A Christmas Carol

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God bless us, every one

My feelings regarding the Christmas season are well-known throughout the land, not to mention well documented in these pages. But this year, I promised to turn over a new leaf. A gilded leaf. A leaf from the pear tree that the partridge is sitting in. A leaf which extended my dining table to seat 12.

For the first time ever, we hosted the whole family for Christmas dinner: the Redcoats were coming and the Yanks flew over too. We would mix and mingle tradition, create new ones, and try, ever so valiantly, not to kill one another with passive aggressiveness, the holiday gift that keeps on giving.

I planned on being merry. I planned on being bright. I planned on being as lit up as the Christmas tree by about noon, courtesy of the finer wine my husband usually puts aside until the holidays, the one he assures me I won’t like. My husband is exceedingly generous….unless we’re talking expensive red wine.

When we invited everyone to come and stay with us for the holidays last year I knew couldn’t play Christmas hostess with the most-est if I didn’t put on my Christmas tinted glasses and alter my views to include–if not an actual winter wonderland– then at least a virtual one.

We planned, well in advance. Unpacking after the summer vacation we worked out the menu. By the time the leaves started to change color, we’d gotten the kids to write their wish lists. Extra bedding secured was secured by Halloween, five golden rings bought on sale by Black Friday and ten drummers drumming lined up by mid-December. Ba rump bum bum bum.

Bam! Done and dusted with confectionary sugar and sprinkles. What could go wrong?

There were very minor issues, like the great can-it-really-be-Christmas-without-sprouts? debate which caused my in-real-life friends no end of amusement and offered months worth of mirth and a multitude of sprout jokes at my expense.

The sprouts were a metaphor, you see. When you host a big holiday, it’s not just the food you’re managing. You’re managing expectations as well. When you’re doing it across cultures, even cultures as entwined and related as Brit and American, you’re managing tradition as well. You’ve got to take into consideration all those ghosts of Christmases past.

dinner
Are there sprouts?

My British half is used to Christmas dinner Charles Dickens style. Turkey and trimmings and figgy pudding and possibly a small, polio stricken child in the corner. My Italian-American family traditionally did thirteen fish dishes on Christmas Eve. Linguine and lobster and lots of napkins tucked into your collar and talking with your mouth full. Conveniently, I am allergic to both turkey and as a recent mad dash to the emergency room proved, white fish as well.

Bring on the beef.

The menu change fit in with our plans. It was a Christmas reboot. Learn from the ghosts of Christmas past and use them to reconfigure Christmas present. A little bit of this, a little bit of that: American style mashed potatoes to go with the more traditional English roasted ones. Ice cream sundaes for dessert instead of Christmas pudding, but a full Boxing Day brunch. Throw in some Danish aebleskiver and pakkeleg and Bob Crachit’s your uncle. We were hoping that the proof in the Christmas pudding was that holidays don’t have to be done a specific way in order to be successful; that it is more important to fit everyone around the table than it is to fit the roast beast in the oven. That the ghosts of Christmas past can mingle and mix with the ones of the present and the future and all sit down and have a meal together.

So…did it work?

To tell you the truth, my husband and I were too busy in the kitchen to notice.

Hosting Christmas is hard work. Even when it goes off without a hitch, it’s a lot of preparing and chopping and slicing and dicing and wrapping and planning and bow-ing and be-ribboning. It’s a lot of baking and whipping and mixing and sprinkling, defrosting and in a small oven, military planning as to what is going in at what time. To the point where at several critical junctures, my husband and I were standing at the ready with oven mitts ready to take one pan out to get the next one in.

But…all of that, all of the planning and the cooking and yes, even the ironing of the napkins, allowed, I hope, the opportunity for our extended family to have a relaxing Christmas dinner, to share stories of their own traditions with one another. There was plenty of wine to lubricate the day. There was enough food for lunch and dinner the next day, and ham sandwiches the day after that. And dare I say that the absence of the sprouts didn’t cause too much distress.

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How do you kids feel about Dubai? Good?

It was exhausting. But it was also rewarding to have everyone in one place, enjoying the day. And that, we realized, was the best gift we could give to everyone. It made me appreciate so much more all the holiday dinners planned and executed by my mother and mother-in-law, by my grandmothers, by my sister-in-law. The hosts of Christmases past. Though you can’t wrap that appreciation with a bow and set it under the tree, I hope it is, nonetheless, a lovely gift to carry around.

Later my husband and I nestled all snug in our bed and faced the idea of Christmases future.

We both agreed it would lovely if we could spend the next one with good friends in Dubai.

 

 

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Nine People Yule Meet During the Holidays

Holly's sometimes so jolly you want to punch her.
Holly’s sometimes so jolly you want to punch her.

Jolly Holly. Holly puts her green and rose-colored glasses on before Halloween rolls around. By mid-November she’s decked the halls, the walls, and glitter balled the entire place into a winter wonderland. She is so freaking jolly about donning her gay apparel and rocking around the Christmas tree that sometimes you want to punch her in the throat just to stop the fa la la la las.

PC Pat. From pagan partiers to Kwanzaa carousers, Pat is obsessed with making sure no winter festivity is overlooked. Pat is so careful not to offend that she’s managed to take out not only the Christ out of Christmas but the m, the a, and the s as well. Even songs about snow and snowmen are off limits to Pat lest she offend southern hemisphere dwellers with her assumption of snowflakes and scarves. Despite good intentions, Pat’s run out of room on her Festive Cold Season Wishes card and try as she may, she just can’t seem to get Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Three Kings Day to all, and to all a goodnight to catch on.

Lara the Last Minute Shopper. Every year Lara promises herself it will be different. Every December 1st, Lara swears she won’t wait until the last minute to buy gifts. Every December 23rd Lara finds herself yet again fighting over the last Star Wars Body Wash set and waiting with hundreds of others in hour-long lines to buy the first perfume set she can find and a dented box of salted caramels.

Touch my freaking place settings and I'll sick twelve lords a leaping on you...
Touch my freaking place settings and I’ll sick twelve lords a leaping on you…

Priscilla the Perfectionist Your days will be merry. And bright. Damn it, Priscilla will see to it that all your Christmases are white as well. From turkey with all the trimmings to a table set three days before, Priscilla has a vision and no one, I mean no one, is going to get in her way. She’ll fight you for the frankincense and maim you for the myrrh and woe and behold the shop clerk who tells her they’re out of partridges for her pear tree. Her bells are all silver, her perfume is pine, and she drives herself and everyone around her batty with never attainable vision of the perfect Christmas.

Ellie the Early Bird. The opposite of Lara, Ellie starts stock piling holiday goodies on December 27…for the following year. Marked down gift wrap? Ellie’s got twelve. Scarf and hat sets? She’ll take three, thank you very much. By the end of January Ellie has most of the next year’s shopping done. By August, she’s got everything wrapped and ready to go. By November, she can’t remember what she bought or where she’s stashed it.

Dora the Donator. Dora only wants donations to be made in lieu of gifts. She adheres to a strict no gifting policy for her kids and is rigid in her insistence that the holidays are about helping and giving and not receiving. Instead of gifts, her children help in homeless shelters and collect donations for those in need. Her social media feed is full of links to donate, how to help, and the inner glow that comes from the spirit of giving. Like Pat, Dora means well, but she gets too caught up in cutting the rainforest to save the Christmas tree she forgets that sometimes giving and receiving go hand in hand.

Scratch-ticket Stace. Stace doesn’t stress. Stace doesn’t fret. Stace has one go-to-gift for everyone from her grandma to her mail carrier. One stop at the convenience store, a bag full of dollars and a dream and Stace’s holiday shopping is done and dusted.

Did I tell you about that time under the tree?
Did I tell you about that time under the tree?

Christine, the Christmas Party Confessor. Christine uses the season to get rather merry and bright and confesses to everyone who will listen that it was her you saw kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night. Sipping and slurring her way through a month of parties, lunches and jingle balls, Christine has a few bubbles, shows off her baubles and proceeds to tell all. There’s no such thing as silent night when Christine gets going and most of the time, her fellow partygoers are left open-mouthed singing O’ Holy Shite…

Ginny the Grinch. Ginny hates the yuletide season and all its tinsel shedding detritus. The evergreens are ever too green. The festive fun is far too festive. Shopping is hateful and the lines are unbearable. She’ll be cleaning up pine needles in March and oh, the cost of it all. She hates chestnuts, yuletide carols and folks dressed up like Eskimos make her gag. If it were up to Ginny, she’d hitch a ride with a couple of kings, traverse afar and get away in a manger until the new year rolls in.

Let the countdown begin.

 

The War on Common Sense

Guys..it's a cup.
Guys..it’s a cup.

I got back from a weekend with friends to find parts of the American populace worked up into a hazelnut froth over a….coffee cup. That’s right. Not guns or abortion or marriage equality. Not Planned Parenthood or Obama’s birth certificate or even the U.N.’s secret peacekeeping mission in Texas.

A coffee cup.

Now, I’m worthy of some pretty spectacular mental gymnastics when I’m stretching to prove a point. I have, on more than 743 occasions, jumped to a conclusion. But…a coffee cup??

Did Susie Q. Public go into her local Starbucks, order her usual venti dodecahedron mocha latte latte chocolat-é with extra skim froth milk and walk out with her red cup convinced Starbucks had declared a war on Christmas with a….cup?

Did Joe Q. Plumber pop in for a quick grande double shot and uncover the Great Starbucks Christmas Conspiracy?

Is there some Da Vinci code type thing going on that I’m just not getting? Because to me the logic on this one goes something like this:

Starbucks holiday cup is to war on Christmas like

A. Common sense is to what the fuck?
B. For real? is to Get a grip
C. Seriously? is to Surely there are more important things to focus on?
D. All of the above

The last time I checked, red wasn’t a Hanukkah color. Or Diwali. Traditional Kwanza colors include red, but also green, black and often yellow. You know which winter holiday is most often associated with red?

Ding, ding, we have a winner!

Yet Susie takes it to Twitter: Starbucks is anti-Christian! Their holiday cup is red! Obviously Starbucks doesn’t care about its Christmas celebrating customer base! Demand a boycott! #waronchristmas #nomoreventimochalattechinosforthischristian

And Joe takes it to Facebook: Starbucks hates Christians, otherwise they’d bring back the polar bears and snowflakes! It’s just another example of pandering to the political correctness machine. Deciding to do away with cute little snowmen is only speeding up the pussification of America. Starbucks just lost my business! Like if you agree!

A coffee cup?
A coffee cup?

I’m sure the global Inuit population would be surprised to find out that reindeer are the exclusive symbol of the reason for the season. Snowflakes too. Don’t forget the snowmen. Those cheery corn-cobbed souls are clearly designed to represent the birth of the baby Jesus.

Yet those are the ‘Christmas icons’ that decorated Starbucks cups in the past. People are outraged that their cups don’t have polar bears and snowmen on them. Hot milk frothing at the mouth angry. And yet..

It’s a cup.

A cup.

A cup, for House Blend’s Sake!

Time Magazine is addressing the issue. CNN is covering it. Even a potential presidential candidate is taking the time to address the color of a take-out coffee cup.

Have people lost their minds?

Oh right. The war on Christmas. That old chestnut roasting on an open fire.

Thing is, there are plenty of wars being fought in the US right now. The one over women’s bodies and reproductive rights. The one over race. Guns. Health Care. Terrorism. You don’t hear much about the war on drugs anymore, but it’s still there. And yet every year I have to hear the craziness about the war on Christmas.

Starbucks has not declared war on Christmas or war on Christians or even non-Christians who celebrate a more secular version of the holiday.

You know how I know? Because Starbucks is not stopping anyone from celebrating Christmas. Just like Target isn’t stopping anyone buying Tonka trucks or Barbies. Just like eating rainbow-colored Doritos isn’t going to make you gay.

The color of a take-out coffee cup has no bearing whatsoever on someone’s right to celebrate the religious holiday of their choice or wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Festivus if they so choose.

Because it’s a cup.

Seriously?
Seriously?

Wishing someone an inclusive ‘Happy Holidays’ when you don’t know what, if any, holiday someone celebrates? That’s called being inclusive, it’s not dropping bombs on Christianity. Sending out a card wishing someone well? That’s called being polite, being kind. It’s not setting fire to the ideals of one group. Getting upset that someone didn’t wish you a specific ‘Merry Christmas’ because that’s the holiday you celebrate? That’s just being an asshole. Going ballistic over a coffee cup?

Well, that’s just plain cuckoo for coco-nutty lattes.

If and when buying a take-out vente pumpkin spice cappuccino results in the forfeiture of celebrating the religious holiday of choice, come find me. I’ll happily rant in their corner.

Until then, let’s focus on the war on common sense, which we seem to be losing at an alarming rate.

 

 

Things

foleys-window-santaIt’s that time of year again. The leaves have started to turn, flit and fluttering gold and red. There’s a hint of wood smoke and an apple tartness in the air; time to dig out your gloves and search for your scarf. The sun is beginning to hunker down and the nights are creeping close.

It’s a time for pumpkins and cider, corn husks and…..Christmas lists.

Every year the shops seem to have their Christmas paraphernalia out earlier and earlier. You can’t buy an autumnal gourd without turning around to find yourself face to face with a Yuletide display.

I’ve promised merry this year. I’ve promised bright. But man, it’s early.

Yet stockists everywhere are prepping. Shelves are packed with hat and scarf sets, wash bags pre-packed with scent and shower gel. Bath sets and ties. Box-set DVDs that you hope and pray your Great Uncle John will appreciate. Wait, does Great Uncle John even have a DVD player?? Knicks and knacks and bits and bobs and things and majiggies. Whose-its and whats-its and all and sundry.  

I don’t need anything, not in the true sense of the word. I’m not sure I even want anything. Ok, I’d really like some micro-dermabrasion and possibly some Juvederm filler for the rapidly deepening lines around my mouth, but those things are notoriously tough to wrap.

Things and more things. Lots and lots and more things. We get rid of old things to make way for the new things. We drive ourselves crazy trying to find a little something, the perfect something, the thing on someone’s list. We buy things just to have something to give. We go mad and rack up the credit card so we can hand over something to prove no, no, it’s not the thing, it’s the thought behind the thing.

Every year the ante gets upped, the price limit rises, the stress and the search go on. And we buy more things.

Every year I tell myself I won’t buy into it. Every year I fail.

When is the last time you were excited to watch someone open a gift you bought for them?When is the last time you bought a gift you were truly excited to give? What percentage of gifts you buy each year fall into that category?

I’m not talking about the thrill of going to bed on Christmas Eve, of waking up and hoping hoping hoping that a Cabbage Patch Kid will be there in the morning–that’s a bit of childhood magic. I’m not talking about the childhood magic. I’m talking about all the rest.

We go out and buy things for people who don’t need things and they go out and buy us things we don’t need. We make sure we spend the right amount of money–not too much, not too little, and half the time we include a gift receipt just in case they need to return the thing to buy another thing. We buy gift cards for one amount and receive one in the same amount back. It leaves me scratching my head.

Tumblr_HTY_12221972_christmas_shopping Date: 12-22-1972 Christmas Shopping looks like the photo was published in November 28, 1977 Credit: Unknown

When I was a kid, gifts were strictly a birthday and Christmas thing. Nowadays, my own kids seem to get new stuff all the time. When I was just setting out on my own and had no money, I appreciated the gifts I received. I used to ask for shampoo and soap and tampons and all the stupid toiletries which cost huge sums of money when you don’t have huge sums of money to spend. When my husband and I first got together it was exciting to get to know each other through the gifts we chose for one another.

But we’re older now. Our disposable income is higher. Our needs are different. Our wants are more nuanced.

There is no real need behind our gifts. No real desire. When they are expected to be exchanged, often there’s no excitement behind buying and receiving gifts.

Sometimes during the year I’ll come across a little something I think someone in my life will enjoy or find useful, maybe just get a chuckle out of. A book of gnome crafts or a replacement pen light for the one I mistakenly threw away. If I am able, I buy it. A little unexpected something when you’re not expecting it. Those things seem nicer to me than the obligation of buying something at a prescribed time.

Maybe it’s just me.

Is it just me?

The things on my Christmas list this year are things that you can’t find on sale, can’t find on the clearance rack at the store or during an Amazon Black Friday deal. (Unless Amazon has started doing micro-dermabrasion).

What do I want for Christmas?

I want to finish the final draft of my novel.

I want to start the next one.

Italian_family_dinnerI want my family, this side and that side and the other, to sit down on Christmas day and eat, drink and be merry. I want them to enjoy the day and appreciate being together, more than what is or isn’t on the table or is or isn’t under the tree.

I want my kids to hug me at the school gate for another day, another month, another year, another forever.

I want my husband to kiss me like there’s always a sprig of mistletoe above my head.

But most of all I want the folks I love to understand that the things I want, the things I need, they are not obligatory or purchasable. They’re not things you need to go out to buy or wrap. Those are just things.

The best thing I could get for Christmas is the acknowledgment that I’ve got everything I need right here. The rest of it?

Just things.