Christmas Rules…(Ebenezer Drools!)

One of my biggest gripes about Christmas is people griping about Christmas.


This is a time of year when hearts are opened, and festivities are unloosed. We’re allowed to be in a good mood just because, and there are a lot of becauses. Because family is coming to visit that we haven’t seen in a long time. Because we’re going to make our favorite Christmas pie/cake/cookies/divinity/souffle/crab dip. Because we thought of a good gift for a Certain Someone. Because the office workers put those decorations up in the lobby that we could never afford in our own house but look so-o-o-o good.  As I deliver a couple of guidelines for the holidays, one guideline I would start with is the “be merry” part of Eat, Drink & Be Merry. The first rule of Christmas is let’s chill out about rules around Christmas.

20171206 Santa Thor
Ref: Tony van Renterghem, When Santa was a Shaman

The Real War on Christmas

It has been custom for the last several years for those who deem themselves more saintly than others to declare that there is a war on Christmas. This is, in part, because there are more people in the world, particularly in America and, over time, they celebrate a broader range of traditions. Not everybody celebrates Christmas in the same way; not everybody celebrates Christmas; but everybody likes holidays, don’t they?

Apparently not. People started taking offense when Starbucks changed some of the references on their holiday cups from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” then took the words off altogether and just made the cups red. It caused a freak out. Never mind that the cups have only been around a couple years, or that even Starbucks franchises are not exactly historic. Starbucks holiday cups are an attempt to sell more coffee and make you feel a little happier while doing it. They don’t have to be a microcosm of all the ills of society. Yet, in 2017, their holiday theme has once again been criticized for prompting LGBT themes because they depict androgynous-looking hand-holding. Really, people? Have we all turned back into Puritans looking into bushels and behind trees to find examples of sin so we can point fingers? A cup is a cup is a cup. If you don’t like the picture, don’t drink the coffee. I can’t think of anything more like a war on Christmas than that.

Oh, maybe I can.

20171206 starbucks from NYT
courtesy: Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

In December of 2016, a pastor from Texas took it upon himself to go to the mall where the children were visiting Santa. Yes, you guessed what happened next. A near riot. He went up and down the queue of long-suffering parents and their antsy toddlers, explaining loudly to the children that they were going to see a man in a suit and that Christmas was really about Jesus. Santa wasn’t real, their parents were lying to them, and he was there to explain reality … about the cross and dying and their sins… to the two and four-year-olds. The part I really liked was the dads… the football-jerseyed broad-chested marine-tattooed guys coming over to tell this guy off.

Jesus and Santa both agree: Don’t be an ass.

The Treacherous Pathway of Gift-Giving

The other challenge with the holidays is around our tradition of gift-giving. Part of the fundamental “problem” is with our capitalist relatively-affluent country which creates a neurosis by communicating the notion of the Perfect Gift as an unattainable ideal. Then berates us that we’re all a bunch of Takers anyway. (see last year’s discussion). We’re pressured by the media to find the Perfect Gift… count how many ads you see tonight that use those words. Then, we’re told that gifts should be cars — lots of cars — and ski vacations and diamond bracelets. Do you know anyone who gave someone a car as a surprise for Christmas? You’d think from the advertising that’s it’s pretty common and shame on you for not being able to afford it!

Can we at least agree to stop stressing about the Perfect Gift?  Gift-giving is a hassle and a joy. The problem is that if you once in your life have an inspired choice that is a really good fit for the receiver, that feeling becomes little addictive. You’d like to do it again, and for everybody. But let’s fight that desire for the gift-giving high, and just not be so hard on ourselves.

A gift is piece of your thoughts and your heart. You made an effort to think of somebody and did your best. Even if it was belated or last-minute I forgot so I stopped in Rite Aid or not quite the right thing, it really is THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS.

Also, re-gifting is totally fine. We’re in a recyclable world that’s using up scarce resources, so we should be proud to find a better use for something, including when someone finds a better use for our gift. Try not to re-gift back to the same person. If you do though, fess up. It always makes a great story.

One of the most apocryphal stories in our family was around a salad spinner. My brother and his relatively-new wife gave it to my mom, who ate a lot of salad. For whatever reason, she didn’t care for it, but clearly forgot they gave it to her. Because she gave it back to them … and forgot to take out the card buried at the bottom of the box with their names offering their warmest wishes. A few years later, they gave it back to her, which ticked her off, and she tried to give it back but they… etc. etc. It was still in her closet when she died, and I can’t quite remember whether I gave it back to them… they eventually divorced… or put it in the Goodwill box. Ironically enough, I went through a salad-eating phase, so there was a time I kind of needed a salad spinner and didn’t have one. Ha! Maybe the joke was really on me.

There is a luminescence to this story now. It became so much a part of our family that even today, all you need to say to me, my brother, or my spouse, is salad spinner, and we start to giggle. It has become far more than the original $29.99 Saw It On TV event. The legend truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

A Few Teeny-Tiny Holiday Rules

Here are a few more, humbly offered.

  • You’re not allowed to send holiday cards out before December 1st.
  • Kids should not be waking up their parents before 7 a.m. to see what Santa brought. That was the rule in our house. Of course, last year, when my college-aged children were home, no one besides me got up until around 9. Oh, for the days, when they tiptoed around downstairs whispering at 6:30…
  • If you don’t believe in Santa, he doesn’t bring you anything.
  • Eat, drink, and be merry and don’t tell other people what to eat and drink. One of the posts I saw about Christmas rules said you had to have ham because people are sick of turkey by December and ham is traditional. Well, it’s not traditional for the Muslims, Jews, or vegetarians you know. I like ham and have a good ham recipe but make and eat what you want. Just remember that the word “festive” comes partly from the word “festus” meaning Feast! Yeah, it’s in the word — Feast, baby, Feast!
  • Sing a lot. There aren’t a lot of occasions where you can sing in public. Take advantage. Singing is really good for the soul.
  • Be nice to random strangers. That’s kind of the best part of the season, isn’t it? We’re allowed to smile at people in the checkout line, make suggestions to a gift-hunter next to us at Pottery Barn, or open the door for someone with a flourish at the mall.
  • Decorations are awesome. Secret Santa exchanges are highly entertaining. Keep your clothes on at office parties. And, yeah, Christmas lights definitely make everything better.

Christmas Lights Make Everything Better
–Bree Davis,

I passed by this penguin at the drug store yesterday and, for some reason, he both cracked me up and fascinated me. BELIEVE! he said. He was next to a painted Santa which said HO HO HO or FOR GOODNESS SAKE or something more logical. Perhaps the penguin was saying Believe in Santa? Believe in Christmas? It was made in China, do you think it was designed in China? What do the Chinese think of these crazy Americans who buy penguins that ask for faith in things unseen? Is there a whole set besides the penguin and the Santa.. and what do the other painted icons say? Is there an angel above a manger saying HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS? Rudolph: I KNOW WHERE THE NAUGHTY GIRLS LIVE?

I don’t know entirely what to believe in. I do believe in the spirit of Santa and how nice it is that people give gifts and that everybody — even the corporations — gets into the act. I believe, as Jacob Marley said, that mankind is my business and that there is no better time of year to put it into practice.

And I definitely believe in penguins!

20171206 Believe!


Today’s Daily Post word: Saintly.

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