Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2011 (Friday, Dec. 9)

Dec 09, 2011

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

This chat is one of the Washington Post's most beloved annual traditions -- the holiday-themed edition of Carolyn Hax Live. It started way back in 2000, and happened most recently about a year ago.

Carolyn was online Friday, Dec. 9 at noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column, what ruined your holidays last year and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody, and welcome to what will devolve into the Holiday Horrors chat. The first hour or so will be the usual Q and A, then I'll post Pops's Night Before Christmas 2011, then we'll see what kind of messed up holiday stories you've managed to accrue since last year.

Also, new this year we have ... a soundtrack! Admire the efforts of some industrious producers by clicking here and following the instructions. 

Does your family put on its own Christmas show or have some other elaborate tradition for the holidays? We are looking for people in the D.C. area who mark the holidays in unique ways. It might be a musical show by the grandkids, a storytelling or cooking competition, a comedy skit -- something other than the usual dinner and gift exchange. We're just looking for people who seriously plan for the holidays! And people who don't mind talking with a Post reporter and possibly letting us photo or video. Please send tips to: Religion reporter Michelle Boorstein,

The last of the announcements ... and a good chance to share the functional-family traditions that you're ashamed to cop to here. 

As we're discussing the holidays today, I'm hoping you could share your thoughts on using holiday gifting as a platform to give a well-meaning nudge in a new life direction? My adult daughter (now in her 30s) has been something of a disappointment in terms of her career development. Most other members of the family of her generation are extremely successful doctors, lawyers, executives, etc. She is a mid-level manager, and although she has a good income and clearly enjoys her job, she doesn't seem terribly ambitious. I am just worried she is coasting a bit and being somewhat lazy, selling herself short. Greater achievement is just expected in our family and it is frankly somewhat embarrassing to me. I've tried to discuss this with her numerous times, but she insists she is happy with her life as-is. Would it be horrible of me to offer the first year of law school tuition as a holiday gift to motivate her to do more with her life? Or should I assume the cause of her lack of motivation is something deeper, such as depression, and offer to pay for therapy/treatment?

I have two ways I can go with this. I can treat your question as a joke plant intended to get me all fired up, or I can treat it as if you're serious about this and have no idea that it's so judgmental and controlling that it verges on a parody of pushy parents.

I'm going to go with (b), just in case.

As a holiday gift to your daughter, love her for who she is, and get yourself some therapy, to help you find out why you need so badly for your offspring to fit some arbitrary definition of "success."


btw, I might be a little slower than even my usual slow, because I spent all morning reading Hoot submissions and I'm looking at all the other stuff for the first time right now ...

I'm thirty and have never spent Christmas away from home. My small family (folks + sibs) is very small and we're all very close. But this year, for the first time ever, I'll be spending the holiday with my partner's family across the country. Any tips on how to make this go as smoothly and enjoyably as possible? I'm actually really pretty nervous about it, and a little sad not to spend the day with my family.

Please treat this not as some dread outlier, but instead as the long-delayed beginning of a lifetime of change. For any point on your calendar to endure in exactly the same form is a true rarity. It's wonderful that your family is so close and so consistent, but flexibility is wonderful, too. Arrange to Skype your family at some key point in your celebration, but, otherwise, vow now to immerse yourself in your partner's family celebration. Open yourself to all of it, so there's no room for self-pity. 

Hi, how much should I worry about inviting (to our large, informal holiday party) both halves of divorced/separated couples who cannot stand each other and would (if they knew the other was invited) refuse to come to the party? (I don't think any of them would make a scene; I think they would just be miserable, and I understand that they want to avoid this if they can help it). I have no quibbles with either half of these couples; I am happy to invite everyone, especially since the holidays are probably hard on them and they can all use a fun night out. Do I give all these people preemptive information that their exes are invited (and might or might not come)? Or only if they ask? Or should I invite only half of each estranged couple at a time?

If any of them asks if a despised ex is also invited, by all means tell the truth, but don't do it preemptively. Just invite everyone and let them sort it out.

Hi Carolyn. Love the column. Submitting early & hoping you'll see this (unfortunately not holiday related): A very close friend of mine has said a few times that she's been "unhappy for years" and doesn't see her situation changing. She has a good job, a boyfriend, a good family, so no one suspects her emotional state. Based on the depression-to-normal experience of another friend, I know that in certain cases a person has to make a *decision* to be happy. I've suggested therapy to her but she just said she's expected to just "suck it up and deal with it." Again, she has explicitly told me that she's unhappy, she hasn't been for years, and doesn't know why. How can I make the case for therapy? It seems like she's content on staying in her admittedly unhappy status quo. I know that sometimes this in itself is a symptom of depression. She's a great person and deserves to be happy. What can I say to her (and/or should I just drop it)? We are both in our mid-twenties, if that makes a difference.

Whenever she brings it up, just say plainly, "Please get screened for depression"--and, as a follow up, "Have you been screened for depression?"

For understandable reasons, going from zero to therapy is actually more difficult than getting screened, in part because therapy often involves a burdensome search for someone who offers the type of therapy you need; is a good fit as far as location, hours and chemistry; and who is affordable and/or accepts any insurance, much less your plan. Plus there's the obstacle that I find totally crazy-making, the preception of therapy as an admission of weakness, nuttiness or defeat, none of which is true.

But, put all that together, and it's easier to call one's primary care doctor to see about a depression screening. So, make that your new highly uncomplicated message to your friend. After a few repetitions, it's also okay to say gently that one symptom of depression is, as you say, the inability to see that things can be better if she only takes basic steps to tend to her health. Talking isn't getting her anywhere, so perhaps it's time for doing.

My Mom is a classic Narcisisst with a seriously enabling maybe even manipulating husband and the holidays are hell for me typically. My husband and I have put some serious distance between ourselves and them after a particualarly spectacular display of nastiness 5 days after our first child was born. That being said, I'm not planning to cut-off the relationship either. So, how do I handle gifts for the holidays? She usually hates everything I buy and either gives it back or takes it back unless it's a gift certificate (and even then, it had better be to some store or website she likes). I am feeling so much anxiety over this and it's really silly.

Understandable, but, yes, silly--in a purely logical sense. Since you know your mom is going to hate and return anything you get her, why get anxious when you have a few very reasonable alternatives available to you based on this firm factual foundation?

First choice, don't get her anything. There's no law that says you have to ride this (credit a long-ago chatter) Hamster Wheel of Despair.

Second choice, buy the gift card to a store that has been successful in the past. This does come with the risk that her taste in stores has conveniently changed, but, with your mom, that's the risk you take by breathing, no?

Third choice, get her whatever you feel like getting, with the full knowledge it will be scoffed at and returned. In fact, think of it the way the Daniel Stern character approached his dad in "Breaking Away" (a movie worth seeing just for this scene, though I wonder if the movie has aged well?). Anyway, the Cliff Notes version is that his dad took pleasure in his son's failures, so the son took to regarding his failures as gifts to his dad. Meaning, know that the perfect gift for your mom is one what allows her to express her full range of displeasure and to reiforce her certainty that she's the only one on earth who has any clue about anything.

Ho ho ho. 

So I don't know if you're taking questions for the chat or just dishing on weird holiday experiences, but I had a question in light of the numbers column from this week. My girlfriend and I haven't been intimate yet, but we have talked somewhat about our respective histories. Basically, how does one ask about getting tested for STDs without totally screwing this relationship up? I don't mean to imply it's likely, but I'm just of the "better safe than sorry" mentality.

First, the only thing the sexual-health conversation has to do with the sexual-history conversation is that it's necessary any time a new partner's number is more than 0. That's it. To connect the, ah, eventfulness of the history to the need for testing is needlessly judgmental. You've had sex, then, you need to know your health status before you have sex with someone new. 

How bout getting things started by telling her your conversation inspired you to go get tested, and ask whether she has done the same recently? I mean, there's no escaping the subtext, it's all about your wanting her. If her response to that is to get defensive, then you might want to revisit whether she's as good a bet emotionally as you thought.


My husband of 38 years abruptly and unexpectedly filed for a divorce this summer, truly a blindsiding move that was presented originally as "I don't love your mother anymore", but which became "meet my new friend" 2 days after the final decree. We have two 20-something daughters (one married, one living with her SO) who have reacted differently to this stunning change in their vision of family. Married daughter is trying hard to keep her dad in her life at least marginally, which the other will no longer communicate with him after learning of his new living arrangement, and is struggling to express herself to me. Along with dealing with my own (copiously difficult) feelings about the upcoming festive season, I'm struggling with how to make my daughters feel as comfortable as possible. My instinct to to follow theirs.....we'll celebrate in whatever way feels right to them. I have friends who have my back and make sure I'm not alone unless I choose to be, but it's important to me that what remains of our family stay intact. Am I on the right track???

Yes, it seems to me. The only caution I'd offer is that it might not be up to you to that "what remains of our family stay intact." What is up to you is that you invest yourself in your relationships with your daughters. It's a subtle difference, but one that comes with less pressure for a specific outcome; you can't be everything that both of your daughters need while also serving your own agenda (even an agenda as positive and loving as yours).

So, stick with your great, right-track idea of celebrating " in whatever way feels right to them," yes--just know that there maye be a point, in the future if not this year, where "what feels right" takes them in two different directions that conflict with each other, leaving you with no practical way to serve the "stay intact" purpose. Just, love them and respect them and be as flexible as your integrity allows. It won't be easy but you sound as if you're more than up to the challenge.

Love the chats!! I come from a large, close-knit family of extroverts. They are supportive, loving and often hilarious characters. But man, they are LOUD! Someone is always playing the piano to cheer up a screaming toddler (!) And I go back and forth on whether there is too much or too little wine... It is all gets a bit overwhelming for me. I have little kids of my own now (2 tiny extroverts - go figure) so I will be going into this lovely mess already exhausted. I tried talking to my mom about simplifying things, but she has been very ill and an elaborate, noisy 18 side-dish-xmas-extravaganza clearly means a lot to her. Any advice to keep the cheer-to-exhaustion ratio favourable?

Bring earplugs (seriously) and build two or three escape plans into each day: a walk, a trip to the park, a voluntary run to the grocery store to pick up something Mom forgot, a cheerful assumption of dish duty that allows you to be alone in the kitchen while someone else watches the kids ... stuff like that. Even getting behind a camera can help, too, since it distances you even while you're in the same room (and you can assemble the results in an album or photo book as a gift to your ailing mom).

Good music selections, BTW. Keep em coming.

Carolyn, thanks for taking my question. Since I submitted it, she's said a couple more things, namely that she constantly feels guilty about having fun & enjoying herself when we're out and that another major reason for not seeking help is that she spends a lot of time denying that anything is wrong in the first place. You're absolutely right and I think a depression "screening" is really what I should be suggesting, since my previous "you need therapy" statements have been met with an answer revolving not being able to afford it. Maybe if the screening is w/her primary physician, it would seem less daunting, both financially and in the "omg i'm in therapy" way.

I hope so. Let us know how it goes?

Girlfriend is across the country getting in grad school. We've had boundary issue problems in the past...different childhoods, different boundaries. But two nights ago she went out drinking and spent the night at a friends house. I don't doubt her when she says nothing happened, but I've made it very plain to her that at our ages, getting drunk and crashing at someones house, instead of drinking appropriately and going home, isn't acceptable behavior, particularly given the long distance nature of our relationship. So where does that leave us, as we head from our respective coasts to her parents house for holidays/her moms birthday next weekend? She's acknowledged that she crossed way over a line, but how can we rebuild trust from 2300 miles away?

You can decide it's not your place to raise your girlfriend. And, you can decide there were two even less appealing things she could have done: she could have had too much to drink and tried to get home, instead of staying safely with her friend, and she could have anticipated that you'd scold her and chosen not to tell you what she did.

If you can't just live and let the other live, then please consider that your relationship isn't healthy enough to warrant the effort to keep it going long-distance. Go, see her at your various planned celebrations, and keep your mind open to the possibility that you overreacted to the overnight incident and are underreacting to the fundamental differences between you. Which means I am saying this, yes I am: If you love her, set her free. For the love of Christmas Balls.



Hi, Carolyn. Thanks for taking my question, which is: How do I tell my mom I'm not coming home for Christmas without starting the next cold war? The facts, as I see them, are these: 1. I'm an adult, 2. I came out as gay earlier this year, 3. The only person in my family who has been supportive is my brother, 4. My parents claim not to be homophobic but they really wish I was straight and would prefer I not speak of anything "gay-related," 5. I did Thanksgiving with them and it was painful and lonely, 6. They live about 800 miles away, and I'm broke/exhausted. I can't just say I'm too broke, though, because they'd pay for my ticket. My mom thinks Christmas is incredibly important from a family-togetherness perspective, but I just can't do it this year. Any help would be great. Once I get some distance from Thanksgiving, maybe I'll write in with those stories next year.

I'm sorry. I do hope the stories become funny to you by then, but mostly because that will mean you're in a happier place.

The thing about telling your mom about not coming home is that you can't peg that to getting your preferred reaction from her. There's no "how do I do this without triggering this consequence." The consequences aren't up to you, and the sooner you embrace that, the easier it will be to find the words for what you want to say. 

There actually are consequences that are in your control--the ones that have to do with your behavior and feelings. You seem to have decided, for example, that the consequences of not going are preferable to the consequences of going, and that's fine, and you can decide that the consequences of telling your mom kindly, firmly and soon that you're not coming are preferable to the consequences of stalling, hinting and no-showing--but that takes you to the end of what you control.  Should your mom launch the dread "cold war," then that's hers to decide (and, that's on her, too). 

I hope she surprises you.

I suspect that my girlfriend found the gift I was planning to give her, because she made a very clumsy and unnatural comment that she hoped "nobody would try to give [her] an xyz." So...what should I do with the xyz hiding in my closet? It can't be returned and was semi-expensive, the only gift I was planning to give her...

Gift of the Magi, 2011 edition.

Just tell her outright, and see it as a gift that you get this unusual insight into your couple-worthiness. Put on this kind of face < :-/ and say you know how she said she hoped 'nobody would try to give [her] an xyz'? Well, you got her an xyz. And, er, you're not sure what to do about it now, so you thought you'd just say "Merry Christmas" and see if you can sort it out together. (E.g., think of someone who's dying for an xyz, which would allow you to sell it to her or a loved one of hers for a nice price.)

And this is where you'll see how bright your future is with her: It'll either be a great moment, better than if she had -loved- her xyz--or it'll make you grateful that, for the low low price of a non-returnable xyz, you got to see that She Ain't It.



My last two holidays were bad and worse due to bad teen manners, employment loss, dog death and other miscellaneous "stuff". I want a good holiday this year! One adult child had broken up with her s.o., and just called to tell me they are back on. I let her know that if the plane is going to crash and burn over the holidays, she is to steer it to an unpopulated area because no one wants their holiday ruined by avoidable drama. We can be supportive / caring after the festivities. Was this healthy boundary setting using Christmas ornaments or was it unneccessarily kvetchy? Done being dumped on at holidays.

Well, it might be my new favorite metaphor of all time, so it was certainly delightful boundary-setting.

But, it might be in your long-term interests just to say, sigh, her little plane is welcome to land at home, of course, and if it crashes, who better than family to help her with the wreckage.

The swell of strings, the overly serious music ... does this mean

it's TIME?


Night Before Christmas


‘Twas the night before Christmas,

The economy’s sinking,

The kids are all sleeping,

The parents are drinking.

The stockings are hung

By the chimney with nails.

The stuff that’s inside them?

Black Friday sales.

The kids were all sobbing

While watching TV;

Seems candidate debates are now,

Shown in 3-D.

So Ma’s in her kerchief, 

And I’m in my bonnet.

Her kerchief’s an old apron,

With gravy stains on it.

When outside the window,

I heard a great wail.

Target was starting

its post-Christmas sale.

"Good grief!," said I,

Fearing I’d missed it.

But the clock said I didn’t,

I almost kissed it.

The moon on the breast

Of the new-fallen snow

Revealed all the yard tools,

Spade, rake and hoe.

When what to my wondering 

Eyes should appear?

Right. Fat guy, deer, sled.

Same every year.

The little old driver,

Once lively and quick.

Now looked exhausted,

Perhaps he was sick.

But his reindeer moved quickly,

All eight seeking fame.

And he whistled and shouted

And called them by name:

On Huntsman, on Sarah,

On Newt and Michelle!

On Rick, Ron and Mitt,

And Herman? Ah well ...

From the ghastly debates

To the Iowa caucus,

These coursers, alas,

Continue to stalk us.

As dry leaves before

The wild hurricane scatter,

Hard not to notice,

That Santa was fatter.

So up to the housetop,

The whole deal proceeded.

Santa? He’s cold,

Some brandy is needed.

Then, in a twinkle,

I heard a great thud;

Poor Santa’s approach,

Was a bit of a dud.

As I drew in my head,

Trying not to knock it,

Santa shot down,

The flue like a rocket.

He was covered in ashes

From his head to his foot.

Only his beard

Could be seen through the soot.

A bundle of toys

He had flung on his back.

Straining, I fear,

His sacroiliac.

His eyes, they still twinkled,

They still had their fizz.

His cheeks were like roses,

The visible ones that is.

The skin on his face

Was blotchy and tight.

All from long years of

Working solely at night.

His nose hair grew long,

So he’d now-and-then prune it

His pipe and his teeth,

Came out as one unit.

Sagging over his belt,

Was a fast-growing belly.

When in his recliner,

It blocked out the telly.

He winked his left eye,

And nodded his head.

“Good lord, Santa too?”

I fled back to bed.

He spoke not a word,

But went straight to his duties.

His feet were quite warm,

In his weasel-skin booties.

Then laying a finger,

Aside of his nose

He fell in the fire.

Up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh,

“Let’s go!” he commanded.

Those who didn’t go

Got reprimanded.

But Santa was worried, 

The way the sleigh ran.

Still waiting, it seems,

For parts from Japan.

But I heard him exclaim,

As he drove out of sight.

“My hat doesn’t fit,

And my pants are too tight!”

Dear Carolyn: I did like your reader's suggestion about Christmas Balls; I have been inspired. To a well known tune. If you need me to tell you, I have Failed. (*Oh whatever see below)


Christmas Balls,

Grow a Pair,

Keep 'em in your purse,

Use 'em kindly if you please

And don't make matters worse OH


Narcissistic folks! In-laws totin' guns! Folks whose table manners owe a great deal to the Huns!

When's the wedding day? When's the grandkid due? Let me have your PIN number to buy a gift for you! OH

Christmas Balls etc etc


Now, don't make matters worse means act like an adult,

There's very little to be done 'bout Grandma in the cult,

But you don't have to fold, or eat 3 times your weight,

Or blush and simper when they say, "Godzilla, here's your date,"

The magic words should rule, please, thank you, and no ma'am;

(The last is handy when you hear, Oh Moshe, have some ham . . .)

You should try manners first (accept them, too, as well)

But if they fail (be reas'nable) well, brethren*, what the hell ...


Christmas Balls!

Dust 'em off,

Others have 'em too,

So use them wisely and they'll bring

Some Xmas peace to you. . .

*or sistren or folken.

It's Jingle Balls of course. (My personal inclination is to bite my tongue rather more than this but I haven't encountered some of the Very Insane Persons who appear in the Haxologia)

Merry Merry Christmas from Offhand Manor

And a merry one right back atcha.

As a pretty devout Catholic, I try to downplay the Santa stuff with my kids and emphasize the religious part of Christmas. So when my 5 year-old son asked me "Is Santa real?" I responded by telling him the story of the REAL St. Nicholas (cool story, actually), who "lived a long time ago in what is now Turkey." My son responded (he's a quick one), "LIVED? You mean he's dead now?" I hemmed and hawed about him being in heaven now, etc. etc. Fast forward a couple of days and we're at the mall, where he notices the mall Santa, and says in a very loud voice: "LOOK MOM. SANTA'S NOT DEAD. HE'S RIGHT OVER THERE." The shocked looks my fellow mallgoers gave me were absolutely priceless...

Well played, my friend.

My male cousin had been dating his now wife for a couple of years. She had been hinting about getting a ring for Christmas. So, Christmas eve the whole family is gathered in the living room after dinner and we are opening presents--one at a time like we always do, so everybody can see. She picks up a small, square box that looks exactly like a ring box. Her face lights up and we are all watching. Inside is a small lump of coal and a note that stated "with time and pressure this can turn into a diamond." She burst into tears, totally humiliated. He thought it was funny. They got married five years later.


Either she really loved your cousin, or she was so @#$ ! invested in this @#$ ! guy that she was going to get her @#$ !  ring if she took her last @#$ ! breath on this earth getting it. 

This isn't a horror, it's actually one of my favorite holiday memories (which I believe is the genesis of the original Holiday Hootenanny). It's Thanksgiving and I'm sitting and watching football with my Dad and brothers. I'm not a football fan, but I am a fan of sitting around with my Dad and my brothers so . . . I'm trying to follow along, but I don't know who's playing. I turn to my Dad and, puzzled, ask "Who are the Snoils?" Equally puzzled, my Dad turns to me and says "the who?" I say, "The Snoils. I've never heard of them." Well, he hasn't either so I explain, that I was looking at the end zone to see the team name and I didn't recognize the Snoils. Very slowly, my Dad explains to me that it's says LIONS. I was reading it upside down and backwards. After everyone got over wondering how I'd made it to college reading things upside down and backwards, we started a new game. To this day (at least 8 years later), in my house, all NFL teams are referred to by their backwards names, the Sniksders, the Snevars, the Socnorbs, etc. It never fails to make me feel very loved and a little silly when that story is told EVERY YEAR at Thanksgiving.

Go Snoils!

First Christmas with my fiance, we attend a midnight service in his hometown. We enjoy the service and also making faces at the little baby in the pew ahead of us. After the service, as we are shaking hands, I accidentally let out a fart that completely personified "silent but deadly." I mean, it was wretched. As my fiance and his friend expressed their horror, I managed to keep my composure as we blamed it all on the baby. The next Christmas, I recall the incident, thinking he would not remember, and guiltily confess. Oh, he remembered. "That was you?!?!" And it is henceforth known as the great Christmas Fart.

As if there can be a not-great Christmas Fart.

If you're having a late lunch at your desk, skip this next one and go back when you're finished.

My mother's side of the family is Italian and for years they hosted the traditional Seven Fishes Dinner. My nephew's non-Italian girlfriend, who always had come across as a bit brash and, if you will, unfettered, dove into one course after another, from chechi soup to baked calamari, cauliflower fritters, stuffed olives, salted cod, with gusto. The main course was steamed lobsters. And when they were served, she went bananas. We usually placed two large bowls at either end of the dining table where we could dispose of our lobster shells as we picked and poked to extract the meat. She dug into that crustacean of hers and literally tore him apart. By the time she'd slurped and sucked her way through him, he looked like a dead shrimp. We continued to chat around the sounds and disemboweling and reached the end of the feast. But the crowning moment came when I walked into the kitchen as I helped to clear the table, only to find her sifting and picking through the bowls of empty shells -- that's right, other people's discards -- digging out the remaining bits of lobster meat wherever she could find them and chomping away. Gag, choke, retch...step out of the room and wait for her to stop the foraging. Ewwwwww! Haven't had a lobster since. Happy Holidays!

A special thanks for "the sounds and disemboweling." I weep.

Last year, my sister sent a DVD collection of holiday episodes from classic TV shows (Beverly Hillbillies, Ozzie and Harriet, etc.) So after our Christmas dinner, our little family settled down to watch a Very Special Christmas edition of Dragnet. We all felt the spirit of the holiday as the story of a young boy who disappeared on Christmas Eve unfolded. Surely he'd be reunited with his parents just in time for Christmas? Not on Dragnet. He had been shot to death and buried in the woods by his 12-year-old neighbor, after the two boys had discovered the loving Christmas present of a shotgun from Santa. I haven't decided yet whether it should be a Christmas tradition to watch this show at my house....

Let us know what you decide.

One Christmas many years ago Aunt #1 was trying to feed my very young cousin some carrots at the dinner table. Aunt #2 (who was only about 22 at the time) started nagging Aunt #1 about something...pass the mashed potatoes or the baby doesn't like one really remembers. My cousin picked the height of the nagging to dump her mashed up carrots directly into Aunt #1's shoe. Aunt #1 couldn't take it anymore when Aunt #2 started laughing. She scooped the carrots from her shoe and flung them across the table at Aunt #2 while yelling something about "F'ing toe cheese". To this day I joke that food is less likely to be thrown at the "kid's table" so that's where the kids (who are now in their 20s and 30s) still sit.

And where they miss all the good stuff. Kids these days.

Love my mom but when she is at my house visiting for the holidays all she does is ask questions about the most mundane, private matters with little regard for who is listening. She'll take out the jar of fiber in the cabinet and ask, "Who's constipated?" She pats my too-chubby stomach in front of my husband and asks, "Are you sure you're too old to get pregnant?" Here's the doozy: she walked into a living room filled with guests on Thanksgiving holding up a grungy sponge. She said, "[Daughter #3] was cleaning the toilet with this, Is this the same sponge I saw you washing dishes with?" Do I just keep ruefully laughing, or... or what?

or, writing each one down and marveling at your luck. Okay, our luck.  

Gotta say, this Jersey girl is disappointed she can't find Dominic the Donkey on Turntable...

I just searched for "Dominic donkey" (without quotes) and found a few versions. Maybe try again?

I think the worst Christmas ever was the year I stayed with friends. The unpleasant, high-maintenence grandzilla got drunk, was offended she wasn't the center of attention and slapped one of the kids' more innocent friends and called her a slut out of nowhere and apropos of nothing. Grandzilla is dead and so-called slut has a Ph.D. in engineering. Worst Xmas ever.

Still? It hasn't acquired even a thin patina of genius?

Hi Carolyn, I love the hootenanny. Love love love. Have been around for each one since the very first, and am always somewhat bummed that I have nothing overly horrific to contribute; each year I think "surely this will be the year!", but no, somehow my family manages to make it through the holidays with minimal scarring. We've even begun telling tales of Christmas legend to my youngest nieces and nephews, who are finally old enough to appreciate them. Can I share them here?

1) The pie: many moons ago my older sister was trying to sell her house, and she hosted Christmas eve dinner before we all went to midnight mass. I was newly-21, meaning I was more than happy to enjoy several glasses of wine with dinner, and somehow got in my head the idea that flinging bits of food around the dining room when my sister wasn't looking was a fun thing to do. God only knows why - and she's never been asked to bring pie since this incident - my aunt made some awful pineapple pie with whipped cream that no one was brave enough to touch, let alone taste. I tipsily volunteered to do both, and confirmed for all that it was, in fact, awful on all counts.

Well, what are you going to do with a nearly whole uneaten pie containing whipped cream but start flinging tiny pieces of it at the ceiling? I thought my sister was cluelessly doing dishes in the adjacent kitchen when I let a particularly large dollop of cream fly at the ceiling fan, to which it stuck, but unbeknownst to me she'd seen the whole thing, and somehow knew I couldn't see her out of the corner of my eye as I gawked at the ceiling in delighted laughter.

When I brought my head back down, she made her move, and smashed the pie directly into my face. Thankfully my mom let me clean it off before we went to mass - where I promptly fell asleep...

2) Even more moons ago, when my grandparents were still alive, the entire family gathered at their far-away house for Christmas dinner. My grandmother was a most proper lady who said everything with perfect diction, always sat and stood with perfect posture, and never had anything even remotely resembling a rude or untoward thought or moment - in short, the polar opposite of my grandfather, who was a rough-hewn Long Island policeman who smoked, slouched, and cursed as he pleased, though never in front of Grandma, who hated it.

The table at which we sat was long enough for almost 20 of us, and the bowl of baked potatoes was at the head opposite my grandfather, next to my grandmother. He decided he wanted one, and asked my grandmother to pass him a potato, please. She didn't hear him, and carried on her conversation as if nothing had happened (she was also known for being a chatterbox, again, opposite of taciturn Grandpa).

This repeated itself several times, and eventually a couple of us grandkids caught on to it and sat back to see what would happen. My grandfather got so irked by his lack of potato that he banged his fist on the table and bellowed, quite loud and clear, "Rita, would you pass me a god-d*** potato?!"

Without missing a beat of her conversation - or even looking away - my grandmother picked up a potato and heaved it at him, narrowly missing several of us in the process (not to mention nearly smacking him right in the nose). The entire table froze in expectant silence - what would happen next? Grandma dabbed at her mouth with the corner of her napkin, cleared her throat, and very quietly and gravely said, "There is your god-d***ed potato, Robert." I've never loved her more than I did in that moment.

When planning a holiday meal with the family, be sure to serve a projectile course. 

Not lobster, but ... a non-Italian girlfriend of our cousin went to use the shower on Christmas Eve morning and stepped into ... the eels stored there for that night's dinner. "Eeek!!!" We forgot to warn her.

Hate it when that happens.

an excerpt (names changed): "Dan is still living in Berkeley, balding, unmarried and childless. Mark and Jennie are living in Tokyo and are my best hope for grandchildren. Amy is living in St. Paul with her friend Natalie. No boyfriend. John finally finished college with a degree in theatre." You can imagine how much we enjoyed that. We told her she wasn't allowed to send us any more Christmas letters.

True art is always misunderstood.

When sharing funny stories among coworkers and friends about crazy things our families do during the holidays, I have one line that usually gets me proclaimed as the "winner" -- during family functions, my awesome and loveable step-mom tends to get really drunk and take off her pants. It's just not a special occasion without her in her underpants. My boyfriend is really excited to be spending the holidays with family this year!

As he should be. But you might want to consider finding a rougher class of friends and colleagues. Around here, "I'll kill you like I did my last husband" doesn't even guarantee a win. (What year was that, anyone know offhand? I searched a bit but it was taking too long.)

Last Thanksgiving, my family was hanging around watching some football that had been DVR'ed during the meal. My dad and his brothers are all big football fans, and after a questionable call, one of my uncles (Uncle 1) wanted to rewind to watch the play again. But he kept rewinding it way too far, then tried to skip ahead and went too far the other way, while Uncle 2 (whose house and remote it was) kept asking him to hand it over so he could do it. Uncle 1 refused and kept attempting to rewind, insisting he was doing it right and it was all the remote's fault. Others then started protesting the decision to rewatch the play at all, begging him to just put the remote down so we could keep watching the game. Tempers rose until finally Uncle 1 threw down the remote, told Uncle 2 to "F&%# off," and walked out, leaving all of us sitting there stunned (including his wife and child!). He then proceeded to sit in the car for an hour until the rest of his family finally came out. I think my favorite part was my mom, who was in the other room, completely oblivious and a little drunk, giving him a big, cheerful hug on his way out and telling him it was so good to see him. We never did get to watch that play again either...

When good football goes bad.

Here's the picture: Mom dying of cancer, we all (6 kids and Dad) know it is her last Christmas. My sister is given a gallon of Captain Morgans rum. She has some in orange juice at breakfast, some in coke during the afternoon, by dinner she (and many of the rest of us) are trashed. She and the oldest sister get into a fight about being drunk. Oldest sister as a parting shot says "mom never liked you" just as mom enters the room. Mom is a bit drunk herself and says 'oh, hey, I am not dead yet! I love you both, I even like you both most of the time but you, young lady, are a bitch. You need to back off, apologize to your sister and unload the dishwasher." I will NEVER forget that christmas.

Moms. Sigh.

Last year my FIL bought my MIL an American Doll for her birthday, but he is completely enamoured with the doll himself. For Xmas, he bought the doll several gifts (a radio, a skating outfit, a kilt) -- which we all go to see when they came over for dinner & brought the doll. My 3 year old daughter was not allowed to touch, play or hold the doll, because "it's not a toy." Good thing they know where to draw the line. Those toddlers will mess up a man's doll if you give them half a chance.

True that.

There's just no graceful way to put this: My family is rough and tumble. At least the kids are. We wrestle hello (we're 35, 33, & 26), we punch out our affection and there is no shortage of wedgies, wet willies and other sophmoric behavior when we get together. And I love it. Last year was no different, except baby brother (BB) purchased an airsoft pellet gun. The Middle Child (MC) has a propensity for nudity and this holiday was no different. It was less surprising because I'd brought one of my friends from DC and MC's a shameless attention monger. He blasts out of the bathroom, naked as a jaybird, announcing his nudity and WHO WANTS TO SEE?!? Apparently BB was laying in wait and next thing we hear is "PAP PAP PAP" and "OW" a scuffle ensues and BB vanishes like the ninja he is while MC is bellowing his revenge from the hall. After MC had put on pants, we got to see the three red welts running up his center line. Dad confiscated and hid the airsoft gun shortly thereafter. I plan on bringing marshmallow shooters this year.

Please send my regards to BB. (Nice sound effects, btw.)

I *think* "I'll kill you like I did my last husband" was 2008--the first year I followed along!

Taking this on faith, thanks.

I have always been really into baking. My step-mother used to buy me tons of ingredients and let me go wild. Unbeknownst to me she would then wrap them up and take them and pass them off as hers. This went on for five years until my paternal grandmother was staying with us for Christmas. She quickly caught on, and rather then mentioning it to me she quietly sabotaged a big batch of cranberry orange bread. Well my step-mother took that bread to work and was given a hard time about it. When she got home she started to yell on me, but my grandma stepped in and asked her why she got blamed for the baked good when she hadn't made them. That shut my step-mom up. I miss my grandma, but that story always makes me smile.

Grandma, like the ninja she was. Awesome.

Just a few years ago: picture of the 4 of us kids at the Iowa State Fair, in front of a port-a-potty. My mom had cards printed with "Merry Christmas from my (Crappy) Kids". I probably can find one over the holidays and send it to you!

Carolyn Hax


The Washington Post

1150 15th St NW

Washington, DC 20071


Scanned and emailed will do, too.

My great uncle had been in the hospital and rehab for 7 weeks following a fall. He was released three days before christmas two years ago. The stay in the hospital/rehab had gone poorly. He was 95. He hadn't spoken in three weeks, and was withdrawn/depressed/near catatonic. Every year his daughter, my aunt, bakes pies for our family xmas feast. She is rightly proud of her pies. And, is, well, not someone who takes criticism well. So our silent great uncle is given a piece of pie, takes a bite. Everyone is digging into pie, so it's really quiet when great uncle yells " THIS PIE SUCKS." I break out laughing, as does most everyone, including, eventually, my aunt, who was both crying and laughing and had to be told that the pie was just fine. Great uncle has actually recovered well since this incident, is back to being his normal, vocal, friendly self who would never tell anyone their pie sucked. I jokingly called it our Xmas miracle to get him back. Just don't tell my aunt...

Kind of like Frosty's "Happy Birthday!," but far, far better.

Best Christmas ever? The year my dear father stole the baby Jesus out of my mother's manger scene and left behind a ransom note "Give me cookies if you ever want to see the kid again" My young daughter, who was in Catholic school at the time, was HORRIFIED that her grandpa could do such a thing, and let him know he would never get to heaven that way. He replied he wanted cookies more. I love my family...

Rightly so.

The Jewish charity I work for just this minute received a holiday card from a vendor containing a $50 gift certificate to the Honey Baked Ham store. We will pay it forward appropriately.

Rightly so (except the first time I typed it "rghity sp" because I was laughing too hard).

As the submitter of that story, I have to say I appreciate how long it's lived on here. It wasn't just me who found that memorable...

Ah ... no. We may have a strangely high threshold for crazy around here, but it's not -that- high. 

I've stored about a dozen boxes of "stuff" in my parents' basement since I graduated from college (I'm in my mid-30s). Every time I go home, my mom nags me to go through the boxes and throw away my junk; I always demure. At Thanksgiving this year, my mom starts on the boxes with a twist--she actually started going through them herself a few weeks ago and she wanted me to finish the job, esp. regarding a box that was full of VHS tapes that she had started sorting. I feel the blood drain from my face; yes, most of those tapes contain episodes of General Hospital I recorded in the mid-90s, but I know at least one of the tapes contains a, um, "home movie" that my college boyfriend and I made together. My mom also notes that they have a VCR and we can start watching the tapes if we need help deciding what's on them.... let's just say, I skipped pie and decided it was "really important" to sort through those boxes immediately.

Too late, you do realize ...? Oh never mind. Have some makeup pie and don't look back.

If the Jewish charity wants to pay it forward appropriately, they should drop it in the mail to PETA.


One Christmas, many years ago, we were going to a relative's house and we were all strung out on sugar and little sleep, so it was a bit loud in the back. We pulled into the driveway where my mother turned around and said in her most authoritative mom voice, "It's a holiday god d****, let's all pretend to like each other for 2 f'ing hours." Stunned silence from us kids. Now, it's not a holiday until someone says it, "It's Groundhog day god d*****"

Moms. Sigh.

The first New Year after my (now ex) husband and I were married, his mom really wanted to host a New Year's Eve dinner for us and his friends. So there were about 12 of us, including my brother in law and his girlfriend (whose surprise engagement while at the party was not even the most memorable part). After midnight, folks were a little tipsy, and a few people were itching for some marijuana. No one had any, and a few people were proposing to leave to get some, but my MIL was worried about drunk driving. So she said, "Don't leave - I have some!" She went up to her bedroom & proudly produced a baggie full of MJ. We were all pretty stunned, to say the least. Then someone pointed out that there was nothing to smoke it with, so my MIL was on top of that too, and she emptied out the contents of her own cigarettes, and hand rolled a bunch of joints using the leftover paper. They all went out back (with MIL) to smoke up. I did not, as I'm pretty much a teetotaler. When she saw me not participating, she said to me, "You're a good girl." Discuss.

Moms. Sigh.

My husband cherishes a Christmas card that he received a few years ago from his elderly grandmother. In it, she recalls the long ago days when she "used to enjoy lovely notes from my sweet grandson. But now I hardly ever get even a phone call." She signed it thusly: "Merry Christmas anyway. Love you. Don't know why. Grandma" Not only does he now write his Grandma more often, but in our house most declarations of affection are followed with: "Don't know why!"

Good for her. Another ninja.

Last minute submission on behalf of my sister who doesn't read your chats: Two days before the office Christmas party last year, our CEO called an all staff meeting. After congratulating us on a terrific job over the past year, he announced that one of our higher-ups committed fraud with government funding and we were the subject a very public government investigation. Most likely, we would all be out of work by the New Year. After the wailing and gnashing of teeth had quieted, he brought up the office Christmas party. Since we were publicly disgraced, he couldn't justify an actual "party" so he had changed it to an "idea collaboration event." There would be music, food, and, oh yes, alcohol, but instead of dancing and mingling, we were encouraged to use the whiteboards propped around the room to write ideas on how we could "save our organization." Shocked and shaken, all the employees came to office party, ransacked the food, got drunk and angry and then plastered the whiteboards with some choice words. One co-worker wrote "vomit" on almost every surface she could find.

They wanted ideas, and then they got them.

Last Xmas my mom's dog, a terrier approaching 17 years of age and a little blind but the kindest pooch on the planet, bumped into my brother's girlfriend, causing her to drop the dessert she had brought. She promptly berated the dog with a string of compound expletives, to my whole family's horror. Well, not entirely, I always appreciate well delivered compound expletives. Anyway after dinner on christmas eve we hand out presents. Everyone has their own pile. Said dog, comes into the room, walks right over to this young lady's gift pile, raises his leg and, well, let's it rip. Then just turns around and walks out of the room. The girlfriend is no longer in the picture, in no small part because this dog cast his judgement upon her. It's too bad he had to be put down in July. My new girlfriend is going to my family's celebration, and I'd have appreciated his opinion.

I'm sure he taught you well. 

When my children were growing up, it was our custom to drive from suburban MD to Indiana (Dad's family) and Missouri (Mom's family) every Christmas. The year the youngest Indy cousin was a baby, he threw up once. The rest of us (14 in all) got a raging version of the "Josh flu." Christmas dinner was cancelled because nobody was well enough to prepare it or eat it. A few days later we were fully recovered and headed off to St. Louis, where we settled in the living room to relax and open presents. My mom asked my husband to build a "nice big fire" in the fireplace. He did, and a few minutes later the attic was on fire. Apparently there was a bird's next in the attic space next to the chimney. We spent the night and the next several days in a hotel. Nobody was hurt, but my parents were displaced for 4 months while the damage was repaired. The wonderful firefighters managed to save most of our presents, and my daughter promptly named her stuffed animal (appropriately, a spotted dog) "Smokey." For once, we couldn't wait to get back to Maryland.

Definitely one for the books. It's usually puking -or- a house fire, rarely both.

Thanksgiving this year: due to branches of the family not speaking to other branches, organizing who would bring what got complicated and we ended up with 5 full-size pies (for 10 adults and 2 kids) and no vegetables. The great thing was, there was a pie within reach of every place setting so no one had to ask anyone they were feuding with to pass it.

Plus, it was like sitting amid a fully stocked armory, should hostilities break out. 

One year when my mother was not able to shop because of her health she gave me money and asked me to get something for my ADULT sister for Christmas. I went out shopping and found a buy-one get-one free sale on sweaters. The cost for one sweater would have cost the amount my mother gave me so I thought this was good and got my sister 2 sweaters. I also liked the sweaters so got myself two. On Christmas day she liked the sweaters and I told her I had gotten myself two also. The next day she approached me saying that she had not been able to sleep all night because she was thinking about this and said that she should have gotten the two sweaters that I had gotten myself because I used my mother's money. I don't know how she got to this point. My mother gave me $50, I got two $50 sweaters for her for that money, but she had herself so upset because she thought I had used money meant for her on myself that she didn't sleep all night. She was very upset and I am still not sure that I convinced her that I bought my sweaters with my money.

"I don't know how she got to this point." Yes, yes, you do.

In the nick of time, some Charlie Brown Christmas. Thank you, current deejay.

This came from a Christmas dinner a few years ago, when my then-boyfriend, who I was absolutely in love with, came over. He is from Latvia, which came out over the course of dinner. During a lull in conversation, my grandpa looked over and said, "So, when are you going to be deported?" Absolutely silence. My mom tried to cover it by saying, I think he is asking when you are going to visit your family. My grandpa interupted, "No, really, when are you going to be deported." Cue uncomfortable laughter. Now its an annual event, asking the new guy (my mom has 3 single daughters so there is usually a new boyfriend involved) when they are going to be deported. I think my mom thinks of it as a test - if they don't run, they are a keeper? Us girls think its really a ploy to keep us single forever.

I think it works both ways, if that's possible.

About 10 years ago, staying at Grandma's house for Christmas, I woke up Christmas morning to go to the bathroom to take care of business.... I wound up flooding the entire bathroom to my horror! Needless to say, we needed to call a plumber for emergency service- quite expensive on Christmas! I took a lot of heat. After all, couldn't I be more ladylike in the bathroom? And on Christmas! The culprit turned out to be months of accumulating dental floss flushed down the toilet, which had caught on something else down the drain. Needless to say, nobody in my family flushes dental floss- or anything else that doesn't belong- down the toilet anymore.

Flush the floss and flood the floor,

Fa la la la la, la la la la ...


Where do I begin? My family lives to make a mess out of Christmas. There was the time my brother stormed out of my sister's house because she dared to serve venison instead of goose, and everyone got drunk because really what else is there to do some years? But the best one happened one Christmas Eve when my mother contacted my sister for the traditional long distance call. My sister got on the phone and demanded to know why our mother sent her 12 year old granddaughter a vibrator for Christmas. Our low-key mother was floored. My sister was so angry she wouldn't listen to explanations. My mother (who does not like to talk about sex or any bodily functions) was shocked. Sister hung up on Mother and basically did not talk to her again for two years. Vibrator? No, Mother had sent granddaughter a mug, some hot cocoa, and--a milk frother. Yep. My sister cannot tell the difference between a vibrator and a milk frother. Even better, the milk frother was bought from my daughter's school fundraising catalog! Seriously, you'd think my foodie, romance novel reading sister could tell the difference between a VIBRATOR and a FROTHER. I mean, a frother would hurt. No, I never brought this up to my sister. She lives 3,000 miles away. But, the rest of my family and I have a good laugh every year. Because, if you aren't getting drunk, you just better laugh.

I can't believe you'll let 3,000 miles come between you and the most gratifying (heh) conversation you'll ever have with your sister. But, okay.

And if you are getting drunk, you'd best not try to sing,

Flush the floss and flood the floor,

fa la la la la, la la la la ...


I was trying to type my farewell in time to go out to the strains of Cartman, but it was not to be--couldn't stop skimming for one ... last ... tale ...then my font got all messed up somehow, so I don't even know if this will show up ...

But, if something went as planned, it would have no place in the Hoot. And, all Hoots must come to an end.

So, thank you all, because you are the Hoot and the Hoot is you. Now I'll leave you lose sleep over that one. Have a great weekend and see you here next week. Ooh--Thursday instead of Friday, I just realized. 




Sorry about that last burst of chaos. Seems fitting though.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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