The 12 Pains of Christmas – Part 3

Click here to read Part 1 of my loving tribute to the Yuletide Season. Otherwise, plunge right in…


9. The issue about the things you shove in a bird.

First off, we have this raging debate on what one calls the bread-based concoction that one uses to enhance the dead turkey on a platter. Is it stuffing, or is it dressing? Granted, there is the dryly clinical explanation that one should only use the noun “stuffing” if the verb “stuffing” has been part of the preparation. If there was a violation of an orifice, then you have created stuffing. If there’s no intrusion, and your savory bread bits are served alongside the turkey in one of Aunt Beulah’s better china bowls, then your offspring is known as dressing.

This seems rather clear cut, but then you introduce traditions and cultures and human beings into the mix, and it all goes to hell. Some people will only call it “stuffing” regardless of the preparation, and there is an opposing mindset that clings to the “dressing” connotation with snapping-turtle vehemence. And this whole conundrum really shouldn’t matter, because there are more important things in life, but it does matter, as the history of mankind has shown that people become fixated on the most inane of rallying cries and then nations go to war.

Adding to this combustible situation, what with modern times where families no longer live in the same town for multiple centuries, since word has gotten out that you can actually move somewhere else more suitable to your personality, various components within the same tribe have had different experiences and learned different things. And yet, due to tradition or unresolved sibling-rivalry issues or court orders, these far-flung family members still converge in one locale for the consumption of a massive and ill-advised holiday meal.

And this is when things go awry.

Example dramatic scene: You were born in a certain southern state, but you’ve managed to escape such a prison sentence and you’ve lived far and wide, pursuing your own quests and possibly avoiding the shame of things you may have done in your hometown that raised eyebrows. Still, you dutifully return for the holiday gatherings each year, but your mind has been addled and confused by your new experiences and your bohemian, all-accepting worldview. You’ve forgotten a few things, such as the rigid convictions of people who have always lived among like-minded rigidity, and the vehement outrage with which said people react to those who dare to contradict their rigidness. (For the record, yes, I am making fairly overt commentary about a certain political party that now considers fear of change as its bedrock foundation. Would you expect otherwise from me? I hope not.)

So, you end up inadvertently destroying the fake camaraderie around the feasting table by losing your mind and asking if Cousin Jebediah could please pass the bowl of dressing parked near the centerpiece dead bird. There is a momentary, horrified pause as everyone in the room absorbs what has just happened. (There is even silence from the “kiddie table” in the other room, because most children can sense when something has just gone left and there is about to be a rearrangement of family bequeathing.) Then the pause ends, and the world-shifting begins.

“I am appalled that you are even at this table!” says the matriarch of the family, because it’s always the matriarch who is appalled. (The patriarch has been drinking moonshine behind the barn since sunrise and he barely has a pulse at this point. He really doesn’t care.) Aunt Beulah grabs her better-china bowl and hurls it out a nearby window, one that has been opened because there are far too many people in this house who don’t live here and the body-heat factor has required an adjustment in temperature, even though most in the room deny such a thing as climate change. “You are not worthy of being served!” Even your parents are looking everywhere but at you, negating childhood memories of them petting your head at bedtime and promising that you could be anything you wanted to be. You now realize that gin must have been the impetus for their tenderness, and that “anything” really meant “anything that doesn’t go against what we believed when we first wandered out of the caves”.

This is how writers are born.

10. Begging for gift ideas.

It never fails. You find yourself at a loss as to what you should purchase for certain relatives and/or friends and/or people you don’t really like, due to some cosmic interplay wherein not getting them a gift would be unseemly, unwise, or subject to litigation. You do your best, via texting or phone calls or carrier pigeon, to wring some kind of idea out of them, but their responses are either completely evasive or fraught with impossibility.

Your Mother: “I don’t need anything. I just want to see you.”

Your Father: “Who are you? How did you get my number?”

Your Cousin: “I thought you were so hot in junior high.”

Your Grandmother: “A great-grandchild. Twins would be nice.”

Your Best Friend: “You’ve done so much for me, I don’t expect anything. But the clutch is going out on my Honda, so…”

Your Niece: “I want a concert t-shirt for my favorite boy-band even though they are completely sold out and on back order for three months. If I don’t get one, I’ll just die!”

The Weird Lady at Work Who Dresses in Black and Mutters Bitter Poetry to Herself in the Breakroom Who You Normally Avoid but You Happened to Draw Her Damn Name This Year: “I don’t trust emails. They speak of death and pain.”

Your Significant Other: “Why are you asking me this? What are you trying to say about our relationship? Who have you been talking to?”

11. The Christmas parties that you are obligated to attend when you have no desire to do so.

I’m actually rather fond of parties as a concept. I enjoy being around friends and eating delicious nibbly bits and having a few cocktails and discussing the far-flung topics that often come up as the evening progresses and the cocktail tallies rise. In fact, I am the man that I am today, at least in part, due to the many nights I have spent on someone’s back patio rambling on about whatever comes to mind, laughing and gently sparring and growing as a person. Good times.

Not a good time? Going to a party where I don’t know 90% of the attendees and most of that unknown contingent is very clique-ish, gathering in impregnable groups where it is very clear that you must not breach the perimeter of their haughty exclusion. I don’t like people like that. On the flip side, they probably don’t care for me, because I’m the one who stands off to the side, emitting “do NOT engage me in conversation” vibes as I nurse the tiny plastic thimble of wine I have been served by a stern-faced woman at the libations table, biding my time until it is socially appropriate to fetch another thimble.

I suppose that some of my dissatisfaction is my own fault, because I’m not much for pretense and false camaraderie. Still, I wouldn’t have to be standing in the furthest possible corner away from the fake festivities if I hadn’t been invited in the first place. And there’s the rub. I’m only here as the result of some distorted etiquette, be it a directive from the powers-that-be at work who insist that I show my dedication to the company by actually showing, or from a relative/friend who insists on throwing you into a mosh pit of people that you aren’t going to like.

12. The fake praise you have to offer during the gift-opening ceremony at the big family gathering.

This is a very vexing situation. You already know how the pageantry is going to play out, after decades of receiving gifts from certain family members and friends and dubious acquaintances. You’re fully aware of who will stun you with the perfect gift, and who will slam into a brick wall of ineptitude. Leopards rarely change their spots, especially if fundamentalist religion is somehow involved. So, in the interest of helping you maintain your sanity during that one day when you are supposed to show your love, as opposed to the other 364 days when showing love should be just as appropriate, here is a helpful plan of action that I have developed over the years.

If at all possible, try to be the anointed one given the task of dragging all the presents out from under the tree and distributing them to the lustful crowd. This can be a somewhat arduous endeavor, especially with my family, where it’s quite obvious that everyone has active sexual lives and every year brings a fresh crop of little urchins whose names you haven’t learned yet. The situation is complicated further by the previous crops of urchins who have since matured (at least physically) and they are now bringing boyfriends and girlfriends to the shindig. Every year there are people I have never seen before in my entire life.

Still, despite the moments of confusion, your gift-transporting efforts will pay off, because it keeps you occupied while everyone else finds themselves in a roving spotlight as they rip open presents and the rest of the room waits to see their reaction.  If things work out, by the time you are done with the UPS duties (discreetly shoving your own presents into a hidden demilitarized zone), the revelers will be sick of watching people destroy wrapping paper and they will all head into the kitchen for another round of desserts. This allows you to quietly have your own opening ceremony without someone’s Instagram photo capturing the horrified expression on your face.

Now, there’s always the chance that this process will backfire, with turkey-filled bellies weighing folks down and they have no interest in getting off the various couches and chairs. They will all turn their eyes to you, and suddenly you are the main event, forced to open all of your presents, one by one, in full view of Oprah and the Baby Jesus. You cannot allow this to happen. As you play “Santa”, shoving gifts at people you don’t really know, you must keep one calculating eye on all the participants that you do know, assessing their expectations and adjusting your deception accordingly.

If you spy a participant that is expectantly waiting for you to open something they have given you, you must interrupt your flight plan, find the designated present, tear into it with feigned gusto and glee, then go back to your newspaper route. This is an acceptable bit of bait and switch, giving the impression that you have been opening your gifts all along. (Besides, the people who have come bearing gifts of pure crappiness don’t care if you open them or not. They’re just here for the food and maybe a higher ranking in future dispersals from somebody’s trust fund.) This all sounds a bit exorbitant, fraught with unjust behavior, but the end goal is to survive the situation without offending anyone, which is what family gatherings are all about.

Wait, that’s not quite true. The end goal should be this: Sometimes the gift IS just as important as the thought, in a manner of speaking. Simply giving someone something trivial does not absolve you of what should be a deeper purpose, assuming that you actually care for the giftee and you aren’t dealing with someone who has not earned your faith and trust. You don’t have to spend a fortune to make someone happy. But you should understand how to make that person happy, and go from there. A framed photograph from a certain time. A book you both love. Tickets to a play that you have talked about seeing for years. An art deco pencil holder because you both reached for it at the same time at the antique mall, and you called dibs, but you were already planning ahead. The stupid stuffed animal you managed to win at the county fair years ago when neither of you knew what you wanted out of life, but you laughed all night long. A copy of the poem you wrote when you first, fumblingly began to figure out what it might be that you wanted.

Love is in the details, not in the price tag. It’s the little things, the shared randomness, the fleeing moments when you think “wow, I’m so happy I’m with you right now”, that bind us and keep us sane as we fumble our way toward our better selves.

Merry Peacemas.


Originally published in “Bonnywood Manor” on 12/23/15. Slight changes made, mostly to muddle the identities of certain relatives so they can’t be quite sure that I’m talking about them, but I really am, essentially negating my muddling with this comment…


25 replies »

  1. I am grateful that I have an extremely small gift-circle. At the moment I know every gift under our tree (well, they would be under the tree if I had actually put it up yet, but I haven’t – don’t judge me) and I am not expecting any surprises as my kids are pretty budget challenged this year, and we don’t do whole of family/relative gifts (phew). There is love aplenty, there will be time spent together and there will be minimal gifts – and we shall be happy. (Possibly we shall also have a slight desire to be surprised, but we can live with it when it doesn’t happen).

    Merry Peacemas to you and yours

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, not judging at all about the tree. I actually just put mine up today (which is further than I’ve gotten the last few years, to be honest). This time I don’t think I’ll put any ornaments on it (still debating), as right now I like the look of just clear lights, very simple and somehow refreshing. We haven’t yet wrapped any presents, which means there is a mad scramble in my future, especially if it becomes necessary to put SOMETHING under the tree to keep the cats from climbing up the middle of it and knocking it over…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It must be frustrating to have relatives like that. You remind me of a best friend who left the country because his prominent lawyer uncles tried to disown him for not following in their footsteps. Now he’s traveling the world and he’s happy. I really enjoyed reading these series and I’m looking forward to reading the next.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would love to travel the world, and I would be doing so now if it wasn’t for a pesky little thing called “money”. To be fair, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled rather extensively, but there are still so many places I would like to see. As for the series, stay tuned, as I’m about to launch another one… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • Some people say money can’t buy happiness. But for many people traveling is happiness, and who can travel without money?😆 You’ll be able to travel all you want once you become a bestselling author, it might happen soon. Can’t wait for your next series.😊

  3. #9. In these here parts nobody has (yet) begun this particular War of the Words. And if someone ever called me on my usage of either inappropriately, they could get stuffed. And not in a good way either. Me? I call that yummy confabulation of bread cubes and spices and sometimes toothsome bits of the bird itself (which we shall not ponder on WHAT they really’s the FLAVOR that’s important)…plus sage and mushrooms or oysters or whatever else some long dead matriarch STUFFED into the mixture; I call it DELICIOUS and dinner. Fuck the political correctness. If my relatives wanted THAT, they should have known better than to invite me in the first place. Hmmmpft.
    #10. This has been an ongoing problem in my nuclear family since before forever. Because NOBODY ever says anything. And me? I solved it by simply not buying anything for the grumblers at all. I mean, I have the internet. I have a telephone (well two. One cell phone so if you’re one of that illiterate bunch of texter morons ((no offense to people who like to text. Some are very well read and spoken too. I’m bitching about MY FAMILY here okay?)) and one land line. I get deliveries on a semi-regular basis from USPS. So TELL Me what the fuck you want or don’t expect to get anything. I’m so done trying to guess (and yes there is now a blog idea blossoming fecund-ly in my brain pan. Thanks a lot).
    #11. Gawd. The social phobic’s worst nightmare. I found a solution to this too oddly enough. I am now (apparently from the lack of invites this season) regarded as so odd that I think people are afraid to invite me for fear of what might come tumbling out of my open mouth (in words okay, we’re not going to the place where other stuff tumbles out randomly. THAT simply never happened. Ever.) The words that fall out can’t even be blamed on alcohol, because as you know, the good church going Utahan NEVER EVER DRINKS. I blame my lack of filters on my declining health and exhausted patience with idiots that outnumber the sane people 10 to one around here.
    #12 And here I was prepared to end this lengthy comment with something sarky and you blew a hole in my sails and now I’m just a bit sad. I will say that playing “Santa” always seemed so very unfair to me because, being a GIRL, I could never be “Santa” and nobody ever seems to ask the females in the crowd (save that matriarch of the clan. SHE can do any damned thing she wants, whenever she wants to and woe betide anybody who says anything about the appropriateness of her actions. People have been beheaded for such sins).. so I was always caught ‘deer in the headlights’ when I was the focus of the “Ooo let’s see WHAT YOU GOT” debacle. I hate having attention focused on me too and so the whole process is just torture. Last year was so excruciating and I was the one who hit the wall (really hard too) of the ‘bad’ gift to a certain S-I-L for whom I’ll never purchase another gift because I never get it right, that I’ve determined that this year will be the “oh my I’m so sorry, but I’m TOO ILL to come to your house, even though it’s five minutes over there and there isn’t even snow to blame my lack of participation ON” schtick. If THEY (assorted family members) don’t like it, tough Christmas cookies. I just don’t have the joy nor the acting ability this year to do my usual hide in plain site act. And I realize, especially with your last lovely words on this post, that I should go anyway. We’re all getting old and there’s damned few of us left. Next year promises already to be so vile that we may not have the option of getting together. I’m going to be more persistent about getting my Xanax prescription refilled or have a handy flask of vodka to nip. Merry f*cking Christmas to us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once again, you have concocted such an amazingly delicious comment that I dare not attempt to fully respond in kind or I will simply besmirch the beauty of your efforts. Suffice it to say that this one is going in the “best of” file…

      Instead, let’s talk about Xanax. Years ago, when the doctors were still trying to figure out how best to medicate my anxiety, they had me on Xanax for a while. It did the trick, as far as assuaging the anxiety to some degree, but it also made me incredibly uninhibited. This was fun at first, of course, not having a filter, but after a while there were just too many incidents when I should have just kept my mouth shut or my clothes on. So we went back to the trial-and-error routine until we eventually settled on Buspar. It keeps me from throttling people without the side effect of also wanting to dance naked in places where one shouldn’t even be dancing clothed…

      Liked by 1 person

      • You know, I’ve heard recently of Buspar. Maybe that’s the tact to try, because if one says “Xanax” to a medical professional (either head doctor or body doctor) one seems to get a hairy eyeball, an icy and testicle or nipple shriveling look, and the implication that one is a drug addict. And my last therapist said Xanax was merely alcohol dressed up as a pill, so why not just drink and have done with it. Thus my flask of vodka comment. For myself, Xanax was perfect. It didn’t make me so suicidal or sleepy that it wasn’t tenable to use it (I have a long post about Valium and such which I will share some time). I was alert and could participate in social requirements without wanting to scream or run far far away from the crowd. I didn’t burst into tears at something that ripped my heart, a frequent occurrence after the death of my parents and hubby. It happens all the time. I simply start crying for no good reason. Xanax was a blessing. And I hope those stupid addicts all go fall in a cold lake without hope of rescue. Is there NOTHING they won’t shoot or snort? My gawd.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Dressing/stuffing – truly I will call it ANYTHING anybody wants.

    The only fear of change in my Christmas heart is fear that net neutrality will be abolished on December 14th by the bought-and-paid-for party in power in America currently simply because many too many Americans are too busy dressing their animals in Christmas outfits and posting photos online to take the time to call, tweet, fax and email to tell those who thought they could slip this through at Christmas time that they will NOT keep their seats if they don’t stop this nonsense.

    Net neutrality is EVERYBODY’s issue. That’s what I want for Christmas this year.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am completely on the same page with you concerning Net Neutrality. Most folks are completely clueless about how this is going to impact them, yet any time I try to bring it up with friends and family, they shut me down because they don’t care. I worked for Verizon for decades, and this is something they have aggressively been trying to dismantle for a long time. (Interestingly enough, the chairman of the FCC who is trying to destroy net neutrality, appointed by Trump, used to work for Verizon. How more obvious can it be that Big Business runs our country?) In a very short while, it’s very possible that any of us who are not independently wealthy will not be able to afford decent Internet access. Very sad…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure why I even bother with the meddling since, if memory serves, the last relative who actually made a comment on one of blogs said something along the lines of “Congratulations on your third blog post!”. And so it goes… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. #10 is the hell I’m currently living. Dear God have mercy on my soul.

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your closing thought – “Love is in the details, not in the price tag. It’s the little things, the shared randomness, the fleeing moments when you think “wow, I’m so happy I’m with you right now”, that bind us and keep us sane as we fumble our way toward our better selves.” If only we could all remember that ❤️

    Merry Peacemas to you too. I like that expression. I think I might just have to use it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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