Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2013 (Friday, Dec. 13)

Dec 13, 2013

The Holiday Hootenanny 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 has been going ever since.

Carolyn was online Friday, Dec. 13 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.

Check out some of our favorite stories from years past:
- Hootenanny guide to: Family
- Hootenanny guide to: Gift-giving

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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Discussions

Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Well helllloooooooo. I spent part of this morning and a lot of last night rummaging through the queue of Hootisms, and I barely made a dent. Thanks everyone for allowing us to knit joyful "nosewarmers" from your pain. We'll get to that part of the program sometime in the 1 o'clock hour. Pops's poetry is in the stable and stomping impatiently, as it should be. 


Some Q and A first ...

Where will it be this year, since alas has closed its doors?


We're over on - and the music's already going strong. Once you've logged in (with Google, Facebook or Twitter), our room is here. More instructions are down at the bottom of the chat page if you need 'em.

Hi Carolyn and producer! I've been a long-time column reader, but have been reading through the chat archives recently. I know the chats existed before 2003 (and now with the link to the 2000 Hootenanny I have proof!) but they're not accessible via the chat archives by year. Is there any way to make them more easily available? Thanks!

Unfortunately they're not archived in a nice way. It has to do with us changing systems. You can do a pretty good job Googling them though if you use some of the advanced options. Limit the date to before 2003 and limit the domain to

Quick Pre-hoot response to your column about a brother who wants to skip the kids gift-giving. I am in a similar situation, but have a completely different take. My husband and I are the only ones of our generation with kids so far, and we have three. For the past five years, everyone wants to do presents for "kids only", but while I was okay with it for the first year or so, when there was only one kid, and they are mostly getting onesies and stacking cups, I am now uncomfortable with it. I don't like that my family is the only family receiving presents - it makes me feel like a mooch. I have tried suggesting that we don't even do a gift exchange (it's not like my kids need anything more), but that doesn't seem to go over well. Just suck it up? What else to do?

Maybe they'd be willing to "adopt" a needy family?

Also, it might help if you gave everyone something anyway, if not for Christmas then at some other time of the year. Something they can consume, though, like a favorite bread or beer or dessert, instead of Stuff. Or, help them out with something they care about. You can even make it clear when you give, "You're always so generous with our kids ..."

Otherwise, yes, roll with it as gracefully as you can. Maybe the dynamics will change soon, too--you seem to be suggesting that with "so far."


Hi Carolyn! I"m not sure if today's chat is meant to be light-hearted and fun. My question is not. The holidays are coming up and my brother (who suffers from mental illness) has stopped taking his medication. I feel anxious and not sure how to cope with the impending fallout of his actions and the upcoming holidays. Any advice for those dealing with major life issues during a time when everyone expects you to be festive and cheerful? Thank you.

I'm sorry.

I don't think "everyone" "expects" anything, especially if you take a closer look. I mean, what are we all doing here today? Talking about how spectacularly things go wrong, and having good, semi-clean fun with the ridiculous notion of expectations that a day or a decor or a menu can somehow have transformative qualities just because the calendar says it should. You're among friends here, at least, who expect nothing of you.

The people at NAMI (link) also can reassure you, I think, as well as give you practical suggestions for your situation with your brother. The Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI, is a good place to start.



My friend was having marital issues a couple of years ago and packed up to live with her parents for a few months to get some space. In that time she started sleeping with her ex-boyfriend. (Her ex-boyfriend is a nice, honest guy who makes an honest living.) A few months later she found out she was pregnant, immediately broke things off with her boyfriend and went running back to her filthy rich husband. She "worked things out" in a hurry and her husband believes this is his 2-year-old running around their mansion. I am one of two people who knows the truth about this and it has eaten me up for years. My husband thinks I should keep mum and mind my own business. Her husband should have figured this out on his own using simple math with her pregnancy/birth but he did not. (She told everyone that she gave birth 3.5 weeks early - to a HUGE baby.) It kills me inside that her little boy will never know his real father. My friend refuses to do anything about the situation and prefers not to speak anymore of it. What should I do?

I obviously know just the barest bones of this situation, but how can you remain friends with this friend?

This is off-the-cuff and a decision about telling or not telling would get days of thought and sleep at a minimum--but I hope I would at least choose not to help her maintain what appears to be a monstrous lie.

So my brother is a drug addict and my mother thinks she's a founding member of tough love and immune to his manipulations...she's not. Last Christmas was so awful with him trying to detox in her house, everyone was sick and I admit I behaved badly. I swore I'd never go back. Well, she booked me a plane ticket so I'm set to leave in a week. I'm dreading this. How can I keep from reverting back to my angry 14 year old self? I go in, fully aware of the possibility, fully determined to avoid it and end up right back at the children's table.

A couple of things.

1. If you haven't tried Al-anon, this week is a fine one for giving it a try.

2. A plane ticket is not a court order. You can say no thank you and choose not to go.

3. If you do go, then you don't have to spend so much time with your family that you outlast your immunity to them. You can plan breaks into your visit that restore your balance. You can stay off-site. You can "help" by running errands. You answer to yourself--not your mom, not your brother, not your family collectively. You. Decide what you will and won't deal with and stick to it.

Include an escape hatch or three in your plans, too: something you do as soon as you notice  you're feeling 14ish. A walk, a book, a streamed show or movie. Don't wait till you're in that moment to figure out how to deal with it, because if you could think how to deal with it, you wouldn't be in that moment. Let your current, rational self pack some coping mechanisms for you in advance. I'm trying to think of those movies where time-travelers plant things for themselves to use in other eras. "Time Traveler's Wife"? "Men In Black 3"?

Sorry for the delay--chat just locked up on me. I think I managed to save the answer I was working on, so I'll send that out in a sec. 

How can I survive my visit to family for a 5-day period, with sanity intact? I thought 5 days would be a good time frame, but am now regretting that decision and realizing it should have been shorter! I'm single, and traveling 500 miles to see mom, sister & co. Mom is widowed and lonely, I think - as am I often!, plus a tad bitter about life. Sis is married and has two young children (plus an au pair). The kids are pretty spoiled, and quite used to all attention being on them. I love my niece and nephew, and do enjoy spending time with them. However, I'm the type of person who needs a fair amount of downtime, as well. When visiting sis, I feel guilty about sneaking off to read or trying to go to a cafe by myself because sister doesn't afford herself the same "luxury."

Wait--what? Your sister affords herself the "luxury" of an au pair to help her with the kids. not that there's anything wrong with that, I just think your take on her childrearing philosophy is inconsistent.

It's also conveniently and totally irrelevant. Your five days with your family are your five days with your family, and I don't see how your sister's opinion of "sneaking off" (!) to read has anything to do with it. If you need down time, then take your down time, and stop apologizing for it through use of the "I'm the type of person who ...": construct. You don't need the fact of others, or the fact of a "type," to justify what works for you. Just do it. Say it to the mirror, even, before you go: "I need some down time ... Anyone want something from the cafe?" Or, " am going to go read for a bit. If anyone needs me, call, but I'll be back in a couple of hours."

The prior answer applies to you, too, just with different details: You answer to you. 

I should probably add, it's also important to be a good guest. But that just means not going too hard against the grain of  the household you're visiting, and cleaning up after yourself. You can do that and still answer only to you.

Have your kids give gifts, as well! I always have my son make something or do something for his grandparents and aunts/uncles. Google "kids crafts" and you'll find tons of easy, inexpensive things they can do (and I say this as a person who is really--no really--not at all crafty). Everyone wins! Your kids learn about giving as well as accepting gifts graciously, your family feels loved, and your nuclear family got a chance to do an activity together.

Yes, this is both important for the kids and an easy way to tweak the dynamic, thanks.

Once I stopped maintaining a relationship (doing *all* the initiating for conversations, all the accommodating, in the face of some vile behavior) with a relative in the generation above me, contact was reduced to occasional birthday/holiday cards. 20 years later, I've gotten a written request to "stop this foolishness" & get together. Is there a reasonably kind way to ask what's changed/why now? The answer could make a difference, though should we meet I wouldn't agree to be alone with Relative. Thoughts?

Since you've cut yourself off from the person for 20 years (right, I read that correctly?), and since you apparently see this person as very harmful, I don't see why the standard of reasonable kindness suddenly has the last word on how you handle this. If you want more information, then write back to ask for any information you want or need before you make your decision on a next step. And if you don't want to "stop this foolishness," and have a good reason for staying away that you have already stated clearly to this relative, then you are under no obligation to reverse your decision or to make yourself available. Do what your conscience says is right and don't look back.

Answering with so few details feels a bit like reviewing art with a bag over my head, but, I try.

Are you assuming that the husband doesn't know or do you know that for a fact? Because it's simple math, he probably has a pretty good idea that his son may not be his, however it's his choice to accept this child as his own. My husband isn't 100% sure that his son is his son however he has treated him as such the boy's entire life (His son is 30). And my husband he absolutely doesn't want anyone telling him any different.

Right, it's possible he knows and has chosen, for many possible reasons, not to let on that he does know. Thanks. 

Hi Carolyn, thanks for your answer. I should point out that sister and B-I-L both work at least 45-55hrs a week and also travel for work, while au pair is technically limited to working 45 hours a week. Naturally, they have the large-ish upper middle class home to go with their lifestyle. It seems that at times sis thinks my life (single, no kids, share an apartment because DC is so damn expensive, less demanding job) is a walk in the park. Sure, I may be less busy, but it doesn't mean my world is full of rainbows, butterflies and unicorns every day.

Would you please stop resenting, judging, framing  things in terms of, your sister and her choices? It seems she's doing it to you, I get that, but giving as good as you get works only with love, kindness, rainbows, butterflies and unicorns. With judging and resenting, giving as good as you get will eat a hole in your soul. You are all in a bunch about how hard she works, how nice her house and lifestyle are, how she arranges her child care? Really? 

If you can't spend time with her (yet) without turning into an angry bean-counter, then please give serious thought to places or people or activities that restore you, build you up, bring out your (ahem link) best self, and spend your holidays that way. 

Hi, Carolyn. My family and I live in a different (within driving distance) state than our parents and siblings. Of our siblings we are the only ones with children and ours are still at an age when they think Christmas is magical. My spouse is a member of the clergy, which means traveling for Christmas is impossible. Every year we invite our families for Christmas and every year our parents come up with an excuse not to come. For my spouse, it's that my spouse's grandparents are old and it "may be their last Christmas" (this has been the excuse for 5 years now). For my own mother and siblings, it was that my grandmother didn't want to travel. My grandmother died this year, so now the excuse is that my youngest sister doesn't want to leave her boyfriend (with whom she lives, so it's not like they don't see each other) and even though we have extended an invitation to him, too, he doesn't want to leave his widowed mother and my mother won't leave my sister "to have Christmas on her own." So once again, my kids don't get Christmas with their grandparents. Most of their friends have large extended families and they see that they get to spend holidays with them, and note that we don't. On top of that, my mother is always complaining about how much she misses my children and how jealous she is of her friends with grandchildren close by, but then comes up with every excuse she can to actually avoid seeing them. This is starting to bother me more and more and I just don't know what to do about it. Help?

Give up. They're not coming this year, they won't come next year, they have their own reasons for not coming that will probably never make sense to you but make sense to them. There's a better than average chance that their reasons aren't about you.

I realize this means you are stuck with something you don't want, but, knowing it isn't going to change actually gives you a chance, finally, to change it into something you do want. What that is, I have no idea, but I do know that it'll be within the bounds of what you can control. That includes encouraging your kids not to view their Christmas through the lens of what their friends have that your family doesn't, but instead through the lens of what your family has. Period. You have--each other, a strong community tie, ... [this is where you jump in and add to the list]. 

Short version, you need to take the lead and teach your kids, by example, what it means to define your life by what yo uahve instead of by its absences.

As for your extended family's annual song-and-dance of excuses to do exactly what they prefer to do but won't admit outright--stay home for Christmas--file it under "eccentricity" and don't dwell on it.  Seriously. 

What Carolyn said about not framing your whole attitude about this trip around your resentments. BUT, if your sister starts hitting you with HER resentments, it would be totally okay to say to her, kindly, "You know, sis, my life isn't all butterflies and rainbows either. My problems are just different than yours."

Yes, thanks. And if sis follows up with an attempt to keep feeding the rivalry: "Let's not do this." And if she declines that invitation: "I won't do this." Calmly and nicely, of course. Then excuse self from room/phone conversation/whatever. 

As a supplemental suggestion (it works for us, but I know not all families) - give your family some general "heads up" about down time. I need a lot of down time and when I'm ready to leave I'm Ready To Leave NOW, whereas my MIL is ALL FAMILY, ALL THE TIME. Not that we call and say hey, we're going to need some time away from YOU!!!!, but things seem to flow a lot better if husband calls his mom before we even pack up and leave and tell her a few very specific things: "hey mom, wife and I are happy to see everyone. Did want to mention though that we are going to have to leave at such and such time on Sunday due to work, and we're taking a separate car to Aunt Margie's house since wife's been getting some migraines lately and we don't want to ruin anyone elses fun. blah blah blah, oh wife and I were really hoping to squeeze in a trip to thus-and-so-store/a walk on the beach/whatever before we leave." Sometimes setting the expectation that you've got a few other things you must do/really want to squeeze in before everyone has outlined your whole visit in their head can go a long way.

It sure can, thanks.

I see a light in the distance ... a soft but brilliant light ... it could only be ... radiant beans (link).


Night Before Christmas 2013


'Twas the night before Christmas

But festivities were rare.

Everyone was fretting

About Obamacare.


The stockings were hung

By the chimney with nails,

To be stuffed with whatever

Was got at the sales.


The children were nestled,

All snug in their beds,

While thoughts of deductibles

Danced in their heads.


Saw Ma in her nightshirt, 

"Look cute that way, dear!"

"Think so, you moron?"

As she finished my beer.


Big noise outside.

"What's happening," I said.

"What night is this? Oh yeah!

Probably a sled!"


But I went to the window,

Like these lines say I should.

I slept in a sweatshirt,

It had a gray hood.


The moon was aglow

It lit up the snow.

Why this gets reported,

I surely don't know.


But what to my wondering,

Eyes should appear,

A fat guy, a sled,

Same as last year.


The little old driver,

Was lively and quick.

I'm old and I'm neither,

It just makes me sick.


More rapid than muskrats

His coursers they run.

Eagles? Very rapid,

But a bit overdone.


Now he's whistling and shouting

And calling them names--

Like large-foot and fat-butt,

Straw-breath and James.


To the top of the porch,

And up on the roof ...

Looks like straw-breath,

Got a stone in his hoof.


As dry leaves before

The wild hurricane veer ...

Someone else try this one, 

No idea this year.


So up on the housetop,

The reindeer are sitting.

Some are going wee wee,

The others are knitting.


And then, in a twinkle,

I heard such a clatter,

Some prancing, some pawing,

What could be the matter?


As I drew in my head,

And was turning around.

Good God! There's a fat guy!

And he's flat on the ground!


His clothes were all sooty;

His booties were, too.

No chimney sweep this year,

Santa just cleaned the flue.


A bundle of toys

He'd stuffed into his pack

Which squished to the bottom,

Last evening's Big Mac.


His eyes, how they twinkled,

His cheeks were, well, dimply,

And under his beard, 

His skin was quite pimply.


His droll little mouth,

Was drawn up like a bow.

From sucking a lemon?

Perhaps. I don't know.


The stump of his pipe

He clamped tight in his teeth.

Top teeth on top, 

Bottom ones beneath.


He had a broad face,

Like a fat pink balloon.

He somewhat resembled,

The man in the moon.


He was chubby and plump,

A right jolly old elf.

Some stuff he was eating,

Could have stayed on the shelf.


A wink of his eye

And a twist of his head

Creeped me out, so

I slid under the bed.


He said not a word,

But completed his task 

Of filling the stockings.

With what? Should you ask?


And laying a finger,

Aside of his nose,

He fell in the fire,

Up the chimney he rose.


He sprang to his sleigh,

At his age, he's springing?

Believe that, and you'll think,

Maybe opera he's singing:


"We're obsolete, guys,

So back to the stable.

Next year, it's drones,

For all that's deliver-able."




I found out that my mother-in-law reads you and knows that I do to, so I'm afraid I must refrain from sharing my hilarious holiday escapades. I'm quite disappointed.

Unless she submits one on you. 

A girl can dream.

Several years ago, my mother decided to start working. She has always wanted to be an event planner. She ended up working in a funeral home. She has since taken to calling herself a "final event planner," a title I believe my sister started, but my mother embraced. Occasionally, if it's a slow December and she hasn't sold her quota, we get funeral home gifts. A couple years ago for Christmas, my sister and I received "away from home". It's a little card you keep in your wallet behind your license, and if you ever die more than 75 miles from home, whoever happens to be your lucky companion, goes through your wallet, calls the 1-800 number, and people come and bring you to your cemetery of choice, free! Now, both my sister and I are in our early 30s. So for the rest of our long lives (god willing), every time we head on over to the local watering hole, and pull out our license for the bouncer, we get a little reminder of our own mortality, courtesy of mom. The Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

There will be a point when getting carded gives you a little reminder of your youth. Spoiler alert.

Please thank your sister. 

My family is like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and my ex-boyfriend's family is like the quiet, straight-laced family in the movie (his mom even once made us a bundt cake). The first time he met my family was the night of Christmas -- after my family had been drinking for a good 12 hours. When the poor boy came into my home, my brother was wielding a golf club menacingly at him, my mother forced him to dance with her to Christmas songs (he does not dance), and then he had to watch me drunkenly attempt to play my 6th grade recital pieces on the piano while my family (lovingly) hooted and hollered at every mistake. I was his first girlfriend so I like to think that, thanks to us, any future family meetings will be a breeze. You're welcome, ex-boyfriend.

No, not a bundt cake!

This time last year I was caring for my six-week-old preemie daughter who was freshly home from the hospital along with her breathing monitor and other fun preemie special needs. While barely hanging on and trying to follow the doctor's orders to seriously limit visitors, I told my husband to let his parents know that we wouldn't be able to drive to their house for Christmas but we'd get together at another time when things were a little more under control (they had already met our kid, of course). His mother's response was, "Great, we'll come to your house!" This is not the type of woman who will listen to/understand no. Too exhausted to fight her off, I dutifully (stupidly) spent two days cleaning house and cooking an entire Christmas meal for my in-laws and the several other people they invited over. When they arrived, she announced that people needed "real" food to eat (I am a vegetarian and cook vegetarian dishes) and swept what I prepared to the side in order to put the food she brought front and center. The day continued much the same. This year for Christmas I have given myself the gift of a backbone and I will be hosting exactly zero family members.

A backbone, the gift that keeps on saying "[something I can't say here]."

My sister's boyfriend proposed to her at the end of his family's Thanksgiving dinner. In front of everybody, she accepted the ring and the proposal. But later, she told her bf she wanted more time to work on their relationship before they actually planned a wedding. The bf took the ring back, but they put in some solid work into their relationship and she felt really good about it. The following year, during gift opening at our families Christmas, she pulled a ring box out of her stocking. My sister was obviously excited and thrilled, but when she opened it there was just a key. Her boyfriend said "that key goes to a storage locker where I have moved all of your stuff from our apartment. Now you know what it is like to be humiliated in front of your family. We are over." And he walked out. Apparently he told some mutual friends that he put on a good face for a year in working on their relationship and told her what she wanted to hear just so he could extract revenge in this specific way. Of course she is better off without him, but it made for a subdued event and my sister was devastated.

Hoot historians will have to help me with this one, but I'm thinking that, while we've had illegal drugs in the bathroom and deaths under suspicious circumstances and unspeakable cruelty to turkeys, this might be our first psychopath. Yikes.

First Thanksgiving as newlyweds in a small condo, hosting in-laws. Record cold. Cooked turkey on an electric smoker outside in order to free up small kitchen space for all the rest of the cooking. Day started with the usual in-law crap: passive aggressive MIL asking when we were eating every 15 minutes for 9 hours because she wanted dinner at 2 instead of 6 pm; alcoholic cousin-in-law who came for 15 minutes, left before dinner was ready, but asked me to serve the pies so his daughters wouldn't miss dessert; BIL who ordered a mess of takeout Mexican food while we were cooking, used all our dish- and silverware, and then left it for us to clean so we could re-use it for dinner, etc. Having been up and cooking since 5 am, I finally found a mid-afternoon moment to grab a quick shower. As I was stepping out of the tub, the entire condo lost power and my husband burst into the bathroom yelling, "I need your help NOW!" I grabbed my bathrobe, jammed on my slippers, and followed my husband...outside, where sparks were shooting from the smoker...all over our wooden deck. Turns out the electric heating element couldn't keep up with the frigid outdoor temps. So there I was, in single-digit temps, a head full of wet hair, nothing on under my robe, feet in slippers, having shorted out the power to the entire building, helping my husband wrestle a massive 25-lb half-cooked bird out of an exploding smoker, trying to keep our deck from catching fire. Not that any of the in-laws noticed; they were inside, warm and fully clothed, eating pie and Mexican food.

Nothing to add, just, thank you.

Gift chosen by my father's second wife: A Complete Hair Removal System! Reason my face was hairy: chemotherapy.

How sweet. She was giving you reason to live to meet his third wife. 

When I was four, my mom joined a church and enrolled my six-year-old sister and me in Sunday school, which I loved. The annual Christmas pageant rolled around and we were assigned the minor roles of sheep. Then I found out that each year the baby Jesus was played by a doll of one of the Sunday school kids, and my hand shot up; I had a beautiful new doll from Germany that would be PERFECT. The teacher got approval from my mom, who dutifully wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes and bobby-pinned our sheep-ears to our heads for the big event. I couldn't wait to get to church, where my classmates were gathered; I still remember the thrill of presenting my perfect, plump, realistic-looking baby Jesus, then ripping off his blanket and wee diaper so I could show them what made him so magical -- he had actual baby-boy anatomy! (Since we didn't have a brother, my no-nonsense mom was trying to help). That was the Christmas my Sunday school pals learned the words "penis" and "testicles." My mother couldn't understand what the big deal was and glossed the whole thing over but next year and thereafter the church provided its own baby, and I never did get to move up to Mary or one of the Wise Men.

An anatomically correct baby Jesus is never too late for the Hoot. 

My parents host anywhere from 20-25 family members every Thanksgiving. We have a tradition of playing charades every year, with the "kids" v. the adults. The kids really were kids when the tradition started, but now all but one member of the kids team is over 18. Still, we play us kids versus our parents/aunts/uncles. It has gotten heated several years, but one year takes the cake. We have a rule our family created that when we each team is making clues for the other team, we have to know that at least one member of the other team has heard of the tv show/song/movie/book that we are using. I got the clue Madame Bovary. I have heard of it, tried acting it out, no one on my team got it and we got the 3:00 minute max. Should have been no big deal. However, everyone on the kids team started yelling that they had never heard of it, the adults were yelling back saying how could we never have heard of Madame Bovary, and I yelled over everyone and said that I had heard of it, so it was a moot point. Then, my sister started to say that the rule needs to be clarified somehow (can't remember quite what she was saying) and my dad jumps up and yells "The rule is one person needs to have heard of it! Your sister has heard of it! End of story!" I'm very protective of my sister, so I jump up, get in my dad's face and yell, "She was just trying to clarify!" Dad: "There's nothing to clarify!" Me: "You are always so mean to everyone, why do you have to such a *&%$#@% glass bowl!" (My dad is wonderful, for what it's worth, but charades is serious.) Dad: "Get out of this room now, before I say something I really regret!" I storm out crying, sister starts crying, mom is crying, aunts are crying. Grandma (who never plays, only sits in chair observing), in the most matter of fact voice you can imagine: "Well, something like this was bound to happen sooner or later." You would think a blowup like this might end the tradition, but it lives, and is looked forward to every year. Still, that year has gone down in infamy.

I think this line, in a matter-of-fact voice--"Well, something like this was bound to happen sooner or later"--would work as the last line of every submission here.

My grandparents' house had a big wood-burning stove right in the middle of the dining area, with an exhaust pipe that went right up through the roof. One Christmas, when someone went to take a picture, I decided that I'd jump out from behind the stove and do something silly to get everyone to smile. So of course, I jump out, and I dislodge the exhaust pipe, which dumps soot all over the top of the stove-- exactly where Christmas dinner was sitting. Ah, good times...

Someone got the picture, yes?

Christmas 1971. My parents were expecting all six of their young adult children home for a traditional Irish American Catholic Christmas. On the 23rd, one of my sisters showed up and announced she'd just left her husband. On the 24th, one of my brothers revealed that having joined the SDS (radical anti-war group) he had to leave on Christmas Day to fly to their convention in Chicago on an airline no one had ever heard on. Simultaneously, my youngest brother persuaded our mother to break the news to our father that he (brother) was going leave on Christmas Day also, to go camping in Baja California in a VAN. I can still hear my dad's bellow of anguish: "My God! My daughter's leaving her husband, my son's a Communist, and now you tell me THIS ONE wants to go camping in BAJA with a bunch of G-- D--- HIPPIES!!!"

... and a partridge in a pear tree.

My family is boring! I want to go to the Big Fat Greek Weddings people for Christmas. They sound awesome!!

Bring a bundt cake.

Dear Carolyn, I'm not quite sure whether this qualifies as a holiday horror, but it's a funny holiday story, so I'm sharing anyway. One spring my sister and I got into an epic argument. Among other things, she pointed out that I am uptight, and I agreed with her. So for the holidays that year, she bought me a vibrator.

What did you give her?

One November, unbeknownst to anyone else, my little brother asked my mom to start saving dryer lint. She thought it was for a school project, and got used to stuffing the lint in a box in the cupboard every time she did laundry. Fastforward 2 months to Christmas morning, when my father opens a large box from little brother that contains... mounds of dryer lint. The rest of the family is dying with laughter, thinking it was a joke, while my brother is protesting that, 'you always complain about starting the woodstove in the morning, and dryer lint is great for starting fires!' Dryer lint made an appearance at several more Christmases after that. The corollary to this story is, 20 years on, I washed some new towels last night and came away with such a satisfying wad of lint, it got giftwrapped and is being shipped to little brother's house now. Merry Christmas!

I just scared the dog.

It's Auggie the High-Strung Rescue Dog's first Hoot. I should have warned him.

When my husband and I were first married, he asked me to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve at a church he went to when we were dating. The church is in a more upscale part of town and he said the parking lot looked like an exotic car dealership and in the winter, there was more fur in the church than in a zoo. But, he loved the minister so he found that aspect irrelevant. My MIL, with limited mobility, came with us so we arrived early and sat in the back, a perfect viewing spot for the parade of Chanel suits and jewels on a very humble Christmas Eve. lol. Anyhow, at one point I turned toward the door and saw a distinguished looking woman, probably in her mid-50's enter the church, in a stunning winter white sparkling suit, and start her sashay down the center aisle of the church. She slowly sauntered, looking around, as if she owned the place. As she passed, I turned back toward the front of the church, now watching her backside. My jaw dropped when I saw that the ENTIRE back of her skirt was hiked all the way up to her waistline and bunched up in her stockings. Literally her entire arse and legs were in full view. For a moment I felt sorry for her. But then we started laughing so hard, I almost peed my pants. Whoever you are out there, thanks for giving me my first Christmas gift eight years ago!

Carolyn, I thoguht you and the nuts might be able to help me prepare myself for this year's Christmas present from my in-laws. Last year, one thing they gave to everyone was a donation to charity in each of our names. I thought that was great as we have plenty. Well, then they make a big production out of it and explain that they gave money to the charity to buy different things that reminded them of each of us. For my brother-in-law who loves to bike, they gave money for bicycles. For my daughter, who was starting school, they gave money to help build a school. For my husband they gave money for buidling new homes, as we were in the process of building a home ourselves. I was last and I thoguht "oh, I'll get building new homes, too. Isn't that lovely". Nope, I had a donation made in my name to help rehabilitate prostitutes. [Now, I am certainly not against helping out women who are trying to change their life, BUT Christmas morning with my child and family is not the ideal time to hear "We thoguht of you and prostitutes came to mind".] All you can do is laugh about it later and it's a great story to tell. So, my question is, what do you think I'll get this year?

I won't have to wonder, because you will be telling us  on ... Dec. 12, 2014.

For the first time in decades we don't have our tree up, since my husband ran over it with a forklift and demolished it. Instead, I've used all our house plants and the topiaries for our ornaments. This may become a new tradition. :)

This leaves unexplained why your husband was driving a forklift in your living room, but I'm okay with that. Especially if it becomes a new tradition.

I married young (18) and one of my first Christmases with my husbands family I was elected to bring pie. I was proud of my ability to cook and was thrilled to be asked to contribute. Pumpkin and pecan pies were made and left to cool on the washer in the hall, as our house had limited space. As my husband loaded the car. I came to collect the pies for transport...only to discover a trail of paw prints across ALL of them. Apparently the cat choose to walk across the washer and dryer and treated the pies as a path rather than a roadblock. I am ashamed to say that I covered them all with whipped cream and took them anyway. Nether my husband nor I ate any pie that year!

I am learning through these chats to watch whether the person who cooks the food actually eats the food.

My aunt got married several years ago to a man with a very high profile job. He is very proud of his job, which he shows by constantly talking about how wonderful he is. And his house is. And his car. A few Thanksgivings ago, we had about 25 people at our house, all strangers to the Uncle. While a large group of us were playing a board game in the living, my aunt, uncle mom, dad and friends were in the other room. Suddenly, we hear aggressive screaming. "LOOK AT MY PANTS!" There was a gummy bear melted to his thousand dollar pants. He continued. "What kind of people would keep their house SO DISGUSTING that there would be a gummy bear on the chair? I mean this is just HORRIBLE!" He then stormed out of the house yelling that he'd never return. My mom, a very calm person when not being insulted on her housekeeping, ran after him, wanting to say some choice words to him, but chose not to. My aunt, meanwhile, said nothing. We learned that this was because it was HER gummy bear and it was on the heated seat of their car, so it had melted while in HIS car. He came back and told my aunt he apologized. He did not apologize. Instead, he leaned over in front of my mom, grabbed his butt cheeks and said "SEE! My pants are clean!" We were all horrified. But, we still talk about this incident with great humor. Even though we're still a bit horrified.

"LOOK AT MY PANTS" in all caps bodes well for any Hoot submission, and this didn't disappoint.

For several years when our children were small, we'd fly to spend Christmas with my husband's family. They believe in a BIG Christmas with enormous piles of presents, and itLITERALLY takes the entire day to open them all. Every year I would beg for small, easily portable gifts since we had to fly home with two small children. Every year we would get impossible things. A stereo system, speakers and all. A cut glass vase. An enormous walking, roaring toy tyrannosaurus rex. Big hats. A stuffed puffer fish (real) - try wrapping THAT in bubble wrap! And on and on. My happiest Christmas in years was the first one we got to stay at home with our children.

A dear relative hosted our large family for Christmas dinner one year. She had beautiful decorations, centerpieces, and of course holiday-themed china (service for 20). It looked amazing. However... when it came time to wash up, (we always pitch in) we were told to carefully hand-wash only the tops of the plates so as to not damage the price tags on the undersides! She planned to return them all...

My normally very calm parents got into a fight one year about the Christmas tree and where to set it up. It ended up escalating to the point that they javelin threw the tree out the window of their apartment. It has become a running joke that Christmas is never as bad as the year the tree became a javelin, which includes the many times my dad, after many warnings about impending crashing, did not secure the tree to the wall and it inevitably fell over unexpectedly and dramatically.

Every year since I was 6 or 7, we've gone to the house of one of my dad's cousins for Thanksgiving. It's a big gathering -- usually between 25 and 35 people. My "aunt" and "uncle" have two kids, fully grown now, but slightly older than me. It was a tradition every year for all the kids to go down to the basement and play. A few years back, we decided it would be a good idea to play Monopoly down there, but the older brother took the opportunity to needle the younger brother at every turn, and the younger brother historically didn't take well to needling. The game ended with the older brother winning, at which point the final needle resulted in fisticuffs -- punches flying from both parties, the whole nine yards. The next 90 seconds was occupied by the other "kids" (all above 18 at that point) scramming upstairs as fast as we could, while four or five of the dads ran downstairs to break up the fight. Monopoly has since been banned at all family gatherings.

Very short-sighted, if you ask me.

Our family has a similar tradition, but the flare-up happened when my long-suffering partner drew "The 18th brumaire of Louis napoleon." We have since changed family games

That sounds like a problem that would follow you to the next family game you attempted.

My sister answered the "what do you want" question from her ex-boyfriend as "something pretty" making a hint hint for jewelry. He bought her a goldfish.

Women, always expecting men to read their minds.

We started a fun tradition by accident one year. Mom forgot to add sliced bananas to the top of her fruit salad one year, and became quite agitated about it since it had already been passed halfway around the table. My brother grabbed the banana from her, took a bite, and passed it saying, "Here, take a bite and pass it until it catches up to the salad." For some reason (Tom & Jerrys, maybe?) we thought that was hysterical and now fruit salad has to be served that way.

I actually saw that on Epicurious.

I really want to know if the doll was circumcised.

I don't.

A couple of years ago, a visiting minister from Haiti gave the Christmas sermon. French is his native language but he did an amazing job of giving the sermon in English, albeit with a heavy accent. The subject of the sermon was the purpose of Christmas, but the word came out as "porpoise". My husband and I could barely hold ourselves together and now we always keep an eye out for Christmas dolphins.

They're the flying gray things. The flying green things are trees thrown like javelins out people's windows.

My mother set herself on fire last Christmas Day. My parents live in an old wooden house, yet insist on having lit candles everywhere. For atmosphere. Christmas morning I pulled up to the house, the first child there, and saw in the yard a broom with burned-off bristles. It was cold, yet the front door wide was open. I walked in, called out "Merry Christmas!" and there is not a soul to be seen or heard. I pass by the dryer. I see burn marks on the front, knobs melted. Walk by some plants, see leaves burned off. House smells smoky. I find my mother in the living room, dazed yet still filling stockings. She says "Look what I did," and shows me burn holes in her pajamas. I also notice a burned-off lock of hair on her collar and ash on her cheek. Turns out she backed into a candle, set herself on fire, then ran through the house yelling for my dad. He finally heard her, and beat the fire out with the broom. I was instructed to not tell the other family members. (I did anyway) Stop, drop, and roll is the new holiday mantra around our place.

Stop, Drop, Roll, 


Carry On

(pretend this is a crown)


This is is not a major horror by most standards, but in our family of "do not display your emotions or the world will end", this is still legendary, reenacted on some occasions outside the presence of the central character. My bossy attention-seeking sister hosted Christmas and, true to form, she overextended and put much pressure on herself that no one asked her to. So here we were, 15 minutes away from the Christmas dinner and she was puffing her way around the kitchen, red-faced and breathless, preparing gravy. All of the sudden she stuck out her hand and bellowed "SPOOOOOON!" at which point someone meekly handed her a spoon and she proceeded to stir the gravy. We went on to have dinner without difficulty. But my nieces, all of whom were in their late teens and early 20s at the time, still enjoy random moments of hollering "SPOOOOON!" which is followed by gasps of laughter.

My in-laws were coming over, and I decided to cook Chistmas dinner the way my parents did: Ribs and all the barbecue fixins. We warned them beforehand, but my mother-in-law was speechless when she saw the table. "You have to have a ham on Chrismas!" she exclaimed. "You can't have pork. Christmas is a Jewish holiday." The husband points I earned for not exploding with laughter are still paying my bills today.

I was in my late 20s the first time my husband and I hosted Christmas for my family... about 25 people in all - siblings (there are quite a few), their families, and my parents. Now you need a quick understanding of my mom.. pushing 70, the matriarch at this three generation gathering - she's fantastic, very family-focused, truly the rock that holds us together. She's no wet rag, but she's very mild-mannered, doesn't smoke or drink. Doesn't cuss. Sort of a modern day "June Cleaver" if I may oversimplify for the sake of the hoot. She's the kind of mom who would bring stocking stuffers for me even though I was hosting ... and she did! She sneaked a few small gifts into my (and, of course, my husband's) stocking ... now she just had to get us to notice, since nobody expected this. She waited patiently until the end of the gift exchange, then got very flustered when nobody noticed the bulging hosiery. She wanted to express two thoughts to us ... that Santa had been to the house, and that we should turn our attention to the stockings. But in her haste, she put the pause in the wrong place and BLURTED out, "SANTA," brief pause, "CAME IN YOUR STOCKINGS." Oh, Santa.

You had me at the headline. 

More or less what my SIL said when I confronted her Jan. 2 with my BF's claim that she had kissed him at the NYE party at her house... you know, the house she lives in with her husband, my brother. Her reply was met with silence. She added, "he's a good kisser." More silence. BF is long gone, I've been happily married for years to someone who sized here up pretty well before ever knowing the story. SIL is still around (I'll leave off any further comment on that).

See, this is where we need the gift goldfish. 

In my family, that would immediately become the answer to every charade, party game, and general question.

The 18th brumaire of Louis napoleon!

We moved into our new house in New England on Dec. 1st. Very small town. Very cold outside. Yard covered in snow. Perfect scene. My grandparents are visiting and my grandfather decides to be helpful and burn some of the wrappings. Well the chimney caught fire. The volunteer fire department came. Mom is horrified. Grandmother is very angry at grandfather. Backyard is black. with soot. Mom asks the deputy chief (Gas station owner) is everything ok. Yep, previous owner was a Brit and he burned green wood and didn't clean the chimney. Mom, do I need to do something now? Fireman, not anymore. House was fine. That was our introduction to the new town. Dad bought them part of the the firemen's holiday dinner at the one restaurant town.

The 18th brumaire of Louis napoleon!

2004, the last time cousin's wife's parents were invited to Thanksgiving, and one of the last times politics was allowed to be brought up. The mother informed us that everyone at ivory tower places like the law school I was attending at the time should be dropped in a war zone so we knew what it was like to be shot and killed. Great way to bring a conversation to an end.

No, this is:

The 18th brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

I told a coworker what I was doing and that's what she heard.

Well then, that's what it is. 

Every year my mother in law orders Christmas dinner from Boston Market. Everyone knows this. Everyone is required to pretend they don't know this. She goes to great care to shoo everyone out of the kitchen while she is "cooking," i.e. transferring the food from Boston Market aluminum tins into her own casserole dishes. Every year, she waxes on about her "favorite childhood recipe" (one year it was the stuffing, one year the sweet potatoes) and how it was passed down from her grandmother. I have no idea why this happens. But it happens every year.

"I have no idea why this happens. But it happens every year."

A fine note to end on. Thanks everyone, merry everything in spite of ourselves, and type to you here next week. 

Wait! The queue just refreshed to reveal a last gift. Hang on ..

My father passed away three years ago, so I guess it's safe to tell this story on him. When my younger sisters and I were teenagers, Dad must have had enough of all the pre-Christmas estrogen. On a cold Christmas morning, just an hour before we were to head out to my aunt's house, he suddenly announced he was going to wash the car because it HAD to be clean before we could go. Normally he would wash the car at home, but since it was so cold, he decided to go to the local "Wishy-Washy" and put quarters in the machine. But he hadn't done this before, so he didn't know you need to hold the wand before putting in the money and turning it on. As a consequence, water started shooting out and the pressure forced the wand out of the holder and was flipping all around the place. In the process it whacked my father across the face and knocked off his glasses. Now, he's completely blind without them. So he had to drop to his knees and crawl around feeling for his glasses. Meanwhile the Wishy-washy wand is merrily spewing water (and soap suds, perhaps wax if it was on that cycle) and flipping all over the place. Finally he grasped his glasses and put them on his face, only to find the lenses had popped out! So back to more crawling and more gushing water. Eventually he located both lenses. But now the money had run out and the wand was spent. In defeat, and out of quarters, he hung it back up and drove his dirty car back home. To return to four angry females holding various Christmas meal items for my aunt's house. He only had time to grab the only tape he could find to hold his glasses together - white athletic tape (my mom was a coach). So we grumpily drove there and my dad's younger sister's first words at noticing his glasses were, "Sam, what happened to you?"

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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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