Making Spirits Bright: Finding Humor in the Holidays

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For many of us, the holidays mean spending lots of time with family. We all hope for that cozy scene by the fire, laughing together as we sip eggnog, spin the dreidel, open gifts, or watch the magical look on a little one’s face when he or she sees what Santa left under the tree. But in reality, it almost never goes down like that. Because in our pursuit of holiday perfection, we inevitably end up with … imperfection, in all its hilarious and sometimes horrifying glory.


Members of our editorial and community teams recently regaled one another with some of our favorite holiday stories, and we couldn’t resist sharing them with you. We hope you, in turn, will share some of your favorite stories, either in the comments section below or by contributing your own story.


Happy Holidays! And remember, the thing that makes you crazy this holiday season may be the story you’re laughing about next year.


Jennifer Hastings, Editorial Assistant: Where’s the Toilet in This Place?
Most holidays I get stuck listening to my sister-in-law rave about her amazing parenting skills. I don’t have kids so hearing every little detail about diaper rashes and bedtime tactics can get very boring. Last Christmas, she went on and on about how she had already potty trained the golden child, my nephew Ethan, while most toddlers his age didn’t know what a toilet was. Way to go, sis!


Moving things along, I suggested we help Grandma Carol out in the kitchen. As we walked into the beautifully decorated dining room with plates of delicious Christmas food in hand, little Ethan bolted out from under the dining table—with his pants down! My sister-in-law ran over in shock and asked what he was doing, when he shyly replied, “Grandma Carol’s house, too big. No find the potty.” Apparently, he got lost looking for the toilet and ended up peeing under the dining table. He sure aimed well because each person’s seat had a dribble of pee on it! We all laughed, including Ethan, as my shamed sister-in-law grabbed the little one and headed to the bathroom.


Later that evening sarcastic Uncle Chris shouted, “Grandma Carol, where’s the toilet in this place? I sure don’t want to have to pee on everyone’s seat before the dessert course!”


Vicki Santillano, Editorial Assistant: I’m Dreaming of a Scorched Christmas
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring … well, except for my mother, who was running toward the tree with a bucket of water, ready to douse the flames that had erupted beneath the Christmas tree. “I told you there were too many lights on that thing,” Uncle L slurred, waving his hand—and spilling a few drops of bourbon on my brother’s khakis—for emphasis. My brother didn’t notice because he was arguing with Cousin T, who had launched into his annual end-of-the-year diatribe against the government. Grandma J seemed far removed from the chaos as she sat in her matriarchal throne and stared into the fireplace. “It’s too cold in here,” she announced, beckoning her eldest to turn the heater up yet again (the dial now rested at 85 degrees). The sweltering waves combined with the slow digestion of honey-baked ham lulled everyone into sweaty sedation. The youngest were urged to start passing out the presents. That was my cue to sneak another piece of fudge from the kitchen.


I found Mom hiding out next to the cookie tray sipping eggnog, a pile of scorched ornaments next to her. She raised her glass in a toast and slid the fudge plate my way. God, I love the holidays!


Caitlin Goebel, Community Development Coordinator: The Hybrid Tree
It was December 1989, we were living in Mexico City and my family desperately needed a Christmas tree. While my mom was unpacking the ornaments, my dad and I went out for the tree. Shouldn’t have been too hard, right? Wrong. As we made our way through the city, we finally came across a strange-looking man selling trees. Without even looking at more than two trees, my dad takes the one the man is holding, thinking it must be the best tree in the lot. We walked into the apartment and my mom said “Martin, why is this tree half Douglas Fir and half Blue Spruce?” He looked at her like she was crazy and took a walk around the entire tree. My dad, the environmentalist, had only looked at one side of the tree. Sneaky little man. The tree had been glued, tied, and bound together. It was the ultimate Charlie Brown tree.


Brie Cadman, Staff Writer: Two Fuzzy Purses and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
When you’re a little kid, gifts from elders can go two ways: they can be something useful—like cash—or the elders can decide their taste is as hip as ever and buy something—or worse make something—they thought you would like. 


My grandma usually hit the mark—when we asked for an Esprit sweatshirt, we could expect one—but her sisters, my great aunts, were a little less predictable. The aunts, typical of their generation, were crafters. Think sequined, crocheted images of the Golden Gate Bridge or a cozy for a Kleenex box. As if these utterly useful, completely wonderful gifts couldn’t be topped, one year they were. My sister and I opened up a box from a great aunt and discovered—to our horror—two scrunchy purses made from what looked to be the fuzzy coat of one of the Sahara animals we read about in National Geographic. Of course, it was faux fur (the real stuff would have been too expensive), making our new gifts look even more like a hooker’s tote. 


While the gift doesn’t sound that bad, my sister and I (being preteens) thought they were horrid. Luckily, said aunt wasn’t there at the opening, so my dad was able to seize upon the gift and do what any grown man would do—he put it on his head. Pretending to be the Pope wearing his Papal Tiara, he walked around the living room, blessing us all in Latinese. And while we hated them then, I remember them, or the parody of them, more fondly than my sweatshirts or my ten dollars.


Rebecca Brown, Editor-in-Chief: “Fix Me a Highball!”
When I think back on some of my favorite Christmases as a kid, I realize that the ones that make me laugh the hardest now were probably a little confusing as a kid. The gatherings at my aunt and uncle’s house, for example, always involved a lot of yelling, out of laziness on my uncle’s part to leave his La-Z-Boy recliner, and out of necessity for my poor aunt to stay in the kitchen to continue prepping for our holiday gathering. My grandmother usually opted to turn down her hearing aid to avoid the whole mess, so she never knew quite how loud she was talking. The room-to-room yelling usually went something like this:


Him: “Katie, what are you doing in there?”
Her: “I’m cooking, what the hell do you think I’m doing?”
Him: “Katie, fix me a highball!”
My grandmother (to my mother): What did he say about Pope John Paul?
Her: “I’m not making you another damned highball!”
My grandmother: Katie, tell him the Vatican Christmas Special comes on at midnight!
Him: “Katie, fix me a highball! I’m thirsty damnit!”


Back then, I had no idea what a highball actually was, but I was astute enough to notice that once my uncle had consumed enough of them, he’d usually volunteer to go to the grocery story to buy any forgotten ingredients. My brothers, who are twelve and fourteen years older than me, usually were invited along. Sometimes they’d come back with an item from the grocery store, sometimes they wouldn’t. Years later, my brothers revealed why—“grocery store” was code for “strip club,” clearly not a place that sold eggnog or any other holiday items my aunt might’ve needed.


My aunt, uncle, and grandmother are unfortunately long gone. But every Christmas, someone in my family will inevitably impersonate my uncle’s slurry drawl and request a highball. So far, no one has ever requested a lap dance, but hey, there’s always this year.


Natalie Josef, Managing Editor: I Need a Drink!
My mom takes Christmas pretty seriously and freaks out if anything goes even remotely wrong. One year, we were treated to an ice storm on Christmas Eve; we lost power, so dinner was ruined and we were freezing, and we had to go to a hotel on the other side of town. This sent her over the edge. She screamed at the hotel workers, tossed all the presents onto the street, and then refused to talk to her husband or me. Thankfully, I had friends nearby and I was able to escape to a bar for a few hours. In the morning, she woke up and didn’t mention a thing about the night before. Ahhh, I love how Southerners deal with problems—just ignore them and pretend nothing is wrong! We stayed in that hotel for three days; I have never been so happy for a holiday to be over.

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