December 14, 2004

Countdown to a Dysfunctional Christmas



A gift tag from the Holiday Boutique project.  (This was one of the "normal" ones.)

I'd love to tell you that outside our house the lights are hung with restrained elegance; that bells tinkle when you walk through my fragrantly wreathed front door; and that the smell of freshly-baked gingerbread warms our charming abode, decorated as it is in this season's must-have holiday jewel tones. I would brag about the majestic Douglas Fir brushing the cathedral ceiling of the living room, and how the presents -- tenderly wrapped in handmade paper -- promise magical moments of surprise and delight on Christmas morning. You'd know instantly that in this house holiday traditions abound and that this family truly treasures the spirit of Christmas.

But I'd be lying.

Truth is, we do have a tree, but it's still out on the back porch. My husband had called me from Home Depot a couple of weeks back.

"Do you think Jackson (my 10-year-old son) will be upset if he doesn’t get to pick out the tree?" he asked.

"Hey, if he says anything we'll tell him we're moving to Connecticut where the State Appellate Court ruled that it's OK to beat your children," I said.

Planted in a bucket, it's supposed to be a "living" tree, but already it's looking a bit puckish. I wish I

could say that we chose that type because it was more conscionable than slaughtering an innocent tree and casting it out on the street January 1.

But again, I'd be lying.

It's not because I'm cheap, either, it's just that the smaller tree is infinitely more manageable. Fewer lights, fewer decorations, and best of all, no new tree stand to buy because you forgot to mark the box you packed last year's in. We bought boxes of new outdoor lights (because God knows where the old ones are), but they're still in the trunk of my husband's car. A sealed-up box of decorations from the ghosts of Christmases past sits in the hall, forlorn and abandoned.

Sadly, the closest I've ever come to the kind of glossy Christmas that we see in magazines and on Hallmark commercials is writing catalog blurbs for how-to books like The Spirit of Christmas, Book 19. I convince myself that these books will help me "find new ways to capture the wonder and excitement of the holidays with jolly ideas for entertaining, cooking, and gift-giving, plus decorating projects the whole family will adore," but somehow, my best intentions never turn into anything tasty, touching, or time-honored.

I mean, have you ever actually tried stringing popcorn and cranberries? Not only does it take forever, but you gorge yourself silly on popcorn, then gouge your fingers repeatedly with needles. And what do you have to show for it? Swollen, bloody little stumps and guests who wonder why your popcorn strands have all these red smudges on them.

But it's not like our family doesn't have any traditions at all. Just the other night, we were watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer on TV, and Jackson asked, "Mom, when are we going to slice the dough and decorate cookies?" I've heard that there's a new kind of pre-formed Christmas cookie refrigerated dough, but I say no thanks. I refuse to abandon tradition for the sake of convenience.

As if creating tidings of comfort and joy in your home isn't enough, there are all the extra parties and projects to deal with. If there's an unavoidable potluck, I always sign up for dessert. No, not to show off my scrumptious Silver Palate recipe, but so that I can phone in my pie reservations to Marie Callendars.

This year, I started a new family tradition, and I think even Martha would be impressed. At the annual school holiday boutique, fifth graders sell baked goods or crafts that they/their parents make, and donate the proceeds to charity. We needed an easy mother/son project, because, let's face it, slice-and-bake cookies aren't exactly huge money-makers. The flyer said to use "whatever you have around the house," so I came up with the -- brilliant, I thought -- idea of making gift tags on the computer using business card forms. I figured we'd search out some cheesy holiday pictures on Google Images, print them out 10 to a page on the jolly ol' ink jet printer, punch a hole, tie a string, and -- voila! -- homemade gift tags. I even picked up some glitter pens to add that extra special "made by hand" touch.

We made a design with a Santa, of course, then a stocking, and an angel. Some skiers, even. All very festive. Very nice. Then we got a little silly. Characters like SpongeBob showed up, and a dog with antlers, and for reasons that would make sense only to a 10-year-old boy, a Transformer toy.

[Click to enlarge images]
Things went a little beyond traditional when I printed out a sheet of 10 smiling Dan Rathers. "Merry Christmas, and Buh-BYE!" the copy read.

The next card featured a holiday portrait of the President and Mrs. Bush with the tagline "Thanks for voting RED!"

Not to be partisan about it, we quickly comped up a "Seasons Greetings from President Senator Kerry. P.S. Teresa says hi from rehab."

I knew it was time to call it a night when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature Paris Hilton, her make-up all a-smear. The cheery greeting? "Merry Christmas from Paris Hilton. P.S. Where's the coke?"

"Mom, I don't think anyone is going to want to buy those," Jackson said.

"Oh, you just wait, these will be the biggest hit of the boutique. Besides, you can always slash the price if they don't sell. But they will, oh yes, mark my words, they will."

Of course what's Christmas without presents? In our house, those that weren't ordered online, thoughtfully gift-wrapped by a customer service representative, and then shipped directly to the lucky recipient from with a printed gift message -- are piled by the front door, awaiting the rites of packaging. No, alas, they're not decorated with cleverly crafted trinkets or pretty bows.

But at least they have homemade gift tags.

Posted by Vanderleun at December 14, 2004 10:08 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Good evening Mrs. Vanderleun.

I think Gerard knows how lucky he is to have you; I merely wish to second that. You are entertaining.

Posted by: J.R. at December 14, 2004 5:40 PM

That's a stitch in more ways than one. sounds like my own mother in the 90s when she once bought some oatmeal cookies at the store and then bought some icing and some decorations and just heated the icing for us!!!

Then she forced my brother and myself to come up with devorations for about eight dozen of these all the time telling us 'Come on, you can be more creative than that!!' Not that I don't love her she raised us alone and ahd a lot to do.

Posted by: Shelly Framer at December 15, 2004 1:28 PM

I can't decide whether this is funny because it is true or true because it is funny. Either way, thanks.

Posted by: Rob Q at December 15, 2004 11:28 PM