Friday, November 29, 2013

The Finn’s Wake Holiday Survival Guide

Nothing says Class Act like a carton of smokes
under the Christmas Tree! Hey, if The
Gypper can do it, then anything is fair game.
Oh, I get it. You hate the holidays, it’s too commercial, it starts in September, blah blah blah. Get over yourself. It used to be your favorite (or second favorite, if you were a weird kid) holiday. So, what happened? You grew up. It stopped being all about you, and became an obligation, a chore, a big honking hassle. Hey, man, I get it. For what it’s worth, I agree with all of the above. And yet, I love Christmas. Always have. And do you know why? It’s the only holiday we have where, no matter what you say about it, it’s true. Yes, it’s commercial. It’s also magical. Sure the suicide rate goes up, but people DO in fact act nicer. Charities get that much-needed boost. It’s one of the few times when we become the people we think we are. Doesn’t matter your religious or political affiliation (or lack thereof), everyone can enjoy Christmas with no strings attached.

So, this guide is aimed at the Grinches of the world. It’s a five-part system designed to get you into the holiday spirit, come out of your Grinch cave, interact with the rest of us Whos, and most importantly, survive the Christmas season so that you can do it all over again next year. My advice may seem odd, but trust me, it’s sure fire and fool proof. Don’t believe me? Read on, Grumpy McChestnuts.

Part 1: MUSIC!

Don’t look at me like that. One of the best ways to get in the Christmas swing of things is with music. Now, before you click away, let me explain. Everyone who hates Christmas music has never heard good Christmas music. They only hear that crap that the malls pump out, and it’s usually a blend of kiddie sing-a-longs like “Jingle Bells,” Brenda Lee’s completely tired and played out version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and the latest insincerely delivered platitude from whichever has-been won American Idol last year. Who wants to listen to that ever, much less at Christmas?

You want this. If for nothing more than their cover of
"I'm Mister Heat Miser," you want this.
No, see, you have to go off the grid for good Christmas music. You have to forget the malls and Wal-Mart, where you are guaranteed to hear the Chipmunk’s Christmas song, and make no mistake: it will make your eye twitch. Maybe that’s just me. Probably not. Once you scratch all of that safe, overplayed junk off of your list, you can start looking for the real deal. There’s Christmas music, and Christmas CDs, in every conceivable popular music genre. There’s R & B Christmas CDs, Doo-Wop Christmas CDs, Jazz Christmas CDs, and Swing Christmas CDs. Of course, you can get Rock and Roll Christmas CDs, Country Christmas CDs, and Blues Christmas CDs. Did you know that there are even Punk Rock Christmas CDs? Oh yeah. What’s your favorite kind of music to listen to? What puts you in a good mood? Okay, that’s where you start. If you like swing and big band music, for example, there’s a ton of great, inexpensive Christmas CDs to check out.

Also, think about musicians you like. Chances are, they have a Christmas album. If Twisted Sister can have a Christmas album, anyone can. James Brown’s Christmas CD is a must-have. Brave Combo’s Christmas CD is awesome. And Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Christmas CD gets played at my house, every year, without fail.

A wonderful mix of cool and absurd stuff.
Look around. Check out what’s online. If you don’t know for sure what or who to buy, get a compilation or two. One of my favorites is Christmas Party with Eddie G. It’s a kind of Christmas mix-tape for hipsters before we knew what hipsters were. If you want something more modern and extremely un-traditional, then get the New Wave Hits of the 80s Christmas collection, which includes one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” sung by the unlikely duet of Davie Bowie and Bing Crosby.

One side note: You may be tempted to pick up one of the Bob Rivers Twisted Christmas collections, and if you eventually want to make your own Christmas mixes and playlists, go ahead. But be wary of listening to Christmas novelty collections at the exclusion of all other things. A little funny goes a LONG way. You’ll burn out on the novelty songs twice as fast. Think about it: Aren’t you sick of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer?” Yeah, me too.

But why, you may be asking, is Christmas music important? Because it’s a no-stress way to get you in the mood without forcing your to shop, decorate, or bake. You can pop a disc in or cue up a playlist while you’re cleaning the house or surfing online. If it’s stuff you picked out for yourself, that you actually like, then you’re more apt to find yourself humming it out loud in the grocery store line next week. Being happy in public is kind of a Christmas-y thing to do, you know.

Part 2: MOVIES!

Still not in “the mood” yet? Ain’t no thing, my brothers and sisters. All you gotta do is let your favorite Christmas movie get you in the mood. Or, if you prefer, your favorite Anti-Christmas movie. It’s really that simple. Pick a night or two when you’re committed to watching one or more of your favorite holiday films. And yes, it can be Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. That’s totally legit. If you need to burn all of the residual cynical thoughts out, pop in Bad Santa.

You know the dentist is gay as a goose, right?
If you’ve got kids, this is super easy. The Rankin-Bass animated shows like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer used to be required viewing for us as kids and there’s no reason to stop now. Same thing with A Charlie Brown Christmas. What are you, a Communist? This is great stuff. 

Are you up on your classics? White Christmas? A Miracle on 34th Street? It’s a Wonderful Life? Watching a classic film you’ve never seen before is a great way to get a little happy juice in your system. Just be sure to stay away from the Hallmark movies, the made-for-television offerings, and any "remakes" of classic films. That path leads only to madness and despair.

I’ve got a few modern classics that I break out every year: Scrooged, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Elf have become the must-watch quartet for propping up my Christmas cheer.

But every once in a while, I go dark, early. That’s when Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Gremlins hit the DVD player. Look, you use whatever works, okay?


Can you feel the Christmas Love in this photo?
Basically, my advice is this: don’t do it. It’s a sucker’s game. Well, okay, you kinda gotta, but the trick is to do it your way; the way that makes sense. That means avoiding “Black Friday” like the plague. Chances are, you don’t need what they are offering, no matter how ridiculous the price.

I shop local whenever I can, and I go online for everything else. In my small town situation, I’m an hour’s drive from any big box stores. And I’m okay with that. My family, thankfully, is pretty easy to buy for, and I find that I can split my purchases between local merchants and online stores fify-fifty. That’s pretty good, and best of all, I avoid the thing that most people hate the most about Christmas—the crowds of rude people and the endless driving and circling for the best prices, the last of the stock, the perfect parking space, and all of the rest of it.

But what do you buy for people? That’s the question, always. And I think that’s where most of the pressure comes from; this idea that you HAVE to buy stuff for people. You don’t. Not really. There’s a ton of stuff you can do, that you can give, that people will really appreciate. It genuinely IS the thought that counts. You don’t have to overspend—just do what you can.

Make a list of people you simply MUST shop for, with no exceptions. Hopefully it won’t be more than ten people. If you’re lucky, it’ll be five or less. Don’t put everyone you know on the list—just the people you know you’re going to spend time with this year; your close, immediate family; the inner circle. That’s your pool. Everyone else gets a Christmas card.

If you’re scraping by, like so many folks are this year, then don’t go crazy on the gift-giving. If you can bake, then make cookies. Or cakes, or pies, or tamales, or whatever you can. Make it from scratch and people will appreciate it. You’d be surprised. Or knit, if you can knit. Or whatever else you can think of. It doesn’t have to come from a store to be a great gift.

Getting what I want? Christmas magic, right there.
Lastly, and this is very important: I know some people stigmatize gift cards as “not real gifts,” but they are stupid and wrong. I’m hard as hell to shop for; I admit it freely! If you really want to do something for me, and you have no idea where to start, I’m happy to accept gift cards and gift certificates all day.

Whatever you plan to do, try to get it all done in a short period of time—say, over the first or second weekend. The sooner you get this out of the way, the quicker you can relax, because it never gets less busy in the stores as you near Christmas. Staying away as the days count down will eliminate so much of your stress and keep you in a better mood.

Part 4: FOOD!

One of the best things about living in Texas. Fresh tamales
are a part of my Christmas from childhood.
Cookies, pies, cakes, hot cocoa, fresh tamales, kolaches, mulled apple cider, peppermint, summer sausage and cheap cheese...these are just a few of the things I associate with Christmas food. I know we’re just now coming out of Thanksgiving, but now is NOT the time to be watching and counting and pointing and starving. You’re doing more stuff—up your carb intake. Also, don’t be afraid to use food as a way of cheering your miserable ass up. Go on: eat that chocolate chip cookie and don’t even think about where it’s going. Just get some serotonin into your bloodstream, and quickly.

I love to cook, but my real weakness is baking and desert making. I suck at it. Well, that’s not quite right. I can do it, but it takes a lot of effort and the results are never what I want them to be. Edible, sure, and maybe even tasty. But never brilliant, like what my mother can do.

Either way, I’ve got some holiday recipes that I like to trot out. If you can cook, you should consider making one or two things to bring to the office or the next party. People love real food, especially when other people make it. If you have a specialty, now is the time to whip it up. That feedback you get when everyone tells you how much they liked your food? That’s Christmas, baby! Cook, and give away your food, and feel good about it. If you can’t cook...wait, you know what? I don’t buy that. Maybe you can’t make lasagna, but there are a number of simple, nay, foolproof, recipes for snacks and cookies that an idiot could do. Hell, if nothing else, make some Chex mix and bring it to the office. Yes, Chex Mix. I ain’t playing with you. It’s easy, delicious, and because you made it, it counts as cooking during the holidays.


The most important thing to remember about this time of year is that there is no wrong way to celebrate the season. Whether you are completely religious, completely Secular, or some mix of the two, like most of America, I suspect, in the end, you make Christmas time your own. To paraphrase Tyler Durden, you decide your level of involvement.

I have a good friend who, for year, opted out of doing anything for Christmas. His holiday was spent eating fried chicken and gravy and watching old Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Road movies. He loved it. He told everyone not to buy him anything, and he was going to do the same, and that was that.

Don’t ever feel like you have to do something this time of year. Also, if anyone makes what you’ve done for them feel cheap, or meaningless, then that’s not someone you want to spend Christmas with next year. It’s not worth the hassle, the guilt, or the shame. You do what you can, and earnestly, at that. You make it your own holiday. Your friends and family will respect it. Everyone else that doesn’t get it? Not your problem.

There’s a massive amount of societal pressure this time of year, and you need to do whatever you can to circumvent as much of it as possible. Sure, it means getting ready early, and maybe when you’re not exactly feeling it, but come December 25th, you may not be so Scroogian and sad. You might just be having a good time and wishing some folks peace on Earth and goodwill to all. And that, to me, is what Christmas is all about.

Happy holidays, folks. Be safe. Stay sane.

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