Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Post of Christmases Past

Pour yourself a cup of tean
and join me in a stroll down
memory lane.
Since Christmas is an excellent time for reflecting, I'm reviving some of my posts from past Christmases. If you missed them, I hope you enjoy them. If you read them but your memory is like mine, you can read them again for the first time!

My favorite Christmas recipe

Favorite Christmas song

Favorite Christmas story (not counting the original)

And I'll close with my Favorite Christmas thought

Thank you for visiting (or re-visiting) Christmases Past with me. Wishing you and your loved ones a Very Merry and Blessed Christmas Present!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dirty Santa Is Fraught with Faux Pas-sibilities

            I for one am NOT a fan of Dirty Santa, that activity where, right under your nose, people exchange a gift you gave them for one they like better. Anyone with even a modicum of manners knows that such behavior is just plain tacky. It is my fervent Christmas wish that eventually Dirty Santa will go the way of friendship bread and fruitcake. But just in case you're planning to attend an event involving this onslaught to your holiday cheer and your ego, here are a few hints for surviving it.
One-stop shopping for all your Naughty Santa needs!
 1.  Dirty Santa does not mean Naughty Santa. My friends “Nola” and “Nick” learned this the hard way. They were invited to a church party for which they were to bring a Dirty Santa gift. They’d never heard of Dirty Santa and quite understandably interpreted dirty as naughty. They thought it a bit strange that a church would be doing this, but, hey, it was a progressive church. The pastor wore jeans and the “choir” was basically a rock band. So snickering and elbowing each other like a couple of teenagers, they searched the aisles of a marital aids store and selected an appropriately inappropriate gift. Imagine their horror at the party when the first couple of gifts were unwrapped, and Lola and Nick realized their social gaffe. This unfortunate incident does, however, have a happy ending. This was indeed a progressive church, and their gift proved to be the most popular. Which leads to my next survival hint...
2a. It’s all about the gift. If you remember nothing else, remember this: Dirty Santa involves cut-throat competition and is best left to seasoned gift-giving professionals. Unlike a White Elephant exchange, the ultimate goal of Dirty Santa is to bring the gift everyone will covet and the one that will be stolen the maximum number of times. If the gift you bring isn’t stolen at all, you brought a dud. I brought a perfectly lovely scented candle to my first Dirty Santa exchange. The first hint of my rookie status was that my gift was chosen last. I’d made the mistake of not"staging" it properly, not placing the candle in a sparkly gift bag with a huge bow and enough tissue paper to stuff a mattress. The second hint that my gift was a loser was the stiff half-smile and unenthusiastic “Well, isn’t this nice” from the recipient. She knew, and at that point I knew, no one would be stealing that candle.
Half the battle of Dirty Santa success
is in the presentation.
2b. The $10 maximum is only a suggestion. Like most interstate drivers, no one takes the limit seriously. If you properly stage your gift, that alone can cost ten bucks. And bear in mind you’re up against the pros here—those people who Christmas shop in January or who can snag a 42" smart TV on Deal Dash for about the same price as a ... well, a scented candle. 
Apparently, scented candles aren't coveted
gifts among Dirty Santa participants.
2c. The pain is acute, and recovery will take time. Sadly, my first Dirty Santa experience didn’t end as happily as Nick and Lola’s did. It was March when the recipient of my gift informed me she’d finally lit the candle (another indication of her excitement over it). I stood there with an expectant smile, waiting for her to tell me how it calmed her frazzled nerves or reminded her of a walk in a garden. Instead, I got, “My son came home and said, ‘Something stinks.’”
I guess it could’ve been worse. My friend Norma, another Dirty Santa victim, once told me she couldn’t attend a party, so she sent a crystal salad bowl with the instructions to just bring her whatever gift was left. She got her salad bowl back. 
The painful humiliation inflicted by Dirty Santa is a long, drawn-out affair. You must wait an entire year to redeem yourself because, hello, there is no Dirty Cupid, Dirty Easter Bunny, or Dirty Turkey.
2c. Only slightly less mortifying than bringing the loser gift is receiving the loser gift. (As in poor Norma’s case, these events can sometimes occur at the same party and to the same person, although it is rare.) From the moment you unwrap that gold, spray-painted Christmas tree made out of coat hangers, you know there’s not a snowball’s chance it’s going to be stolen. When that happens, Dirty Santa can become character building. There’s not a dang thing you can do but force a smile and mutter, “Well, isn’t this nice.”
3. There is no such thing as “getting into the spirit” of Dirty Santa. I can hear you saying, “Aw, Dee Dee, lighten up.That candle incident happened over fifteen years ago, and you're still whinging about it.” There may be some truth to your accusation, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing—and I mean nothing—zaps the joy from gift-giving faster than this activity. Whoever came up with the whole idea surely must’ve been a cohort of Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch...before their miraculous transformations.
          I haven’t heard a lot about Dirty Santa lately. I think the trend is being replaced by Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties, those activities where Generation X-ers and Millenials make fun of the beautiful sweaters I wore until they started having Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties. Please excuse me, I feel another post coming on.          
I believe that eventually Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties
will become passe' and I can again wear my festive sweater collection
to all my holiday events.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tree-Top Christmas

            In the mid-seventies, a fire gutted my parents’ house. Of course, there was the initial shock and depression that accompanies such a traumatic event, but as with most tragedies in life, good things followed. In my parents’ case, the good things came in a house that, while not entirely new, was completely remodeled and refreshed. And since many of the Christmas decorations had been stored in the attic—where the fire started—Mama was able to celebrate the first Christmas in her beautifully restored house with new Christmas finery. Replacing the pitiful, “Charlie Brown” live trees we’d always had in the past was an artificial tree with full and perfectly arranged branches. Like most of these trees, it came in three sections and reached all the way to the ceiling. Instead of the scratched, lusterless ornaments that had survived decades of being tossed willy-nilly into a box after Christmas, there were elegant decorations in the form of red velvet bows and snowy-feathered doves.

            The fake tree and fake doves and velvet bows faithfully served for years. But eventually, the doves’ feathers yellowed. They also lost their “fluffiness,” as did the bows. The tree, however, continued to stand stalwart and tall for years to come. At Christmas time, my sister, brother, and I would return home with our growing families to find the tree decked out in more traditional decorations of colored lights, shiny balls, and ornaments hand-made by grandkids.
The Hallmark dream
            As we all grew older, the tree began to shrink, and I don’t mean in a metaphorical sense. It actually shrank—as in Mama began to leave off the bottom section in order to save space and decorating effort. Then the last couple of Christmases she decorated, we found only the top section of the tree placed squarely in the middle of the coffee table.
            While I didn’t always achieve it—I always dreamed of a Hallmark kind of Christmas. For me, there was no such thing as too many lights or too much sparkle and shine. So the first time I saw that topper excuse for a tree on Mama’s table, I remember hoping I never came to that place. That place where shiny ornaments and twinkling lights and a glittering tree wouldn’t fill me with giddy pleasure.
            You know what I’m about to say.
The tree-top Christmas reality
            Yes, I’ve come to that place. Almost. I haven’t completely abandoned decorating a la Clark Griswold, but when my daughter moved to another state and married, we adopted the every-other-year plan. We alternate the Christmas venues—our house one year, her house the next. For a while, I continued to do my annual decorating. But a couple of years ago I got smart.  Now, I have a tree-top Christmas every other year. Like Mama, I make a nod toward decorating—a few outside lights, a wreath here, a Santa there, and, of course, a nativity scene. But it’s not a winter fantasy by a long-shot.  
            And you know what? I kind of like downsizing my Christmas decorating. Downsizing every other year means that every other year I can take it easy. I can take time to actually enjoy shopping and baking and attending parties and events. I can spend more time reflecting on the meaning of the season. I can ooh and aah over other people’s decorations. And every other year, I can miss out on the after-Christmas slump of taking down and packing away tubs of decorations.
            Maybe it’s a sign of age, but this year I’m rather enjoying my tree-top Christmas. Hope you're enjoying your Christmas preparations, too, whether tree-top, Hallmark, or somwhere in between.