My most hellish New Year's Eve took place a few years ago with a (now) ex boyfriend who had an obsession with fox hunting. We didn't have any big plans, which I was already disappointed about. At around 8p.m. he asks if I want to go fox hunting. I seriously convinced myself that this must be some attempt on his part to cover up a big romantic gesture for New Years!! He was going to surprise me! Maybe with a moonlight proposal!!
Now fox hunting can only be done at night and best in a field at the edge of woods. Well, it had rained all day, so the field was quite muddy. I was a good sport and trudged through the mud for hours just waiting patiently for my romantic midnight surprise. Needless to say, it never came. Fox hunting really was all he had in mind for New Year's Eve! And as for my surprise, well...I was a little surprised when he actually had the nerve to yell at me for tracking mud in his truck!! What an idiot. He didn't get a fox. I didn't get a ring. And we broke up a couple days later. Happy New Year!!!
We thank our other entrants for their hellish memories:
I was having a small get together one New Year's eve and my girlfriend's husband's band was playing that night at a local club. My girlfriend said that she would stop by on her way to the club. Well she did stop by at around 8 o'clock (before the invite) but she also brought her children (2 and 4) with her. She said that she had to run to get some equipment to bring to her husband and would I watch the kids for about an hour. Needless to say she showed up at 4am. So I had to throw this party with 2 whiny kids who would not go to sleep and everyone left early and I had to stay up and wait for her. Bad start to the New Year.
In 1978 I had orders to report to Washington state. Had to drive from Colorado and was a bit nervous. Contacted an old flame and he offered to help me drive out. He flew in and we set off. Though I was to go to Washington, I hadn't been to San Fransico so we decided to try and make it there for New Year's Eve even though we could only stay a few hours.
We did arrive in SF on the night of New Year's Eve, and decided to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was so foggy that I couldn't even see the guide rails of the bridge, let alone any scenic view. We decided to try and find a place to eat, but everything was packed. We located one establishment that seemed empty and we felt lucky. We sat down and settled in for a nice dinner. The waiter arrived and stated "unfortunately, the kitchen was closed." No meal for us. We went to the wharf area and the fog prevented me from seeing anything at all. We found a lounge with live entertainment that managed to seat us. After approx. 15 minutes, the comedian stood up, told a quick joke, turned around, bent down as though he were picking up his banjo, then dropped his pants, mooning the audience. Embarrassing!
So, we drove 500 miles out of our way. Didn't get to see any of the sights in SF, couldn't get anything to eat and was MOONED!! To this day, I wonder what San Fransisco looks like!
Back when I was in high school, there was a creepy guy who was interested in me. I did nothing to encourage his interest. Surprisingly, he hung out with a pretty cool crowd. Maybe the fact that his family had money helped him make friends with these guys, because it didn't make sense otherwise.
So when he invited me to a New Year's Eve party at his house, I accepted, thinking I would have a chance to get to know one of his more appealing friends. I should have been suspicious when he said he'd pick me up, but since I didn't have a car, I did need a ride.
When we got to his house, I was horrified to discover his parents were out and there were no other guests! No, they weren't late, he simply had not invited anyone else. As soon as I figured out he was using the supposed "party" as an opportunity to get me alone, I told him I was feeling ill (and believe me, I was) and insisted he take me home immediately. He may have told his friends something happened between us, but he knew better than to speak to me again.
My worst New Year's Eve was when I was 21. I was finally legal to go out and party. Woohoo! I had been dating a guy for two weeks. We had gone out twice. He invited me to go out on New Year's Eve. I bought a new dress and shoes. I looked very nice. The lodge we went to was very crowded and I didn't know anyone there, so I was a little shy. We danced and had fun until about 10:00. Then he got down on one knee....
You see where this is going? I started shaking my head no, asking him "Don't do this." He proposed to me in front of dozens of his friends! I had to tell him no. I barely knew him. Needless to say we didn't last until midnight and he never asked me out again.
I dearly loved my friend, Carol, and we had gone out partying on New Years, 1972. We were having lots of fun and meeting new people when Carol said she was leaving. She said she'd meet me back at my house (She had the key). When I returned I found Carol had slit her wrists in my bathroom. Luckily, she was still alive but I just couldn't believe it was my friend's blood all over the bathroom. After the paramedics took her to the hospital and I was sure she was going to be find I had to face telling her parents. What a hellish evening. She got the help she needed after that.
My most Hellish New Year occurred the year after I turned 21. We got directions to a much hyped house party and were excited to get there. We needed to make a beer run, so the rest of the group went ahead and we were to meet them later at the party. The directions were bad and we got lost.
We pulled over to look at a map and as we did fire trucks raced past us.
We couldn't find the party so we followed the fire trucks to the scene of the fire. We watched as some strangers holiday loot went up in smoke.
Luckily we had a cooler and each other, but it still really sucked.
My worst New Year's Eve ever was back in the 60's (yes, I'm that old). It started off just fine, lots of friends, great music (love those Doobie Brothers and CCR), and, of course, smoke & booze. Well, guess I over-did it, cuz don't remember most of the night, have no idea how I got home (my roomates couldn't remember either) but hope we didn't drive - but probably did. But I guess I just hope we ALL had a good time, just can't remember!
First, there was the shopping. Despite trips to several stores and the dreaded Grove, I didn't find any of the six remaining children's gifts I need for our Christmas Eve with my cousins. My husband did find something for himself at the Apple Store, which I convinced him to let me buy and hide for a couple of days, but let's face it, that's not the way it's supposed to work. And I did pick up something for him that he didn't know about--until he looked in the bag by mistake. Oh, and he left the receipt for a gift he bought me on the passenger seat of his car--also known as my seat. So much for surprises.
As for making dinner, I can't hide from the truth any more: I'm all baked out. After cooking nonstop for about 10 days, I don't even want to push a button on the microwave, much less turn on the "real" oven. I actually gave my son mozzarella sticks for dinner last night. If I had one of those "World's Greatest Mom" mugs, I'd be forced to turn it in on the basis of that meal alone. Yet even the guilt doesn't inspire me to get my culinary butt in gear.
Now the capper of the day. We had tickets to see 13, a musical about being that age, at the Mark Taper Forum downtown. My son happens to be 13 so I figured it would either be the proverbial "fun for the whole family" or give his father and me some much-needed insights into the teenage experience.
We arrived at the Music Center to find a sing-along underway. The gathered masses were singing "White Christmas," which I find ironic considering there has never been a White Christmas in L.A.--and based on climactic trends, odds aren't looking good. In fact, the only snow around here is trucked in or manufactured at great expense for over-indulged pre-schoolers' "holiday parties," or as background for the Grove's tree-lighting ceremony (see previous link).
I listened casually to "White Christmas" and was ready to move on, when they transitioned into "Silent Night." Uh oh. This is the one, the tear jerker extraordinaire, the carol whose name alone can make my sister laugh because it reminds her of year after year of my weeping. It's beyond Pavlovian. I wanted to get the heck out of there, but it turns out we were early enough that we had time to listen. My husband insisted--he must think I like to cry in public, which of course I did. My son just shook his head. I couldn't wait to get into the theater.
Well, when I showed my printout at the "Will Call" window to pick up our tickets, I was informed that we were a week early. This is not the first time I've shown up on the wrong night--in fact, I've shown up at the wrong theater a few times as well. But on top of the holiday stress, it was just too much. I felt like a big loser.
Luckily, my family chose to find this slip-up funny. We'll be back next week, and I can only pray that, since Christmas will be over, I won't encounter "Silent Night" next time around. Luckily, "Auld Lang Syne" doesn't have the same effect on me--except for the Dan Fogelberg version. Here's hoping that one hasn't reached sing-along status.
I went to New York this past weekend. It's a week before Christmas, so I figured, Prime Time. And apparently a lot of other people figured the same thing. The place was claustrophobia-inducing.
I know, I know--it's always crowded and noisy. This was different. This was a trampling waiting to happen. There were lines around the block for those trendy cupcake places. Lines to get into Marc Jacobs on Bleecker. Lines for mediocre brunch spots. Lines to go past the department store Christmas windows. Lines to cross the street--and four policeman at each midtown intersection to make sure no one cheats. Lines for ice skating at Rockefeller Center. Lines to take pictures of ice skating at Rockefeller Center. (And by the way, a very unimpressive tree this year. Make a little effort!)
Thousands upon thousands of tourists. And the worst part? I was one of them, with my camera and my naive dreams, like one of those Today Show nuts (at least I didn't have a homemade sign saying hi to Mom!). I asked my native friends to come with me and got shut down. They know what I used to: stay away from midtown in December. (They can't stay away from the Village because they live there, but they can certainly stay away from the cupcakes and Marc Jacobs.)
I never got close to any department store windows. I couldn't even bring myself to try. I headed north, toward Central Park, before I came to my senses and remembered I had to go to the Nintendo store for a new Wii remote. Of course, that's a block south of the tree and the crush that goes with it. And even more of course, they were sold out.
The weather was unseasonably warm, which probably increased crowd size. It was in the 50s all weekend, just like in Los Angeles (the difference is that in Los Angeles everyone was complaining about how cold it was). One more reason to dream of a White Christmas: maybe a cold snap will get all those OTHER people off the streets.
I love being with a group I have personally curated: people who mean a lot to me, with a few I want to know better mixed in for freshness. I love the aha moments when friends of mine who haven't met each other discover something they have in common. I love the way a party flows, from welcoming the first arrivals and assuring them they're not too early, to the crunch time in the middle, to the quality time spent with the last to leave.
For the most part, I also love the planning: invitations, menu, baking plan, shopping. It's the last few days before the event when everything takes an inevitably hellish turn. It doesn't matter how far in advance I've started or how airtight my plan. Party panic comes over me like a fever and I'm convinced it will all come crashing down.
Here are my main areas of pre-party anguish:
Number to plan for. How many to expect? It's always a moving target:
Those who don't RSVP. Do I call them and ask if they're coming, or just try to figure out who'll show and who won't?
Cancellations. Some percentage of those who said they were coming call to cancel (a better offer?).
Extras. The flip side: Guests ask if they can bring extra people (usually visiting relatives or houseguests). I used to worry that these extras, who always seem to be women, would throw off the male-female ratio. Now I just worry about having enough chairs.
The Great Unknown. They say "maybe" and never follow up. Will they or won't they?
No Shows. Anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of expected guests--people who actually took the trouble to RSVP--don't show up. Maybe half of these will call and explain themselves. The others, who knows?
The final crowd at any party always contains some surprises, whether the person I couldn't wait to see who mysteriously never made it, or the friend of a friend who pitches in and helps when things get busiest. Besides, in Los Angeles, or maybe just in the times in which we live, you can't expect even a simple commitment without second-guessing. This is the area I worry about the least because I usually have too much food anyway.
Food. I like to do everything myself (except the Honeybaked ham), so I start early and cook all week. Since I don't bake too often during the other 11 months of the year, I have to adjust to the issues that arise anew:
Over- and Under-Cooking. Recipe-given baking times with no basis in reality ("It's still not done?" or "How can it be burned?").
Tedium. How long it really takes to roll out dough and cut out shapes and then roll out more dough and cut out more shapes and then decorate the shapes...I usually end up with at least one or two Ziplock bags of dough in the refrigerator at the end of the week because I just couldn't face the rolling pin again.
The Time Suck. Discovering part of a recipe I hadn't noticed before that keeps me up past midnight. For Christmas, I mostly make old familiar things, but even those are not without pitfalls. It's amazing how I can block out the time-consuming parts.
Running out of Ingredients. Shocking how this happens despite the best planning efforts. Can I substitute yogurt for sour cream? What if I only have vanilla yogurt?
Dishwashing. There's something about washing the same things over and over again that gets to me after a while.
Injuries. It happens to me all the time: I cut open a finger. The most recent time, I was slicing bread right before a party and cut right into my thumb. It wouldn't stop bleeding, and bled right through the band-aid to put a drop of blood on a dress that had only had the tags cut off minutes earlier.
Cleaning. Here we have the crux of my party-planning problem. I know many people who say they like to give parties because it gives them an excuse to clean up the house. Well, my situation is to that as full-blown pneumonia is to the common cold. I live in a house where the word "clutter" is not just an understatement but a distant memory. What we have are teetering piles, the kind of excess that makes news when it buries the packrat who wasn't able to let go of anything and was crushed by his own newspapers. As much as I'd love to pull a dumpster up to the driveway, I have to be satisfied with hiding stuff in closets. Sometimes I hide things so well that they disappear for years.
I love the post-party honeymoon period when the clutter is still hidden away and the dishes are all clean. Just don't get me started on the next phase: back to normal.
And I've kept up. I read the New York Times, New Yorker and New York Magazine every single week. I resent that NY1 isn't available on DirecTV. I met with someone in the development office of NYU, my alma mater, just two weeks ago.
My New York friends are the ones I came of age with, and they know me in ways my LA friends don't (and that's a good thing--not everyone should remember the way you looked in braces or the way you smelled first time you got drunk). Perhaps most importantly, my brother and sister and their families are both there. (My mom now lives in Puerto Rico, but that's a topic for another blogging day. Caution: hellish Thanksgiving story ahead.)
In short, if I could have figured out a way to have a dog, a car, a tree and a second bedroom in NYC, I might still be there. But I couldn't so I'm not. Instead, I head east on a seasonal basis: spring and fall because they're so perfect there, summer because there's no school schedule to work around. And in December, I need my Christmas-in-New York fix.
I haven't had that fix in a while and it's time. I want to shop. More specifically, I want to window shop at the big department stores like Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. OK, I admit I'll go inside, too. I want to see friends and family. I want to deliver Christmas cookies and gifts personally.
So I booked a trip the only days I could get away this month. And I blew it. The first night I'm gone is the first night of Chanukkah.
Yes, despite my Christmas planning, I'm also a Cohen, and we celebrate both holidays around our house. My favorite part of gift-buying is crafting the eight nights of gifts for my son. I start strong on Night One, then psych him out with a book or socks on Night Two. I drop hints about one thing then give another on Night Three. And so on. I like the lighting of the candles and the (for me, phonetic) recitation of the prayer. But this year I'll be away from my family for the first two nights. Oy, the guillt.
I'm off right now to buy something really exceptional for Night One. I might even have to pick up something better than usual for my husband. He doesn't track the holidays and hasn't yet figured out that my trip coincides with Chanukkah, so I still have time to figure out how to make up for my absence.
Over-spending: the next best thing to being there.
For one thing, why in the world am I still buying these things? If I preheated the oven right now and started sifting flour, I would die of old age before I could make half the recipes in this pile. And I still have several hundred cookbooks, including God only knows how many specifically about Christmas.
This massive 25-year stack, which lives on top of the cabinets in the breakfast room, is obscene, Christmas porn. Bad enough that I’ve saved them, which probably puts me in some twisted packrat category. But check out these cover taglines: "500 Merry Ideas." One-upped (well, 130-upped) by "630 Merry Ideas." Only to be outdone by "Christmas Magic: 705 Ideas." But the 1993 Women's Day blows them all out of the water with "1104 Ideas."
What is it with numbers? Do we really think they hold the key? Why else would I buy issue after issue with promises like: "Rooms that Say Christmas 65 Ways." "150 Easy Holiday Tips." (How easy would it be to do 150 anythings?) "160 Ways to Make Yours a Holiday Home." "200 Ideas for the Best Christmas Ever." "Over 200 Ideas for Your Best and Happiest Christmas Ever!" "Over 250 Ideas for Your Most Memorable and Heartwarming Christmas Ever!" "250+ Ideas to Make Your Holidays Merrier." "400 Ideas to Make Your Holidays Happier." "400+ Ideas to Light Up the Season." "456 Holiday Ideas." "508 Christmas Ideas." "557 Glorious Ideas." "The Glory of Christmas: 935 Ideas." "Hundreds of Magical Ideas."
We all know ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the time, energy and creativity to implement ideas that make them valuable. To pretend you could even process all the information behind hundreds of ideas—“magical” or not—is to buy into the true meaning of Christmas: unmet expectations. You know what I really need? One great idea and a kitchen assistant.
I love the back covers of the magazines from the ‘80s that feature cigarette ads from More, Now, Vantage, Virginia Slims...do they still make these? Heck, maybe those represent the 41 ways to stay thin promised by one cover: two packs plus an extra will certainly keep you away from the cookie dough.
Who am I kidding with this stash of Christmas past and present? I make the same things every year, and very few come from magazines or cookbooks. They come from index cards my mother gave me, back when she still baked. They're for coconut-honey balls, which I rolled in confectioner's sugar back in the '70s and still do, every year. If I make nothing else, I always make those. (They have no honey in them, but that's the name on the card and I’m sticking to it.)
It’s almost enough to send me to the recycling bin. But I can’t dump them now; they’re part of my Christmas tradition. And as any self-respecting Christmas magazine cover will tell you, it’s all about Tradition. Or, more likely, "247 Ways to Celebrate Your Traditions."
Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. The pressure to enjoy being with a dysfunctional family, the nightmare of travel, the overeating—there’s so much that sets up the inevitable disappointment. Other holidays can be nightmares in their own ways, but Thanksgiving will always be number one in my hardened heart.
I wised up years ago: we now check into a hotel or go to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner (her own crazy family is amusing in a way mine can’t be). I refuse to travel by plane or drive more than 100 miles, which precludes seeing immediate family. Overeating remains an issue, but I can’t completely blame the holiday for that.
Despite the coping mechanisms, years of hellish Thanksgivings continue to haunt me, and I know I’m not alone. We all have our history of high-anxiety gatherings with battered, battling or blended families. We all have the dread of seeing those people, and the guilt over the dread.
My first hellish Thanksgiving was when I was 15, the year my parents got divorced. My mother had the misguided idea to invite Dad to dinner. “He probably doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” “Yeah, you’ve seen to that, Mom.” Let the festivities begin!
My friends’ parents fought all the time but stayed married. My parents never fought in front of us—until that Thanksgiving. Maybe it was the knowledge that they didn’t have to be together any more that made them so open in their hatred of each other. Maybe they wanted to stave off those “will you two get back together?” questions from the younger ones. Maybe it really was about the money. All I know is the experience was so traumatic for me and my siblings that all six of us didn’t share a meal again until my wedding 15 years later. And even then, we sat at different tables.
The difference today: these bitter family gatherings are being captured on video and shared with the world. Not everyone is willing to expose the craziness of their own flesh and blood, but luckily for the voyeurs among us, there are plenty who are. Personally, I get a warm fuzzy feeling about my own family when I see how bad some other people have it. Sure, we’re nuts, I know that. But it could always be worse.
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After years of optimistic holiday planning that ended in disappointment, I finally gave up and lowered my expectations. My car burned up on the Fourth of July. Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent shuttling between divorced parents. Throughout my 20-year marriage I spent every New Year’s Eve cooking and cleaning in preparation for the 100+ people who show up for my husband’s (not my!) traditional New Year’s Day open house. Not that New Year’s Eve was ever a success for me in my single years. And don’t even get me started on Valentine’s Day.
In short, I have finally accepted that holidays suck. Screw Martha Stewart and Hallmark, it’s all a big crock. The people we love will let us down, the food won’t taste anything like the magazines tell us, no one wants to clean up, and there’s a reason fireworks are illegal in most states.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who feels this way, so I thought up HellishHolidays.com. Here, it’s OK to admit that you’re miserable when you’re supposed to be happy, that you hate what you’re supposed to love. We all feel better knowing that others share our pain, and it’s a lot easier to laugh at someone else’s exploding oven than your own. Join us and share your own stories, or just be a voyeur and see what everyone else is going through. I can’t promise you won’t cry, but I do promise you’ll laugh, too.
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura is a writer and an independent consultant, providing strategic counsel and marketing and editorial services to a wide range of clients at the intersection of entertainment and technology. Prior to forming her consulting practice, Sound Input LLC, Laura served as Senior Vice President of Philips Interactive Media, working in CD-Interactive, CD-ROM and the Internet. During her nine years with Philips she played key roles in areas from product development to marketing to business development. She was previously Director of Marketing for RCA Video Productions (BMG) and Video Editor of Billboard in the early days of MTV. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from New York University.