Tag Archives: Holidays

The Annual Holiday Letter

Dear Friends and Family . . . [oh boy, I can’t even get past the salutation without a dilemma. “Friends and Family” or “Family and Friends?” Better lead with “Family” unless I want to tick off our Italian relatives.]

Dear Family and Friends,

Merry . . . [almost forgot, the Weinsteins are on our mailing list] . . . Season’s Greetings! We hope our Annual Holiday Letter finds you and your families . . . [hmm, Frank’s cousin Gilda never married and I don’t want to send her into another tailspin of depression] . . . finds you happy and healthy . . . [Uncle George was just diagnosed with diverticulitis] . . . happy and mentally stable . . . [definitely doesn’t apply to our family] . . . happy and with all of your teeth . . . [darn it, Uncle George again] . . . happy and prosperous . . . [Frank’s college roommate just had his car repossessed] . . . happy and human [close enough.]

This year has been an eventful one for our family. After those greedy blood-sucking scoundrels at Green and Green laid Frank off . . . [hmm, might come off a tad bitter.] After nine years as a successful litigator [he did win that one case, after all] with Green and Green, Frank was offered a prestigious new position [mail boy with potential for promotion if Frank brings in some clients] with The Law Offices of Bernie Slawitschka.

When Frank isn’t busy with high profile mergers and acquisitions, he’d love to carve out a bit of time for family and friends. So please call him now at 1-555-SO-SUE-ME, if your breast implants are crooked [my sister,] you’re going bankrupt [Frank’s college roommate,] or you got another speeding ticket [Grampa.] Or feel free to stop by – the offices are located just above Izzy’s Body Piercing Emporium on 13th and Vine – ring at the back entrance by the dumpsters and bring cash only.

Our son, Buddy, 19 [aka “Bed Head,”] still lives at home while he patiently awaits various college acceptance letters [it is called “Acme Online Small Appliance Repair College” after all] while using his gap year [parole] to gain valuable experience in the carnival sciences [that’ll explain why he’s been the Caterpillar operator at Bob’s Amusements since getting his GED.]

It took a bit of convincing, but Frank and I have finally decided to allow Suzie, 16, [here goes nothing] to pursue her dream of gender reassignment. She’s happy to report that hormone therapy has enabled her to grow sideburns, and she’s almost saved enough money from weekend caddying for her surgery. Oh, and she now prefers to be called “Floyd.”

And our little munchkin, Robbie, 11 [aka “Lucifer,”] has made explosive progress [thank God that Molotov cocktail he made didn’t detonate in the cafeteria] since being identified as “delayed” by his teachers. He has advanced so much in his Industrial Arts class, where he recently constructed a missile launcher out of nothing but our gas grill [charcoal is better anyway] and the neighbor’s lawn mower [so relieved they agreed to drop the charges,] that his doctor has agreed to reduce his meds if there are no other incidents at school.

Pickles, our miniature poodle-blood hound mix, continues to bring joy [incessant barking] and constant companionship [we can’t leave him alone or he’ll eat all our shoes] to our lives, so we have finally agreed to forgive him for the tragic death of our beloved cat, Hairball.

As for me, [better make this good] I continue to fulfill my life by donating to charity [daily purchases at the Salvation Army Thrift Store] but am excited to announce that our home will soon be profiled on the hit show “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” I plan to use the proceeds from the show to fund my creepy doll collection and penchant for boxed wine.

We love [gross exaggeration] and miss [like a hangnail] you all and invite you to come visit us at any time [we’ll just turn the lights out and hide like we do on Halloween.] Have a wonderful holiday and a terrific new year!

Frank, Buddy, Floyd, Robbie, Pickles and Me.

[Done. Now where is that boxed wine?]

The Morning After

Reluctantly, an eyelid peels open and groggily squints at the blurred morning. I try to swallow, but can only smack my lips together dryly. Confused at first, my sluggish brain begins to recollect the events of the previous day. Oh yea, Christmas.

Finding my other slipper sock wedged between the sleeping dog and the bathtub, I shuffle my way to the kitchen for coffee. Passing through the family room, I kick a ball of crumpled wrapping paper out of the way and tread over scattered pine needles.

My sock sticks to something spilled and dried on the kitchen floor, and as I look down, I notice a half-eaten chocolate chip cookie peeking out from under the stove. Ugh, I don’t care if I ever eat another one of those again in my life.

The coffee is lukewarm. The two-hour timer kicked off a half hour ago, and I notice that the microwave clock reads 10:23 am.  The poor dog, I need to take him out, I realize, but then recall that he had binged on new dog treats the night before and was probably still sleeping it off.

As I sip from my cup, I glance bleary-eyed around the room.

Wrapping paper and ribbon are everywhere.  At first, I tried to maintain control, telling the kids to put the paper in a trash bag after each present was opened and the bows in a box to be reused. But soon, everyone was under the influence of Christmas Day and could not be responsible for their actions.

Unmatched halves of shirt boxes are on chairs, tables, and under the piano.  A new sweater I gave my husband is crumpled beside his lounge chair, covered in what seems like a thousand wires he had to untwist to free a new Polly Pocket speedboat from its packaging.

I contemplate cleaning up the mess, but decide I will need a lot more coffee, and plop down into the chair to wait for the caffeine to take effect.  Even the poor tree looks tired – the angel is cocked sideways and I count three burned out bulbs on the drooping branches.

Despite the pile of rubble before me, I must admit, the days before had been fun.

We fought the crowds at the mall, while listening to Johnny Mathis crooning “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” in the background. We filled our shopping carts with hams, chocolate chips, cream cheese, candy canes and tiny loaves of pumpernickel bread.

We attended four parties and threw one ourselves. As always, my husband and I made fools of ourselves on the dance floor at his office’s annual holiday shindig, and regrettably, someone snapped a photo of me doing a sad version of the Cabbage Patch dance that went out of style in 1987.

We had survived on cocktail meatballs, cookies and hot dip for nearly a week. Thanks in large part to guzzling eggnog, my blood was coursing with a fresh supply of excess fat and cholesterol, and the mere thought of licking another candy cane caused my insulin levels to surge.

We sang the Christmas carols we’d been singing our whole lives, and screwed up the words like we do every year. We watched our favorite movies – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (my husband’s favorite), The Polar Express (the kids’ favorite,) and It’s a Wonderful Life (my favorite) – and I cried like I always do when Clarence gets his wings. 

We stuffed ourselves with stuffed mushrooms and beef tenderloin before stuffing ourselves into the car to go to Christmas Eve Mass. I got a little misty during the Christmas pageant, and my husband got a little sleepy during the homily.

The kids woke us early on Christmas morning, not realizing that we had been up until 2 am wrapping, and tore into the gifts whose purchase price would surprise us on our next credit card bill. We gave until all had been given, then lazed the day away in our pajamas.

It was fun. Too much fun.

Too much spending, too much charging, too much shopping. Too much decorating, too much electricity, too much popcorn popping.

Too much eating, too much drinking, too much baking. Too much giving, too much getting, too much taking.

Too much partying, too much dancing, too much singing. Too much wrapping, too much mailing, too much bell ringing.

Too much merriment, too much joy, too much love. Too much fortune, too much blessing from God above.

Getting up from the recliner for a second cup of coffee, I realize that I am not only ready to face the aftermath of the excesses of Christmas, I am suddenly grateful for it all. 

As I trudge back over the pine needles and wrapping paper, I silently say a little prayer, thanking God for giving us so much.

Too much.

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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!

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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