Rockin’ Around the Real Christmas Tree

Now that we’re almost empty nesters, my husband tentatively suggested that we destroy Christmas. We were cuddling in front of the TV when he whispered, “Do you think it’s time we invested in a fake tree?”

“No.”

“But a real tree stresses you out each year.”

“That’s not stress, it’s the Christmas spirit,” I replied.

“I didn’t know the Christmas spirit was so grouchy.”

DSC_0798A real Christmas tree has always been the center of my holiday decorating. Growing up, we’d hang stockings, put out Advent calendars and display nativity scenes, but the season didn’t officially start until the tree was plunked into a bucket of boiling Mountain Dew. We had the only caffeine-addicted tree on the street.

After dad strung the lights and went to hide in his bedroom, we’d attack the tree like a whirling tornado, fighting over who got to hang favorite ornaments. Once we were in bed, mom and dad would re-decorate and hang tinsel, one silvery strand at a time, on every branch.

I’ve carried on that tradition (minus the tinsel that would cling to our clothes) to create our own perfect Christmas tree.

Our holiday tree has never been a symbol of opulence. We’ve never had a Winter Wonderland tree with white fluffy reindeer frolicking through snowy silk ribbons, dangling with sparkly Swarovski crystals and silver-sequined snowflakes.

Instead, our tree’s branches are weighed down by homemade angels with ratted-out hair and lopsided halos, clothespin reindeer tangled around hand-beaded wreaths, and South Park characters rubbing shoulders with the baby Jesus.

Decades of school photo ornaments hang amid the evergreen boughs, detailing years of missing teeth, questionable hairstyles and teenage angst. And loved ones who have passed away are remembered with ornaments ranging from dancing shoes to teardrop prisms.

Put together, it’s an explosion of bad taste that would make Martha Stewart cry. But it’s not just a Christmas tree—it’s a family tree representing years of holiday memories.

The finished product is only half of the story. Finding the perfect Christmas tree is a tradition/catastrophe I anticipate/loathe every December. Hence my husband’s misguided “fake tree” suggestion. He just doesn’t understand that a plastic tree is a soulless imitation of holiday beauty, and the first step to anarchy.

Each year, I schedule a day to pick out a tree, and without fail it’s the coldest, snowiest, iciest weekend of the month. My youngest daughter tags along to make sure I get it right, and to help hold the tree on top of the car once the loosely-tied knots start to unravel–much like my mind.

We scour tree lots, looking for an evergreen that is devoid of bare spots, more alive than dead, and not full of spiders. (Don’t ask. It’s a horrible holiday memory.) We also try to avoid tree lots managed by the town drunk. (That’s another Christmas/horror saga involving a leering, inebriated tree salesperson with a chain saw.)

pig angelOnce the tree arrives safely home, we discover the 10-foot tree won’t fit into our 8-foot living room. We attack it with dull handsaws and scissors until it fits, and then, in a flurry of Christmas chaos, we adorn it with lights and ornaments, and top it with a rickety angel, balanced precariously on the highest branch.

When the dust settles, we’ll snuggle by the tree, watching Christmas lights twinkle while the snow softly falls. It’s the epitome of holiday perfection. Until my husband whispers, “What do you think about having Christmas dinner at Village Inn?”

Could be a long, cold winter in our home.

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Have Yourself an Eco-Friendly Christmas

It turns out that some scientists think we’re headed for a mass extinction. Merry Christmas!

chimney-exhaust-gases-factory-60575I guess our greedy attitude about the world’s resources is taking its toll on the oceans, rain forests, various ecosystems and the ability for celebrities to own a different fur coat for every day of the week.

In order to reverse this Christmatasrophe, we need to change our crappy behavior. I’ve put together some new holiday rules that might just save the planet. (You can thank me later.)

  • Due to the inversion, chestnuts can no longer be roasted on an open fire. Chestnuts can instead be microwaved and then sprayed with a chemical-free Roasting Chestnut air freshener.
  • In accordance with PETA guidelines, reindeers will not be allowed to fly for 24 hours without a bathroom or smoke break.
  • Naughty children will no longer receive lumps of coal, but will instead be given a stocking full of organic Brussel sprouts. (Much worse than coal.)
  • Colorful Christmas packages can only be wrapped in old newspaper, making them neither colorful nor timely.
  • Thanks to global warming, dreaming of a White Christmas is no longer allowed.
  • No Christmas trees can be displayed unless they’re made from reclaimed barn wood.
  • With the rapid rise in STDs, mistletoe can no longer be hung at office parties. (All other unacceptable behavior has been canceled.)
  • Christmas carolers can only go door-to-door with the proper permits and background checks.
  • The phrase, “Let your heart be light” only applies if your heart is powered by solar panels.
  • Because of the increasing number of people with diabetes, cookies for Santa are no longer allowed.
  • No family can send out Christmas newsletters. (Not to save the planet. I just don’t want to read them.)
  • Due to the melting of the polar ice caps, Santa’s workshop is being relocated to Canada.

While these changes are great, it’s not just our harmful environmental attitudes that need a holiday makeover.

Unregulated capitalism in America has created a society of materialistic little buggers (i.e. teenagers) who are never content. Cutting back on holiday extravagance could remind your family the importance of the season. As Thoreau once said, “Simplify, simplify.” (Although you’d think he could have said it once.)

You can tell your kids you’re trying to save money or you can tell your kids that Putin has “annexed” the North Pole and put a sanction on gifts made in Kris Kringle’s workshop. Whatever works.

Decorate your home with nature. Pine cones, dried leaves, artfully arranged twigs and fresh pine boughs (cut from your neighbor’s tree) can add a beautiful touch to a mantel or centerpiece. I went in my backyard to find some nature but only discovered little piles of Christmas spirit left for me by my dog.

For Christmas dinner, whip up a delicious batch of grass fed, locally-grown, free range sweet potatoes. Forgo the annual ham or turkey and try a fresh holiday green salad. (Don’t cook reindeer burgers, unless you want PETA to jump out from behind your couch and smack it out of your hand.) You could even give your guests a paper bag full of food scraps as a Start Your Own Compost Kit.

abandoned-abandoned-building-building-938044Then, on Christmas morning, while you’re sitting with your family amidst piles of gifts made from recycled soda cans, old socks and discarded toilet paper rolls, you can bask in the warmth of an eco-friendly Christmas. Or, according to scientists, it might be the warmth of poisonous gases trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. Happy holidays.

O Tidings of Comfort Annoy

blur-business-card-211290Now that Facebook has become a year-round newsletter, packed with enough posts to make us feel miserable all year long, can we finally call it quits on those dreadful holiday letters?

I understand a family newsletter can be a highlight of the season, recapping all your adventures with witty repartee and candy cane clip art, but to many people, this bragalicious tradition is lemon juice in the paper cuts of life. Reading about how you cured black lung disease or saved an endangered species makes others’ successes look like table scraps.

My newsletter would go something like this, “Dear family and friends, I did not get arrested this year. Happy New Year! Love, Peri.” (Disclaimer: The year’s not over yet.)

So, first of all, don’t write a Christmas letter. However, if you feel you must write an annual message or your life won’t be complete, here are tips to make it bearable for friends and family.

Let your children do the writing. I would LOVE getting a Christmas message that read, “Mom cries in the bathroom and tells us to eat Froot Loops for dinner. Dad has a special ‘drinking mug’ in his garage. Aunt Ethel spent Thanksgiving in the county jail for walking streets. Happy Holidays!”

Use your letter as a weapon. A Christmas newsletter can encourage friendly competition amongst your offspring. Announce who had the most As, the best-cleaned room or who peed the bed the least amount of times. Be sure to embarrass the *&%$ out of them so they’ll be on their best behavior next year.

Create an acronym. For instance, NOEL can be Notice Our Exceptional Lives or No One Enjoys Letters.

Quote Quiz. Choose the funniest quotes said by your family during the year and have your readers guess who said it.

January–“Who left the %&@* lights on?!”

February—“Is there a reason there are a dozen shoes by the back door?”

March—“Who left the %&@* lights on again?”

Write from your pet’s perspective. “This is Peri’s dog, Ringo. I was taken to the vet three times this year and had to get shots. She forgot to give me a treat twice last week, even after I sat under her feet for three consecutive episodes of Westworld. She also didn’t pet me long enough after she got home from work, but she gave me a steak bone, so all’s forgiven.”card-celebration-christmas-1652103

Share a family recipe. If people ask for your sugar cookie recipe, put it in your Christmas newsletter. But don’t be like my neighbor who leaves out key ingredients so my cookies never taste quite the same as hers. Not cool.

Don’t recount Family Disasters 2016. Your water heater broke, your car died in the desert, you have rats in the basement and bats in your belfry. You lost several jobs, were abducted by aliens and SWAT kicked in your door at 3 a.m. Newsletters are not catastrophe competitions. Next!

Don’t brag. For every straight-A accomplishment, for every award-winning dance competition and for every higher-salary promotion you exclaim over, your letter will be read by a man with kids struggling in school, a daughter with no noticeable rhythm and a woman in a dead-end, mind-numbing job. Take it down a notch, will ya?

Even better, since I never receive mail anymore (except for Hickory Farm catalogs and postcards from mortgage companies), maybe save all your glowing updates for Facebook and Instagram where you can gush all you’d like. You can even add clip art.

The Stockings were Flung in the Chimney with Flair

Every year on November 30, while my girls slept, I’d spend the evening putting up Christmas decorations. I’d place every Santa just so and every angel just right. My daughters would wake up to a magical Christmas wonderland with twinkling lights, cinnamon-scented pinecones and beautifully wrapped packages.

branch-celebration-christmas-257909That was my dream. Reality was much different.

Oh, the house was decorated, and the girls were excited, but within five minutes the entire holiday-scape was destroyed.

My daughters would walk into the idyllic wonderland I’d created, squeal with glee and run to their favorite Christmas decoration. One daughter immediately turned on the display that had Disney characters barking your favorite carols. If you haven’t heard “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung in “Woofs” by Pluto for 25 days in a row, you don’t know the real meaning of Christmas.

Another daughter ran to the Nativity scene where she helped Mother Mary run off with Frosty the Snowman, leaving Baby Jesus in the care of a 6-foot polar bear wearing a holiday scarf.

Yet another daughter took the ornamental French horn off the wall and marched through the house trumpeting Jingle Bells. Not to be outdone, her little sister used the tree skirt as a cloak and pretended to be the Queen of Christmas, which caused several fistfights in front of the holy manger.

When the girls went off to school each day, I’d put all the decorations back in their traditionally ordained locations. I found Ken and Barbie naked in a Christmas stocking. I discovered one of the Wise Men snuggled with an angel behind an advent calendar. I glued the shepherds’ crooks back on because the girls would have them fight ninja-style and kept breaking them off.

I found the singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer shoved into a pile of laundry. Oh, wait. I’d put that there. Because it never shut up.

The girls would come home from school and spend the rest of the evening rearranging the decorations while I radiated anger.

“Leave the damn tree alone!” I’d repeat 40 times a day.

“But someone moved my ornament from its special place.” (Insert the sound of Christmas decorations falling off the tree.)

When I found the Christmas pillow I had painstakingly cross-stitched had been used to wipe up a Kool-Aid spill, I finally lost it. I was exhausted from trying to redecorate the house every day to keep everything looked perfect.

I screeched, in a very unholiday voice, “Put the Baby Jesus back in the manger before I tell Santa to burn all your presents!”

Everyone froze. The daughter who had wrapped Baby Jesus in layers of toilet paper to keep him warm looked at me, eyes brimming with tears. “I just wanted to hold him,” she said, as her lip quivered.

art-celebration-child-701025

That’s when it hit me. I was the Grinch. Why the hell was I ruining Christmas? Why was I trying to keep everything perfect? To my daughters, it was already perfect. They loved the decorations and wanted to play with them for the short time they were displayed.

I took a few deep breaths. I apologized. I even agreed to sit through a Christmas play where the Wise Men kidnapped Jesus and held him for ransom, but a stuffed Santa Claus karate-kicked the Wise Men to rescue the holy babe who was given back to Mother Mary. (She had returned from her illicit rendezvous with Frosty in time to change the baby’s diaper and put him back in the manger.)

My house was messy and emotional, but delightful and creative, too. This was my Christmas wonderland.

An Open Letter to Santa 2016

santaletter

Dear Santa,

I fear we’ve miscommunicated. I thought we agreed there were certain people on your list who would NOT be given the gift of the United States presidency.

Maybe when I specifically asked you to “Give him coal” you heard, “Let’s bring back coal.” Perhaps when I said, “Protect women’s rights” you were certain I said, “Let’s roll the advancement of women back to the 1950s.” Maybe  a rational, temperate, well-spoken and kind president wasn’t available this year. Perhaps it was out of stock?

I understand. Maybe you were blinded by the orange glow radiating from the president-elect’s skin. Perhaps his promise to “Bring back Merry Christmas” was enough for you to look the other way as he Twitter-raged through the last couple of months.

When I was a child, if I treated others poorly or if I was bombastic and proud, I would be disappointed on Christmas morning. I’m pretty sure if I had secret dealings with a Russian leader, spewed racist and/or sexist comments and continued to think I was “Smart enough” to run a country without intelligence briefings, I would get a lump of coal in my stocking.

Oh, wait. He got Big Coal, Big Oil and Big Industry for Christmas.

While the idea of a Trump presidency scares the shit out of me, I keep wishing on a Christmas star that his pompous act is all for show, and deep down he knows what the hell he’s doing. But as he continues to rant at Twitter execs, Vanity Fair, the cast of Hamilton and SNL, and anyone else who dares have an opposing view, I fear for the future.

So, Santa, since you’ve already f***ed up the holiday season, maybe bring our new president the gift of diplomacy, grace, humility and love for all human beings. Or bring the rest of us lots of alcohol.

Love,

Peri

 

 

Top 5 Christmas Party Games

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Everyone loves a good party game (except introverts and cats). A fun game gets guests mingling and talking to each other. (Never mind. Christmas games sound like hell.)

But if you insist on tormenting your party goers with games, at least get creative. Here are the Top 5 Christmas Party Games for you to try this year.

Christmas Charades: Acting out common holiday phrases seemed like a good idea until drunk Aunt Edna horrified all the party guests with her depiction of “Santa’s sack.”

Two Truths-One Lie–Christmas Edition: Each person describes the funniest Christmas presents they’ve received, two should be true and one is made up. This was going well until Great-Grandma said, “During Christmas 1932, I got drunk, got herpes and got pregnant with this asshole.” (Pointing at your grandpa.) “And those are all true!”

Holiday Twenty Questions: If your parents are fighting, don’t even start this game. You’ll be traumatized for life.

Mom: Okay, Frank. Here’s your first question. Did you &$%# that girl from Jimmy John’s at the office party?

Dad: I don’t think that’s the way this game is played, Ruth.

Mom: Talk to my attorney.

Christmas Carol Pictionary: Draw the name of a popular Christmas song and your team has to sing it once they figure out what it is. This seems like cruel and unusual punishment for people who can’t draw or sing. You’ll probably also get into arguments that go something like, “Who taught you how to draw a Christmas tree? Helen Keller?!”

Family Feud Christmas: Wait. That isn’t a game. That’s just Christmas.

familystrangle1

 

Happy Holidays!

An Open Letter to Santa 2015

Dear St. Nick,

I know you’re busy with all your dashing and dancing and prancing and vixing, and I know you have mall appearances, party stops, photo ops, elf control, reindeer upkeep and sleigh polishing, not to mention Mrs. Claus’ to-do-list. So I thought I’d help you out by putting together a Naughty/Nice list that could save you a lot of time.

Do NOT leave gifts for these people/groups:

Any Kardashian/West. There’s nothing you can give them they can’t give themselves. Including pretentious names.

Any candidate for president of the USA. From Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders, these people deserve NOTHING. Correction: these people deserve to live like middle-class Americans for six months. Make it so.

gop

(Let’s have our election Hunger Games-style.)

Any member of ISIS. Since they don’t celebrate Christmas anyway, I guess that’s not an issue. Maybe just have your reindeer poop on the Syrian headquarters.

Random people with guns. Not only should you NOT leave gifts, you should take their guns and hide them at the North Pole.

Anyone who posts a selfie. Get over yourselves!!!

These people/groups deserve something nice:

The Prince William/Kate Middleton Family. They are the epitome of freakin’ cuteness. They don’t need stuff. Maybe just keep them safe.

royal family

(The All-American family. If they were American.)

Pope Francis. He’s probably not that big of a gift guy, so you can give his presents to the poor.

Middle-class Americans: Hey, we’re just trying to make it through and shaking our fists in helplessness as politicians screw with our lives.

People who care for animals: As more animals are listed as endangered, these people bring attention to saving everything from elephants to whales. (Maybe don’t give them anything with fur or leather.)

Kids: But nothing electronic. Make sure they have to take their toys outside.

Travel safely, Santa. Be sure to avoid surface-to-air missiles, drones, Donald Trump and brownies in Colorado.

Merry Christmas!