Tips to get through the holidays from a ‘professional cynic’

Dec. 3, 2019 | G. Michael Dobbs

And now the holidays have started.

I’ll say it for you: “Yikes!”

We’ve moved past the holiday speed bump known as Thanksgiving and we are now in full Christmas mode.

Frankly, Thanksgiving tends to be my favorite holiday because it doesn’t necessarily involve any particular religion and because it’s not about gift-giving but fellowship among people who care for one another.

I’ve found that fellowship is extremely comforting, especially as you grow older. Unless of course your family is splintered into various warring camps and Thanksgiving has become some sort of demilitarized zone.

To avoid the tension that is undoubtedly part of that sort of arrangement, I suggest just being honest and not see the family members for whom you have difficulty tolerating.

Take it from someone who has been there.

Now as a professional cynic, I understand the trappings and lore of the holiday have to be accepted. it should be noted that Biblical scholars have long established that Christ was not born on Dec. 25 and the Christmas holiday was created to subvert a pagan holiday already in place. Christmas trees are pagan as well.

The idea I’ve adopted is the holiday is designed to unite people of the same general faith, despite dogma, despite the origins of traditions and despite historical fact.

And in fact Christmas has been just that for many people – a respite from the demands, challenges and everyday horrors of life. It’s a time to think about others.

The problem is that for many people the expectation of what the holiday should be is in stark contrast with what their holiday actually can be.

If you celebrate Christmas you must make it your own. Do with the holiday what you can. Celebrate the idea of setting aside your worries for a moment.

To do so here are some tips that I follow to get through the next month.

  • Commercial eggnog is almost undrinkable unless you cut it with some milk or whiskey. Use cheap stuff – whiskey, not milk – and save the good liquor for moments of reflection.
  • Remember if you play “Find the Pickle” – a German tradition involving hiding a blown glass Christmas ornament in your Christmas tree – have the courtesy of allowing one of your guests to win, even if you really wanted that prize of scratch tickets for yourself. It’s Christmas, dammit!
  • Learn to use your headphones at work when playing your Christmas music. I learned the hard way not everyone appreciates hearing The Barking Dogs perform “Jingle Bells” a couple of times a day.
  • Have the courtesy of not pointing out to a member of your congregation or parish that you only see them in church at Christmas and Easter. If you do go twice a year, at least you did go to church!
  • If you’re a young married or committed couple, be sure to negotiate in advance which set of in-laws get you for what holiday. Nothing turns uglier faster than the outraged hurt feelings of a parent who thought you were coming or his or her house first! I suggest making a schedule of several years in a row to show the respective families. Where you go for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas can cause great problems if you don’t act proactively.
  • Ribbon candy never tasted good. Never. The flavor is as inexplicable as those of classic Necco Wafers – “What the heck was that,” you say after spitting it out.
  • Admit that the Elf on the Shelf is just plain creepy. He’s constantly watching your kids and reporting on them – what kind of lesson is that?
  • Before the holiday, work it out among your family to just give the kids a gift. Gift giving should be fun not a gauntlet to run through. Adults buy themselves stuff all through the year. Focus on the kids.
  • If you want to torture a family member with children – because that is part of the holiday, right? – consider giving the child in question a drum kit, a LEGO set with a 1,000 pieces or a gumball bank. My late uncle once gave my brother and me boxing gloves for Christmas – an ideal present for two kids who constantly fought. My mom’s look of horror when we opened the box was very real. I gave my nephew Matt a gumball bank when he was about five years old more than two decades ago. My brother still talks about it.

If in need of inspiration for the holiday, I always suggest watching in no particular order “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – not the hideous Jim Carrey version – and “A Christmas Story.”

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