Christmas Is Getting Older

Christmas comes faster but means less. The holiday's increasing commercialism is a trope time-tested, measurably accurate and increasingly depressing.

In 2018, retailers jump-started holiday ads in early November. For ye olde brick-and-mortars, it feels like a desperate attempt to convince us they're still viable. Amazon's Hurricane Florence-level flooding of the airwaves has a sadistic air of triumph. 

Charlie Brown is looking like an optimist these days. The message of Christmas has been diluted, perverted, squashed and left for dead by the side of the information superhighway.

Or maybe it's me.

Is Your Family Dysfunctional? A Holiday Quiz

Do you dread holidays? Have to gird yourself to face the relatives? Most likely your anxiety relates to sharing a room with a dysfunctional family. To see where yours falls along the spectrum, take this insightful quiz.

PART 1

Which of the following describes members of your family? Note: One person can qualify in multiple categories. Step-relatives count! And don’t forget to include yourself!

1. Racists
2. Ageists
3. Prejudiced against a certain religion or ethnicity (extra point for each)
4. Weapon-loving “loners”
5. Woman haters or abusers
6. Man haters or abusers
7. Dog-haters
8. Extreme Dog- and/or Cat-lovers (caring for more than five animals)
9. Pedophiles
10. Registered sex offenders
11. Drug addicts
12. Alcoholics
13. Gambling addicts
14. Sex addicts
15. Obese overeaters, bulimics, anorexics or others with eating disorders

Ugly Undertones to Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Twitter posts call out the nastiness underlying a perennial Christmas animated special; Huffington Post aggregates the observations to create a damning portrait.

And another cherished memory is spoiled. 
Image result for rankin bass rudolph
www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-disturbing-details_us_5bfe058fe4b0f43bf2661c7f 

This follows the revelation that 1970's Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, also from cheesy animation studio Rankin-Bass, has some negative undertones of its own.

Header
https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/119079/a-very-gay-jewish-christmas 
In Sombertown, the evil ruler Burgermeister Meisterburger orders toys burned and children into forced labor. Ho ho ho! Try to sleep well now, woke kiddies.

The House from Hell

For nine years I lived in a freak house. I'm not talking about my family, necessarily, but about the house itself. I lived in one of the most upscale suburbs and school districts in the country--but our house was a falling-down rental at the end of a long, rutted driveway. It wasn't exactly The Glass Castle, more like Grey Gardens without the money.
My brother in our creepy driveway
Today that driveway is a smoothly paved road through a development of multimillion-dollar houses in Westchester County. But in my memory it lives on as a hellish byway of broken asphalt, ancient patch jobs and loose gravel that scared away parents and children, and ruined Halloween (and many an undercarriage).

Holidays in Hell


This site examines holidays as defined in American English: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, etc. But in British English, the word "holiday" means vacation. So, a hellish holiday can mean a really awful vacation - as described in this somewhat horrifying article.



Seriously? Who would choose any of these places over the South of France?

The Phantom Anniversary

This week was and wasn't my thirtieth wedding anniversary. It was, because I got married in 1988. And it wasn't, because we split up 11 years ago. 

I think of this date as my phantom anniversary. Most years it passes with minimal notice - and it's noticed mostly because it's the week of July 4th, so forever wedded in my mind to that holiday. But I took more substantial notice at the 20 mark (we actually had a mediation appointment that day), at 25 and again, this week, at 30. 

I loved my wedding. Heck, I loved my husband. I loved celebrating anniversaries, except toward the end, which should have given me a hint that it was toward the end. Love is something to celebrate, especially when it results in a child I love more than anything.

But a big phantom anniversary is bound to induce some retrospective thoughts. What used to be, what might have been, what went wrong, but also what went right.&

New York, Mon Amour Perdu

My New York was studded with cramped record and bookstores, unique boutiques, grungy abandoned buildings, out-of-the-way clubs. Today, abandoned and out-of-the-way have been taken over and jam packed by chain purveyors of brows, Brazilians and boba. Cupping, computers and craft beers. Smoothies, cycles and cell phones.

None of these retail categories existed when I left New York 30 years ago. Over the decades, my dozens of return visits have presented an ever-growing litany of change. I wasn't surprised when Anthony Dapolito died and his family's Vesuvio Bakery closed, or that CBGBs finally bit the dust. Those and others held out longer than most could have expected.

Less predictable were the hideous sliver buildings that cast creepy shadows and prick the skyline like a ravenous addict's syringes. The Twin Towers - much-derided almost-slivers themselves, have been elevated to a metaphor for a dangerous world where America no longer holds moral or actual authority. Time-Warner Center's replacement of Columbus Circle's admittedly funky convention center. The Trump desecration of the Upper West Side.

Halloween Date From Hell

It just seems wrong to complain about a Hellish Halloween. After all, isn't that the whole point? Yes, there are parades and parties and dressing up. But the holiday's very nature is to be creepy. It's about scaring small children, TPing and egging, eating too much candy, getting separated from your hard-to-recognize friends...there are so many ways this gruesome holiday can go bad. Here's one you may not have thought of before.

One October in my twenties I was single and going through a dry spell. OK, large chunks of my twenties were dry, but that's another (hellish) story. I went out to dinner with a couple of girlfriends, and one of them brought her brother, Andrew. Andrew was, like me, a writer, but unlike me he actually had published several books.

Andrew and I hit it off. Sure, he was short, pudgy and bald, but at least he was funny. Ask my friend Peter--my main dating credo is "As long as he's funny." I believe the way he put it was, "Well, no one could accuse you of having a physical 'type.'" Frankly, Peter was always unable to differentiate between laughing with my dates and laughing at them. But I digress.


Christmas Is Always Coming

No, you're not imagining things. Christmas consumerism comes earlier every year. And this year may set the record: Dollar Tree has just released its 2017 "Holiday Book."  

A Public Service Announcement: Emergency Communications

Being unable to find out if my mother was dead or alive in Puerto Rico for five days post-Maria was terrifying, especially because she had a broken leg and was housebound. I learned a lot from this horrendous experience, mostly that you need to have a plan in place BEFORE a disaster. And that plan has to be more than “Call me as soon as you can.”

Here are my hurricane-inspired guidelines for communication in emergency situations.

1. Phone. The most frustrating aspect of the Hurricane Maria emergency was the complete lack of working phones anywhere – not just on the island, but on widely shared lists of governmental aid agencies like FEMA. NONE of those numbers worked, even when their area codes were in places not affected by the hurricane. Here’s a newsflash: you will not be able to rely on the government for communication in case of an emergency. It will be private citizens and NGOs that make things happen.

That said, even though phone service may be out for days, phones are still your first line of defense. Create a network of friends and family in different states and even countries. If the person in the disaster zone can get through to even one, he or she can spread the word to the rest of the network. Create your own plan, with people you know and trust, and watch out for each other.

Note that sometimes texting works even when regular phone service doesn’t. Keep calling and texting. At some point, phones will come back online. Don't fill up voicemail in case others need to leave messages.  

Oh, and keep your phone charged! Have at least one portable charger like this one and keep it/them charged too.

A Democrat's Holiday Lament

It's Christmas 2016 and you're not feeling it. Somehow you've managed to throw up some decorations, bake some cookies and wrap some gifts. But the more you try to stoke the flames of holiday joy, the more apparent it becomes: This will be a sad one. SAD, as in Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD as in Sorrowful, Anguished, Distraught.

You've tried to get into the spirit, but instead of counting your blessings, you're counting the number of petitions you've signed, the horrifying cabinet appointments, the looming decades of despair. 

Your incoming president and his minions are laying the framework to destroy the few things you liked about the government. Every day brings another "Springtime for Hitler" moment, and you watch, agape, as another Worst Possible Thing happens. No wait, here's something even worse.

Your friends are sick of listening to you bitch, and vice versa. You all agree the wallowing has got to stop, but each new announcement brings fresh wails of pain.

Your once cohesive group of Facebook friends is now a tattered assemblage of groups you've painstakingly customized to see curated posts. Your Facebook feed is littered with threats, demands and nasty comment-based mudslinging. You've been unfriended and you've unfriended others - including some family members. And so you enter the holiday season with fewer friends, and even though that's only true in a virtual sense, it feels very IRL.

You've attempted a news blackout, swearing off CNN and MSNBC and changing your home page away from The New York Times because every story you forget to avoid punches you in the gut. You feel alternately sick and guilty: The gifting of our country to one percenters and science deniers should be energizing you to take action...but all those worsts have worn you down. So you're only watching Shark Tank and Big Bang Theory on regular TV, and binging on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Amazon's cancellation of Good Girls Revolt at the moment you finished the first season hit you like a sucker punch.

You've gotten fewer Christmas cards this year, and those you did get came without a cheery Christmas newsletter because, well, no one's feeling that cheery and there isn't much good news.

The weather is making climate change doubters gleeful because it got cold again and that means the glaciers are saved, right? Drilling in the Arctic is back on, either way.

Sure, SNL is must-see again, but only because it makes you smile as it twists the knife. 

Satire is surely a goner. Fiction couldn't think up anything crazier than what's been going on this year.

Leonard Cohen, Prince and Bowie are silenced forever, while Kid Rock and Ted Nugent step back into the spotlight. 

Christmas 2016: The poster child for Hellish Holidays.

Unthankful

Parents go to a lot of trouble to give their kids delicious food, time with extended family and memorable experiences on Thanksgiving. Here's how some ungrateful wretches respond. (Caution: $#&;*$%^ language ahead)

That Darn Election


Those Darn Slackers


Irredeemable Slacker (Almost) Redeemed


Note: This guy has been on YouTube as long as Hellish Holidays has been publishing!

A Very Jimmy Halloween

The 6th anniversary of watching parents humiliate their kids and show off the poor parenting skills that created these tantrum-throwing sugar junkies.


Hungry for more? Here are the previous editions.

2015


2014


2013


2012


2011

#ThanksgivingFail

Here we go again.

Glitches in plans longstanding and last-minute. 
Travel that dooms any sense of thankfulness and reinforces the theory that hell is other people. 
Family that threatens to do the same. 
Eating to the point of bursting seams, guilt and depression. 
Continued drought...or early snow. 
Black Friday mania and marketing run amok.
The dreary trek back home.

Happy Hellish Thanksgiving!

A Hildegarde Thanksgiving

"The Incomparable Hildegarde" (1906-2005) was a star for 70 years. At her peak, in the 1940s and '50s, she was the top supper club entertainer in New York. Despite her Wisconsin roots, she had a sophisticated European air about her: She wore long gowns and opera-length gloves. Her ever-present handkerchief served a role comparable to that of Steven Tyler's scarves today. She was best known for the song "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup," which was written by her lover/manager Anna Sosenko.

Why the history lesson? Because Hildegarde plays a supporting role in one of my most hellish Thanksgivings.

The year was 1983. I wouldn't say Hildegarde was at the height of her powers, but at 77 she was still breathing, and for a legend that's enough. For years I'd heard stories about how my well-heeled grandparents would travel from Washington, D.C. to New York in the postwar years to take in some theater and see Hildegarde. My grandmother, known as Mimi, was born the same year as the chanteuse, and Thanksgiving that year was her own 77th birthday.

When my mom and I saw that "The Incomparable Hildegarde"> would be performing in Manhattan at the same time that Mimi would be up from Washington for Thanksgiving and her birthday, we decided to surprise her with tickets. We needed something positive because things had gotten somewhat shaky in our family--so much so that Thanksgiving dinner was actually held at my one-bedroom apartment in Queens.

There were six of us comprising three generations: grandmother, mother and four grown and almost-grown children, including the only "man" present, my younger brother. Mimi was selected to carve the turkey, which I recall did not make her happy. To her, a Thanksgiving table without a patriarch was like a Norman Rockwell picture entitled "Failure."

We dragged the kitchen table into the living room, added in both leaves, and threw a sheet over it as a tablecloth. (What can I say? I was young and no one had yet had a reason to throw me a shower.) Needless to say, the dishes were mismatched and whatever I put into service as a turkey platter, I'm sure it had not been designed with that use in mind.

Dinner was tense. Blame was flung and tears shed. The ever-stoic Mimi was able to stay focused on reminding everyone how much better her life had been than ours were shaping up to be. It was a relief to be done with it all. And finally it was the moment to present Mimi with her Hildegarde tickets and give her the good news that tonight we would all be seeing the show together.

Mimi took one look at the tickets and burst into tears. None of us had ever seen her cry before, even when her husband had died. She was more of what you might call a carrier: she caused tears but didn't have much first-hand experience with them. It was quite a shock. She composed herself quickly, though, and explained that even just seeing the name Hildegarde had brought back vivid memories of better times before her disappointing grandchildren had been born. (OK, she didn't say that last part, but it was implied.) She had mixed feelings about going: what if Hildegarde's voice was shot and she was a pale imitation of her former self? And, more importantly, what would we all be wearing? Did we even own decent clothes, because obviously what we were wearing didn't measure up.

Well, to fast forward through the subsequent arguing and transportation issues, we all calmed down and went. Hildegarde sounded great, and everyone had a much-needed brush with elegance. We might not have been the most stylish members of Hildegarde's audience, but I'll always know in my heart that we were the most dysfunctional.


Originally posted Thanksgiving 2010.