrinated. I call it fun.

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