Category Archives: christmas
The doldrums is a nautical term for the belt around Earth’s equator where sailing ships can get stuck on windless waters for days—an apt metaphor even in landlocked Vermont.
For those who get in serious doldrums after the holidays, you’re not alone. In the 70s, as the tree splintered and shed, we’d beg our mother, “One more day!” Understanding, she’d consent to leave it up. I still suffer while boxing up decorations accumulated over 50 years, many hand made by beloved people now grown—or gone. It physically hurts and I go down.
My theory on the plummet’s severity is this: a combination of most humans’ inability to make transitions easily, plus the nostalgia of where one was 5, 20 or 30 years ago—or even just pre-COVID.The holidays are an annual plunge into sentimentality that wrecks some people for a while. After all the togetherness, even if at times fighty, many have to part with beloved people we wished we still lived with, or near, now miles or oceans away. Add to the emotional soup that sometimes we can tell when these people have had enough of us, or vice versa.
There’s something about that pre-holiday hustle and year-end philanthropy. I love the craft sales and transformation of everything from garlanded gas stations to tricked-out buildings. Carols evoke a simpler time. In truth, there were untold disasters and wars and far more domestic abuse back then, fueled by widely accepted over-drinking (think: the “hilarity” of Red Skelton’s drunk character; Dean Martin crooning basted). But hear the first couple of bars of O Holy Night and smell that balsam fir and you are swept back into your own (hopefully abuse-free) childhood or a dreamy image of happier times before you were born. When the decorations left up too long start getting dusty and something—anything—to look forward to seems a long way off, it’s easy to to go into a death spiral.
So last week after a Covid exposure, for the very first time I decided to wallow. None of this Yankee toughie bootstraps crap. No health-giving exercise or efforts to cheer self or others. Just a marathon of self-isolation, sorrow, and mourning.
It was not at first intentional. After leaving family to return to Vermont, I drove and cried until distracted by old radio interviews with Desmond Tutu (an evolved human, yet strikingly down to earth). But then Christmas music came on and sunk me anew, thinking of this very drive I had taken countless times with my now-gone mommy. Once home, I carried inside only my freezable belongings, got in bed, and let it rip. I cried over everything. Loves, parents, pets, houses and friends lost forever. Strangers who got stuck home alone for the holidays by cancelled flights. Refugees. Great people who died in 2021. Awful situations endured both by people I adore and by complete strangers. Sad pieces of fiction I read that never even actually occurred. I ate nothing but old foods around the house. Slept, woke, ate garbage, cried, slept. And you know what happened?
I’d love to say something profound here. But basically….nothing. Nothing happened. I didn’t come up with a grand epiphany. I didn’t resolve to start a new career or humanity-saving nonprofit, invent a climate change solution or clever movie plot. Nothing came of it. As Yukon Cornelius says, “Nuthin’.”
If you bottle it up and never let it out, you’re in trouble. That’s called being repressed. Although I did ask a male friend how he deals with the deaths of his legendarily party-throwing, smarty parents within weeks of each other. His answer: “I keep that locked up deep, deep down inside.” Hell, maybe that’s the right approach.
The virus and supply chain madness factored in. Due to Covid exposure, I couldn’t leave my apartment for a week upon returning home — Xtreme solitude rarely boosts mental wellness. As for the supply chain, disappointing in December was the lack in stores of favored holiday items, e.g. the annual “limited edition” cookie by Pepperidge Farms’ called Snowballs®. They were only on Amazon—for $19 a bag. A year without Snowballs® is like a year without…Snowballs®. And this year I didn’t get into preparations or meticulous wrapping the way I once did. Threw things into bags with tissue paper. No hand-drawn gift notes. No Christmas cards. I skipped movies I watch yearly. And all of that, while freeing, ultimately felt crummy. Next year I’m going back to overdoing it. Obviously, that’s the answer. So there’s the epiphany.
At this time of year I usually suggest one of three things.
- Make a list of what you got done in 2021. You’ll be surprised.
- Make a list of intentions for 2022, before it gets frittered away.
- Books: Greenlights; A Girl’s Guide to Missiles; Life (Keith Richards); Boys in the Trees (Carly Simon); Good Habits, Bad Habits; Olive Kitteridge, Olive Again, and Oh William; Mobituaries (Mo Rocca); Dodging Energy Vampires; A Girl Named Zippy; All The Light We Cannot See; The Power of Now; How To Be Alone; Joyful; Elevation (S. King); and my personal favorite, A Man Called Ove. Email me for a personal recommendation for you. That’s my gift.
Good repression, good wallow, or good New Year with light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Home delivery of The New York Times...to the manger. (The Times is in blue plastic on the bed of pine.) All the news that’s fit for the coming of the Lord?
A friend snapped this on her early morning walk. I can’t tell if the topmost angel is strolling down the sidewalk or suspended in mid-air. Either is good.*
*Inside tidbit: As I was entering germane “tags” for this post into WordPress, one mysteriously autofilled when I entered the tag, “Jesus learns to read”: Advice to youth in the workplace. Snort.
Life-sized creche, Pleasantville, NY, USA
Thank you, Jesus!
And now a tribute. To the mighty, the daunting, the beloved…the list.
I don’t have a real bucket list. If I did, Disney World® wouldn’t be on it; I didn’t know it was any good. I went to Disney in my 40s by chance. When most people hear, “I’m goin’ to Disney World!” they think Sooperbowl. I think: time capsule, spinning teacups manned by deranged nieces, and Christmas parades with “princes” in wigs with many hair follicles per square inch. Also: pack well. Unexpected weather and unplanned befoulment demand backup.
While a winter trip to a theme park ain’t exactly Christmas in New England, a good way to steel yourself is to get a flu shot then go to one. Disney’s a good bet because as the sweat of many nations and the sputum of the Lands settles upon you, you are exposed to virtually every germ currently available. It is, after all, a small world, certainly for a microbe. And as you build character standing on lines for rides and hear songs that won’t leave your head ever, you leave the prior year behind entirely—often a good idea.
-Will all the lines be this long?
-I don’t think this line actually goes anywhere.
– It makes the line longer.
-We’re definitely under surveillance.
-Disney World is a young man’s game.
-I don’t want to go peeeeeeee peeeeeeeeeee! (said by more than one child from more than one nation in more than one Land on more than one day.)
-This. Line. Is. Going. Nowhere.
Lists! Weekends generate lengthy lists. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down. Dump? Check! Tenny? Check!! Margherita – rocks – salt at Richardson’s Tavern? Checkarooni. Another…good day.
On to the prescient populist predictions for 2015, submitted by you the people from ME to FL, NH to CA:
North America will break up along the Mississippi and drift apart.
Angelina Jolie will have an affair with Jennifer Aniston.
Office betting pools explode on which former Disney child star will implode next.
Congress will be fined for not working; fined members will be unable to run again.
3D printing will be applied to implants from cheek to calf.
Jenna Bush Hager and Chelsea Clinton will decide to run for president in 2016.
With cheap gas, the price of vintage Hummers will strengthen.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will steal the rights to his own life story from himself, then turn it into a multi-billion dollar video game called Zuckerville, a place where he has the rights to all players’ personal information. Suckerville?
The first smart refrigerator will arrive, voicing the caloric, fat, sodium, sugar, protein and fiber content inside. It will lock after 8pm and won’t admit entrance until 6am.
Texas will secede.
Quebec will secede.
Killington will secede.
Punxsutawney Phil will be canned when he is bitten by a vampire and no longer casts a shadow.
ISIS will splinter off into new factions, one of which by year’s end will become the world’s most popular boy band.
More people will buy VW campers and park in Walmart lots to avoid campground fees, accumulating decals for amusement parks, roadside attractions, and states.
Americans will be required to rescue an animal by paying for its care or adopting it.
Putin will come out as gay, step down as President, and marry figure skater Johnny Weir.
The inane patter on award ceremony red carpets will worsen.
People will leave [followed by unintelligible gibberish].
I will be befuddled by new social media I’m supposed to master (Yik Yak?).
I will not gain weight (glad you said fake.)
I will stick to my New Year’s resolution to be happy and smile at everyone I meet.
I’m going to have sex every day.
Due to Equatorial Vortex Irene, we’ll have 90-degree days at the end of February.
Candidates vying for the presidency will optimistically fund new dog breeds, the Dachsoodleman (dachshund, +poodle + Doberman) and Cockzerstiff (Cocker Spaniel +Schaunzer + Mastiff) for his/her Whitehouse dog .
And my ties for Personal Favorite:
Rather than “predict, I “wish” we could all just slow down, get our faces out of electronic devices and embrace the outdoors…but silly me, then corporations wouldn’t make bank.
We will have weather.
A unifying figure will emerge.
When you hate change as much as I do, things that remain constant are a necessary comfort. Holiday traditions that recur year after year, such as Randolph’s caroling with Santa’s arrival on the green, Woodstock’s horsey Wassail Parade, the Holly Jolly project, and mitten trees provide the longboard I need to surf life’s erratic vicissitudes.
Wrapping presents while watching treacly movies on Lifetime (theme: buff, middle-aged guy new to town chooses charmingly disorganized single mother over outfit-wearing sports-car/golfing lady) or the Hallmark Channel (title: A Bride for Christmas) soothes my holiday prep time no matter what’s going in real life. Which might not be all that good. I’m not mocking these shows. Christmas in Conway enchants, and The Christmas Hope is a bawler. I’m a sap. Akin to treacle.
Another lifesaver is the expressionless decorative light-up pilgrim I bought years ago at Rite-Aid. About three feet high, he gets dusty after a year in storage and I have a good hoot washing him off every November when I get to his little plastic fanny. Should have purchased the whole expressionless family (stalwart group!). And when Grandma Al and her granddaughter make magic cookies (not the Grateful Dead kind) in their aprons, or I look up Alex Hanson’s gravy recipe online yet again, all is right in the world.
Everything changes so fast now we can’t keep up. My fairly new TV is apparently already a “dino” (cable installer guy didn’t think I’d understand this high-tech lexicon on phone call to his mother ship in front of me—get a less obvious code word, pally!), and suddenly we don’t need to connect our computers to a cable for internet connectivity at home, even without a router (what?). My shiny, year-old TV remote is archaic, outmoded, useless; my router obsolete. Cableboy won’t take any of it away with him.
What do I do with these antiquated accoutrements? The remote, the cables, the router…are others pouring same into landfill? Je refuse! I’ll find a home for them if it kills me. When I said to the Comcast guy and the TV wall-mounter guy in my living room, “Wow, I didn’t know you could tilt the TV like that on its brackets, there should be a remote for that,” they looked at me like I was some kind of sci-fi future-predicting genius. “I’ve never seen that!” one said. But I don’t want another damn remote. All I need is a sled, snow pants, hot cocoa with marshmallows, gift wrap, Jingle Bell Rock, and some people. That stuff doesn’t need upgrading. It never gets old.
Change: no! I like when people do their lights the exact same way every year. There is a little blue-lit tree outside somewhere (Tunbridge?) that, unlike nieces, never seems to grow up. That’s good. It’s distressing when houses change hands and the usual trimmings change or disappear. Driving by my parents’ empty house is saddening. It’s been empty in winter in recent years, but this time it’s permanent – and no change is worse than permanent change. When the Barnard General store quit selling penny candy 30 years ago, I never recovered. It’s all still there, right where it belongs, the little wax bottles filled with colored ick, the caramels and the Smarties®, in my mind.
Some change is not so awful. That I moved from my beloved Bethel — not great. But I stay over a friend’s house (whom I used to live so close to that staying over never occurred to us) and we have spiked nog by the Christmas tree after her cat punches me repeatedly while I write (love the Siamese—naugh-ty) and, well, maybe a new tradition is in the making. When the old traditions fall off, due to death or dismemberment or some horrible new technology, they need replacing or we’re left with nothing.
I’ll start one now. Something you can see and think, “Oh good, there’s that thing again. A constant!”
You may enjoy what autofills in Google’s search box before you finish typing … endlessly amusing. Monthly, I might post the winners. For December:
“Does a…” autofills with
-root canal hurt
-duck’s quack echo
-photon have mass?
Et voila. Your inaugural autofill of the month. Little gift fer ya there, as you jingle around the clock. Good day.
Bumper Sticker Suggested by Harry One Year Ago when I Wrote we Were Told as Children (by the Catholics?) That Writing “Xmas” Instead of Christmas was Literally a Sin:
Let’s keep the X in Xmas!
…a really long time ago. This was the official shot you got in SantaLand at Macy’s Herald Square, avec “frame.” If you’ve never read David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice, which includes his stint as an elf there, it’s a heartwarming holiday classic not to be missed.
This guy clearly wasn’t “Santa Santa” (read the book). I think he was more like “Hungover Santa” or “This Is My Lucky Day So Why Ain’t I Smiling Santa.” “Busted Femur Santa?”He may have been concentrating on the cameras or sensors in his beard.
A gauntlet is an odious form of punishment wherein the victim is forced to run between two rows (the gauntlet) of soldiers that repeatedly smite him. The victim is slowed down by various means, preventing him from running the gauntlet—God forbid—too quickly. A magical holiday metaphor for you there.
Mercifully, the figurative holiday gauntlet is more varied and less severe. There’s the endless conveyor belt of cookies, booze, and dips that make you blow up like Santy Claus. There’s forced gaiety, perhaps—in, say, the workplace. Secret Santas you want no part of. Malfunctioning decorations. Fighty fights over tree placement. Hernias, ruptured disks, rocketing cholesterol. Concerts, pageants, fundraisers, and parties demanding special gifts, attire, or baking. Aversion to pine. Aversion to sugar plums. Aversion to family. To holiday-themed newspaper columns. 2014, take me away! Not so fast, dear Reader. Remember: you are not allowed to run the gauntlet too quickly.
Maybe your gauntlet has your kids driving you lunatic on one side, your parents on the other. Sadly, advances in technology are exacerbating the digital divide within families, amplifying holiday tensions. The grandparents just can’t seem to grab a hold of technology a lot of the time, and the kids are so much savvier than the parents (us) that it’s annoying.
Well, what is annoying is their annoyance with us. Teenagers since the dawn of time have considered their parents moronic. Only now, because of parents’ slimmer grasp of the technology their children have been wired with, parents really are dumber than their kids. This has never before been the case. Kids didn’t know more about farming, sewing, war, factory work, finance…anything beyond pop culture fluff. Now they are more knowledgeable about something of consequence. As a friend put it, “My rocket geek son ‘helps’ me with my blog. He’s rolling his eyes, ‘Mom, why’d you do it that way?’ like I‘m a complete idiot. When I explain I didn’t know there was another way, this fuels his irritation—and disdain. If I ever acted like him, my parents put the hammer down. I can’t. Because he actually knows more than I do.”
Sigh! If you’ve had your fill of insults, exploding casseroles, manuals with miniscule print in 47 languages, watching football teams do things you gave them no clearance to, the good news is you have only a few more games and New Year’s Eve left, and that’s not even a real holiday. Some call it “Amateur’s Night,” referring to those imbibing who rarely drink, an excellent reason to stay off snowy roads. Hell, even pros like Jethro or Granny manning the wheel of a poorly maintained jalopy after a couple pops of spiked nog coming at you in the oncoming lane, that’s just no fun at all. Stay home and, whatever you do, avoid those awful New Year’s Eve shows. They are worse than Honey Boo Boo, Toddlers and Tiaras, Kardashians singly or in groups, and Mafia Plumbers’ Wives combined. The exaggerated merriment of gussied-up commentators excitedly reciting numbers backwards can kill even the slenderest hope of a new and improved year coming your way. Give yourself a fighting chance. Don’t watch. Ring in the New Year cozying up to your pet(s) or preferred person(s). Sing Auld Lang Syne (first a poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns) softly into their ears. It’s nice like that.
And as a countermeasure to failed New Year’s resolutions kicking off the year badly, that important media outlet, the woman’s magazine, suggests an alternative: make instead a list of what you accomplished last year. You’ll be amazed by what you did. Although I plan on more reading/less Candy Crushing with enough conviction to announce it here publicly to complete strangers, and strange completers (you know who you are). If you must resolve, pick something you can handle.
Helpful Reminder: As the highway notification boards proclaim, DUI. YOU WILL GET ARRESTED. Only the “D” is fat, so it looks like OUI, YOU WILL GET ARRESTED. (“But non, awf-ee-sair, I had nussing to dreenk zees evening! I am Canadienne. We drive feefty in ze left lane on ze intair-state, eet’s what we dewww! Alors, your dawg—does eet baht?”)
May you have enough coal in your stocking to keep you warm, and may the last few yards of your gauntlet be kind. Good New Year, good laffs, and good Boxing Day.
Some holiday activities are better left till after. We country mice highly unrecommend the New York Botanical Garden Train Show during peak season, but go now if you like trains, tiny special worlds, humidity, and perfect miniature replicas made from bark and twigs by krazy nutters — it’s a trip. This year’s includes the original Penn Station and Yankee Stadium, Radio City, Macy’s, St. Pat’s, The New York Public Library, and a bunch of bridges. Remarkable!
Highlight: two B&T men were thoughtfully analyzing in silence one of the more ornate mini-buildings, say, 2 feet high. Finally one guy goes to the other (insert The Sopranos accent here):
“It’s like there’s so much DE-tail, you can hoddly see it awl.”
I wept in gratitude.
…as I do, go have a pop at Harrington House. Terrific holiday vibe.
When I worked at Forbes Magazine one million year ago, my co-worker J would ask, “Ann Marie, wanna go have a pop?” She meant a stiff drink. (Is there any other kind?)
Another thing she’d say, every time a cop car whizzed by on 12th Street with its siren blaring, which was often:
“Ann Marie, your ride’s here.”