Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2014 (Friday, Dec. 12)

Dec 12, 2014

Carolyn's Holiday Hoot is an annual tradition of sharing stories of horror and hilarity from holidays past.

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

Want answers now? Search past Carolyn Hax live chats and find answers to your questions even if she is offline by clicking here.

Well, hello. Happy Friday, and welcome to the hour before the hour I look forward to all year. 

I'll take some questions for a while and then post Pops's Night Before Christmas 2014 to launch the Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, for which I have received an overwhelming number of submissions. You guys have really outdone yourselves, or at least your insufferable family members have.

In fact, we are almost scraping for real questions, which I suppose is happy news.

Also, your producer today is Bethonie. Jess had the wisdom and forethought to be off this week. 

Hi Carolyn, I am happily married to my husband of 11 years. He was my college sweetheart and the only man I have been with seriously. Recently, I have started having ongoing thoughts about a man I am in contact with on a daily basis. I'm not in any way contemplating acting on these thoughts, but can't decide if even thinking them is a betrayal of my marriage or just a normal thing. I feel a little silly asking this question as a 35 year old, but I've never really fantasized about anyone before so I'm not sure the, um, etiquette to it?

It's definitely normal, and I don't believe thoughts = betrayal for the simple reason that we don't always choose our thoughts.

You are, though, asking for all kinds of trouble with the daily contact. If it's not an absolute requirement (i.e., necessary for work), then back away slowly. Or quickly. And if you are stuck with having to deal with him, then add some thoughts to your repertoire about this man's unappealing traits. This is the part of our thoughts that we do control: We can look for the good in people, or the bad. This is one of the rare cases where looking for the bad is the right thing to do.

I just found out that I have a genetic condition that makes colon cancer very lilely although hopefully avoidable if I get regualr monitoring. I intend to talk to my grown children about this at Christmas since they need to get tested to see if they inherited the trait. Other than the obvious concerns for my children and myself, I also have to discuss this with my brother. We are not close. I'll probably see him at Christmas which may be my only opportunity to tell him about this face to face. I strongly suspect he has never had a colonoscopy and that he doesn't have health insurance. (He's spent most of his adult life unemployed and lives much of the time with our mother.) Any ideas on how to approach this? Telling someone they need expensive testing to avoid cancer seems so harsh but I don't know what to say to make this easier. And I don't know how to keep my decades long frustration over his decision to just stop working when he was in his late 20s out of this discussion. I know I can talk to a genetic counsler for tips on this but it will be weeks before I can get the appointment. leaving me to tell him over the phone. And compounding the problem -- our mother. I am certain she will (1) find a way to make this all about her (even though I'm fairly sure this was inherited from my deceased father) and (2) blame me. (Guess you're not surprised to find out I'm not close to her either!)

Tough news, I'm sorry--though it's good you know what to watch for.

This is actually another case, back-to-back, where the typically wrong thing to do might actually be the right one: I suggest you wait for the genetic counselor, and then tell your brother over the phone. 

While I am a strong believer in face-to-face delivery of difficult news, your not being close to your brother chances the math. When there's a strain in the relationship, that creates its own pressure on any encounter between you, and communicating by phone can ease some of that pressure. You don't have to worry about facial expression or body language, plus the only thing either of you needs to do to preserve your privacy is hang up the phone. Possibly even more useful, it takes your mom out of the equation. 

My twin sister is a smart, successful professional making a large salary at a major corporation. We're both near 40. I am married with three kids. She wants a family too. Unfortunately, she has had a live-in boyfriend for several years. He didn't work for the first year they moved about seven hours away from us (or clean, or shop, or do much of anything). Now, another year has passed. He did get hourly work. She told him last holiday season that she didn't want to be with him, but she never kicked him out of the house. It's been another 12 months, and she tells me that he's not her boyfriend, and she doesn't want to have a family with him. Yet he remains there. I told her that she needs to cut ties and kick him out, but she asked me to stop talking to her about this, and that she likes having someone around so she is not lonely and he does things at the property (it's a large home); I stopped mentioning my dislike of this 6 months ago. I don't know what to tell my older kids when we go to visit her soon, and "Joel" is still there, but not her boyfriend. I also know she is the best woman around and I want her to be happy and find the family she says she wants. But she won't be able to do until Joel leaves.

You don't tell your kids anything unless they ask, and if they do ask, just tell them the basic truth: "I'm not entirely sure what's going on there myself, but Sister obviously wants Joel in her life, so I accept him." If it seems like a moment for commentary, you can also say that only the couple themselves can really know what goes on in their relationship, and that barring obvious signs of abuse, it'snot your place to impose your opinion on her.

An opinion of mine I'll throw out there, for what it's worth: Her words say she wants a family, but her actions say she doesn't. It might be that she is doing what she actually wants and is not comfortable saying so, thus the disconnect. 

Hi Carolyn. For several years I've taken a vacation in the spring with three other women, to various cities in Europe. We're internet friends who met through a hobby, none of us lives in the same town. I found out that this spring's vacation has been planned, and I'm not invited. I emailed the woman I feel closest to and she said it's because I was worried about money right now, which is true but not really an answer. Friend 2 hasn't responded. Friend 3 emailed me back and said some inane stuff about how I want everything my way and I'm not a "giver" and blah blah when I pressed her for specifics. I responded pointing out the ways she's wrong or misunderstood me, and she responded with "and there you go." I can't believe they would cut me out like this! I am really hurt, and I would really like to go with them to Europe this spring. Can you suggest how I should approac this to get myself reinvited? Thanks.

Your best chance for a joyful trip with friends is to cultivate new friendships. These friends have told three different stories--money, silence, "not a 'giver'"--but the message is the same, that they do not want to travel with you anymore. I'm sorry. Exclusion is a special form of agony.

I realize this will feel like another slap when what you want most is reassurance, but I think it's important that you look at your own words here for a map out of similar exile in the future:

"Friend 3 emailed me back and said some inane stuff about how I want everything my way and I'm not a 'giver' and blah blah when I pressed her for specifics. I responded pointing out the ways she's wrong or misunderstood me, and she responded with 'and there you go.'"

Translation: This friend was honest about how she felt about you, and instead of giving her words some careful and humble thought, you immediately told her she was wrong. 

Do you think you can get yourself, emotionally, to the point where you can respond to such criticism as follows?: "My first thought was that you aren't being fair, but you obviously believe these things and had the courage to say them to me directly. I will give your words careful consideration, and examine my behavior. Thank you for your candor."

That's its own kind of agony, to recognize our own frailties, but it's one that, when accepted head-on, can take you to much happier places than the one you're in right now. Knowing how you're at fault and admitting it is what frees you to become a truly good friend and travel companion and so much else. Take care.

Last month while on a business trip, I cheated on my husband. Our marriage has been rocky for years, but I've never even thought about cheating. This is clearly a sign to me that I really need to sit down and either resolve the issues with my husband or move on and we can't stay in this "rocky" state perpetually. But I don't want to have that conversation 2 weeks before Christmas. I've already been dealing with this stress for the last month and it's taken a toll on me physically, but I need to get through the holidays (parties, family events, etc.) before I can have a real heart to heart with my husband. How do I keep from letting the stress of this eat away at me for the next few weeks?

Therapy, stat. That is, if you're in a part of the world well stocked with mental-health professionals, which is unfortunately not commonly the case.

If not, an Al-anon meeting might actually provide refuge, even though on its face it might not seem like a good fit. It's free, it's accessible in most locations, and it's all about learning to let go. If you find it's useful to you, you also don't have to wait for a next appointment to go again.

While I'm not a huge fan of putting things off because "before Christmas" is taboo, it actually sounds as if you would benefit from some time spent sorting through your thoughts and feelings before you tackle this. Good luck.

Just when everything is going great, he pulls away? I am so tired of hearing "It's not you, it's me". And the thing is..they are right!!! It would be easy to attribute it to another woman or wanting to sleep around but none of that applies to the last four guys I dated. They genuinely are working on themselves, or their jobs, or family. So what gives?

No, they are not right, said the jolly old elf. Or at least they might not be.

When one person pulls away to work on his own issues just as things seem to be going great, then it's not you, it's the other person's issues, most likely.

But when you have the same thing happen with the last four guys you dated, I think you have to face the fact of you as the common denominator. I'm not necessarily saying there's something about you that sends them running--it could also be that you're attracted to a common quality in them, and it's that quality or trait that is manifest in their dash for self-improvement. 

It is always possible it's a run of bad luck, yes, but you won't be serving your own needs well if you write it off as luck/coincidence before looking hard for common themes in you.

Oh my!! This could be my sister!! We finally gave in and went on vacation with her family and while they had fun when they were by themselves, and we had fun when we were by ourselves, when the two families came together for meals, AGONY!! When she asked when we would go on vacation together again, I told her we couldn't afford it. She still hasn't forgiven me for visiting friends in Europe seven years ago (without her). PLEASE take Carolyn's advice about mulling what she said over. She has truly given you a gift. Take it, think on it, reflect, and decide if you want to be that person or be someone else. I wish my sister could do that. I miss her terribly but there is no talking to her.

handyman with benefits. My brother's mother-in-law has (and age appropriate) one. He is a bit annoying, but basically harmless. Now, if your sister were talking about marrying him or having kids with him, that would be a much bigger deal - you would want to be sure she was protecting herself financially and legally. But this? She prefers her current situation to trying to jump back into the dating pool actively. It may not be what she says to you, but it is a perfectly reasonable adult choice.

Carolyn - have read yor chats for years and am a loyal reader. You advised "sad for sister" to look at the disconnect between words and actions. How do you know which is what the person really feels? Could it the opposite be true - they say how they really feel, but can't act on it? What trumps - words or actions?

Neither. Adulthood trumps all, in that an adult with conflicting words and actions has every right to live with that conflict without the intrusion of well-meaning loved ones. Say it once, yes, intervene in the case of suspected abuse, yes--but beyond that, the words vs. actions debate is merely academic for those not involved.

This much I will say though: It can be easy to take words as the true feelings because they're easier than actions. So, you see, "I want marriage and children," and you think, okay, the person honestly wants marriage and children but lacks the strength or will to take the difficult steps in that direction. However, people who really want something tend to move the earth to get it--no doubt you've seen this yourself--so that complicates the words-prevail interpretation.

What has come to make sense to me over the years is that people do want what they say they want, in most cases, but their actions tend to betray when there's something else they want more. I'll use me as an example: I genuinely want to be more fit. But when it comes down to it, I want my comfort and down time more. I guess you could say that words reflect our wishes but our actions reflect our priorities.

I'm not sure if Carolyn was suggesting individual or couples therapy or both. I'd definitely recommend individual counseling before you tell him. It will help you sort out what you're feeling, why you cheated, and what you're feeling about the marriage right now so that you can figure out how to present it to him. It also might be best if you can set up couples therapy for after the holidays and tell him within the confines of the therapist's office. (Be prepared for any sort of reaction from him.) That way, the therapist can help guide you through it. --Signed, someone who had an emotional affair a year ago who followed those steps and whose marriage is now considerably better

I did mean individual--for the very sorting out that we both mentioned. Thanks for the chance to clear that up.

Can you make a case for not telling at all? Not everyone wants to know their genetic predispositions -- likely is not the same as certain.

Yes, and this is why talking to a genetic counselor can be so helpful. We actually talked a lot about it in the "Genomics and Our Health" panel I was on at the Smithsonian this fall (link).

Speaking of, watch this space for a Date Lab event coming in February.

My sister e-mailed me and my other sisters when she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She kept it practical: "Hi, I've been diagnosed with this, it does have a genetic link, which means you may want to get yourself checked for it. It did not show up on the standard test, and only showed up when my doctor did X test, so you may need to insist on having that test done if the standard shows up negative, just to rule it out. Here's a Mayo Clinic link about the condition for some more info on this and the symptoms." There was no pressure to react or respond. I was informed and all the info I needed to do anything for myself was there to be referred to again if I needed it.

A few years ago, one of the 'nuts posted in the comments section about dealing with this when the fantasizing became urges and temptation. She took the fantasies and purposely rerouted the time and attention she was spending on them in to looking at her husband, paying attention to him, looking for the things about him she found attractive. She also worked to do things like dress a little more nicely at home so that she was putting herself in the mood to feel attractive as well when she was in his presence, rather than schlubby and haven't-showered-in-2-days. She said it really helped jump start her interest in him again and divert herself from thinking too much about the other guy.

I have a very similar situation. Boisterous warm family far away, husband's much stiffer family nearby. What I think they may be missing is intimacy. I realized what we lacked in frequency of seeing my family we made up twelvefold in intimacy. We spend many vacations with my family. Waking up together, being together at bedtime, doing mundane things or planning outings rather than just seeing each other for a meal. And it sounds like LW's trying to make her in-laws be more like her own family. They can't be and it is the house your husband grew up in, and he may be missing their own special intimacy which could grow, but it needs the conditions. Your MIL and husband may feel the conditions are missing for that intimacy. Let's not just jump to the conclusion that her friends are peer-pressuring her on it.

It's been suggested before, but if you're concerned about it and can't avoid the guy, you could try bringing it up to your husband. My husband and I know that we're hoping to be with each other for the rest of our lives, but we won't be blind to other attractions. Sometimes telling your partner is the best way to pop the guilty-attraction bubble. Or, if you don't want to bring it up with your husband, you can think about what you're getting from this guy that you aren't from other areas of your life and focus on improving that.

I had a wow moment reading Monday's column. My parents were big on labels, and I got "the smart one." As I read your column, it really resonated with me how much I've invested in preserving my image as smart and superior. Or at least, the facade of it. But inside, I'm actually terrified of starting something hard and new because of the fear -- what happens if I can't do it or everyone finds out there's a flaw in the armor. Any advice on how to tackle this as an adult? Or have any of the books you've read addressed how to deal with this when you're the grown up version of this labeling run amok? (And P.S. For the parents in the hoot reading, please let my brothers the jock, homecoming king, trouble maker and me serve as a PSA for you. I know labels seem like an easy way to understand your kids. But those labels have a weird way of working their way into your psyche and defining you. They tell you not just who you are, but also who you can't or aren't supposed to be. We're all those things so just let us be. And if that sounds a little Breakfast Club, well, maybe John Hughes knows us better than we know ourselves.)

Amen to that.

Shoot--you asked me a question, and I was blinded by Hughes. Gimme a sec ...

Okay. Here's one suggestion for reprogramming yourself out of reflexive image-maintenance: Choose something with minor to 0 consequences at which you can expect yourself not to be good, then sign up and get to it. Something like a swing dancing class or learning a new language or picking up piano or guitar. Consciously make it the place where Smart You is not welcome, and Doofus You gets to frolic in the daisies. Extra points if it can be something that has an element of joy. If you hated band in elementary school, then skip the music lessons--but if, say, you love to travel, then pick a someday destination and choose the language class accordingly. The joy element will keep you in it, up to your neck in glorious and therapeutic failure, when every cell of Smart You is screaming to quit. 



My 10-year old son has been asking me if he is a math prodigy. He is. (He's doing graduate level work.) Should I tell him? I've been ducking the question saying things like, "Well, whether you are or not, you'll never get anywhere if you don't work hard." But that isn't satisfying him and I feel like he's going to stop trusting me to tell him the truth. But I don't see anything good out of saying that he is. I haven't ducked other hard questions "What's the n-word?" "Is Santa real?" "Why does Grandma say mean things sometimes?"

He has a mature intellect, so why not talk to him about it? Start by asking him why he wants to know this.

You can also say to him that he's very advanced, obviously, but that the word "prodigy" bothers you because it has expectations and pressure attached to it. (Right? As long as I'm putting words in your mouth, they might as well be accurate ones.) You don't want to put him in a box, or for him to do that to himself. See how he responds to that.

Hi Carolyn - every time we visit my family up north, my aunts ask the same questions about if I'm dating anyone. Well I haven't been for the last three or four times we've been there and I'm tired of answering and then feeling their sympathy. I'm happy being single (I got out of a very bad relationship a few years ago, so I haven't been in a rush to find commitment) and this year I've gotten a great new job (and a promotion!) as well as lost almost 40 lbs. Is there a way I can politely emphasis the idea that I do not need a significant other to make me happy?

"I'm dating a kind and handsome rhinoceros." 

Don't explain yourself. They have no other arrows in their conversational quivers, poor things, so help them out by shooting off a few of your own. Make most of them genuine: bring up other topics you'd like to talk about with them, even if it ends up being a straight-up non-answer to the are-you-dating-someone question. In with the good air, out with the bad. Good luck.

That seems like as good a transition as any ...

Pops's Night Before Christmas, 2014


'Twas the night before Christmas

And everyone was fretting.

'bout ebola, and ISIS,

And the congress we’re getting.


The stockings were placed

By the chimney with care

Hung up with clothespins

So the nylon won’t tear.


The children were all nestled,

Under one blanket.

Little Ann had a rubber duck,

But little Ben sank it


Ma’s flannel nightshirt,

Is getting a bit tight;

Thank heaven she wears it

Only at night.


When out on the lawn,

There arose such a clatter.

Ma screamed, “What’s that?”

So I threw a shoe at her.


Away to the window,

I flew like a bird.

Tore open the shutters,

And stepped on a sock.


The moon shone brightly,

On the new-fallen snow.

It’s very cold now

So nothing can grow.


But what to my wondering,

Eyes should appear?

Same thing again,

Year after year.


The little old driver,

Was quick as the breezes.

He usually farts

Whenever he sneezes.


More rapid than eagles

His coursers they trotted.

Santa said ho ho ho,

Perhaps he was potted


Now Christie, now Bachmann,

Now Walker and Paul.

____ comes lastly,

The choices are ghastly.


To the top of the porch,

To the top of the wall,

Gotta read all the flyers,

Then off to the mall.


As dry leaves before

The wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle,

They give up and cry.


Approaching the house top,

The deer are on final.

Santa’s back’s hurting

He should get a spinal.


And then, in a twinkle,

I heard a big noise,

Like when a slumber party’s

Invaded by boys.


As I drew in my head,

And was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas

Came with a bound.


Let’s pause for a while,

And think about that.

Flue’s kind of tiny,

And Santa, he’s fat. 




His clothes were all sooty,

His booties were too.

No chimney sweep this year,  

But a Claus-ing will do.   


A bundle of toys,

He’d flung on his back. 

Not good, you see,

For the sacroiliac.


His eyes, how they twinkled,

His dimples, how merry.      

His cheeks were like roses,

His back was ... well, hairy.


His droll little mouth,

Was drawn up like a bow.   

His beard, once black,

Was now yellow as snow


The stump of his pipe,

He clamped tight in his jaws.   

His wife used to call him,

Sanity Clause.


He had a broad face,

And a round little belly.             

His clothing was all stained,

With raspberry jelly.


He was chubby and plump,

A right jolly old soul.

In his teeth was some spinach     

On his nose was a mole.


He turned his head,

And twisted his neck.

From long years on the job,

He’s a bit of a wreck.


He said not a word,

But completed his task.

Of filling the stockings.

Then nipping his flask


And laying a finger,

Aside of his nose,

His pants caught on fire,

Up the chimney he rose.


He sprang to his sleigh,

At his age, he’s springing?

Believe that, and you’ll think,

... Wait, the telephone's ringing.


But I heard him exclaim,

As he drove out of sight,

"A few more nips

And I can get through the night!"


I can't figure out which one to start with! It seems suddenly so important.

My mother is bipolar and Christmas has always been more down than manic for her – and we have all spent decades dreading the inevitable meltdown. Sometimes warranted – like the year we opened the packaging on the turkey, which had been thawed in the fridge according to direction, and discovered it was stanky-rotten. Sometimes completely unwarranted, as in the year my sister and family decided to leave for home a day early because of an impending blizzard that eventually shut down the entire Northeast and Midwest. That didn’t fit with mom’s plan. But everyone’s favorite is lovingly referred to as The Great Cornstarch Incident. I’m incredibly vertically challenged. Like a fifth grader. Only shorter. So, after gathering ingredients for gravy I asked my 6’2” brother to put the container of corn starch back in its place, atop the refrigerator. Christmas, probably some sort of sports on the TV, and the father of a toddler, he was apparently a little distracted when he did. Which I worked out when I opened said fridge and the entire container (my momma always shops in bulk, it wasn’t the little yellow box you may be thinking) cascaded over my head because it was sitting partially on the door. To make matters worse, it’s a little kitchen and a full day of cooking raised the temperature by about 30 degrees – and to help my dad had brought in a fan. Which was set to “stun”. It was like a bizarre snow globe, that cornstarch swirling through essentially a hallway filled with appliances. And it was at that moment my mother walked into the doorway. I cringed. My sister cringed. We waited. And she began laughing so hard she had to sit down. I, in a tweed suit, was white from head to toe. I shook my head and the mountain of cornstarch atop my skull got a bit smaller, but was still there. It was Kabuki meets Marilyn Manson, only creepier. That was the first time a holiday nightmare made mom laugh. And laugh. And laugh. And it somehow changed something. Granted, there hasn’t been a holiday incident on such a grand scale since, but mom approaches the holidays with a lot more lightheartedness in the 8 or 9 years since Cornstarchgate than she did before -- even though she spent literally months cleaning white powder out of every obscure corner and crevice in her kitchen. I won’t even tell you how much work it was to clean it out of my corners and crevices…

"It was Kabuki meets Marilyn Manson, only creepier."

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

My in-laws have always been controlling and inappropriate. But the worst example was a Christmas a few years ago after my mother had died. Against my husband's wishes, I invited my in-laws over for Christmas dinner, thinking they'd be kinder since they knew I had just lost my mother. I told them to bring nothing, as I would do everything. But true to form, they showed up with a whole Christmas dinner, including paper goods etc. They said they didn't think I'd have everything and didn't trust that I'd do dinner right. Then when I was serving an apple pie made from my mother' recipe, I announced how special it was as it made me feel like my mother was there. At that point, my father-in-law put his hand on my son's arm and said loudly, "Why don't you come to our house this week and Nana will make you a REAL pie." We've never invited them back.

But they're available for weddings and children's parties.

Ah, that Christmas I was pregnant and my mother had been annoying the crap out of me with her esteemed parenting advice for several months by then. It was barely tolerable long-distance, but then with me home for the holidays I was on the edge of losing my mind. For some reason my dad decided to break out the old videocassettes of my childhood holidays. He used to set up a tripod and just leave the video-camera running for hours upon hours, so we had lots of boring footage UNTIL the nearly 30 minute clip of baby me, left alone in the room except for the video-camera filming me, systematically pulling ornaments off the tree and eating them. Like, swallowing chunks of non-edible semi-poisonous choking hazards. Magically, the esteemed parenting advice ended. And we no longer have to sit through hours of grainy footage of a Christmas tree. Win-win!

"Win" is not a big enough word.

This is a Thanksgiving story, not a Christmas story, BUT since we usually celebrate Christmas on Thanksgiving for the sake of convenience, it still counts. Right? Anyway.... The adults in my family LOVE my homemade cranberry sauce. The children in my family don't understand why it isn't can shaped and why it doesn't taste like pure sugar. A few years ago, when my brother's oldest was 5, he was forced by both parents and grandparents to eat 1 whole tablespoon of my cranberry sauce (I personally didn't care if he ate it or not - hey, if he leaves it alone, that's more for me, right?) He made a big show of making faces and gagging it down, then turned to me and said "I LOVED IT TIA IT WAS VERY GREAT THANK YOU CAN I GO PLAY NOW?" The answer, as delivered by his parents, was a resounding "no", as that apparently horrid tablespoon of sauce was the only thing he'd eaten so far. He at least needed to make an attempt at the turkey, stuffing, biscuits, and vegetables. He responded by taking an exaggerated bite of turkey, attempting to swallow it whole, and vomiting it back up on to the table. Thankfully, both child and parents have mellowed the (bleep) out about food since then.

Like many children, when I was growing up I had a hard time sleeping through the night on Christmas Eve. Early one Christmas morning when I was around 5 years old, I was in my bed awake waiting for it to be time to go upstairs and collect my stocking, when I heard a scream and loud thumps from my parents room upstairs. Curious and scared, I crept upstairs and tiptoed into my parents bedroom. What in front of my wondering eyes did appear than my father, passed out half on the bed, half on the floor with blood running down his face, and my mother passed out nearby clutching a bloody towel. I screamed, imagination running wild with visions of Santa Claus sneaking down the chimney and assaulting my parents. Luckily my screams awoke my mother who was able to calm me down. Turns out my father had a particularly realistic dream of being buzzed by a fly, jerked his sleeping head to avoid it and and rammed his forehead into the corner of his 1980s clock radio, cutting a big gash in it. He screamed, panicked and passed out at the sight of his own blood. My mother, aiming to help, stood up too fast and after grabbing a towel and beginning to apply it to the wound, passed out herself. That's where I entered to the bloody scene. My father spent Christmas with a giant bandage on his forehead, I was consoled with presents, and the day was dubbed The Great Christmas Bloodbath. We never were able to get all of the Christmas Blood out of the carpet.

While at my in-laws on Christmas day, the family was watching a movie on television. I hadn’t seen anyone in the adjacent kitchen for a while, but something smelled different, so I asked my MIL if she had started cooking Christmas dinner (thinking she might need some help in the kitchen). After a long pause, she indicated that the cat had just used the litter box and she wasn’t cooking anything yet. Fortunately, she took it in stride.

But you're welcome to help yourself.

Time for the Hoot? I am posting early but I hope that will not be an issue. My husband and I have been married just over a year and a half now and his parents are truly the gift that keeps on giving. Last year they sat both of us down on Christmas Eve to lecture us about their will (this was the first Christmas my husband and I have spent together due to work requirements in the previous years). They proceeded to explain that no matter what permutation of events occurs I will never get my grubby little hands on their money. Eg. should we have children and my husband should die before them the money will go into a trust managed by my sister-in-law until they are 21. Did I mention my husband and I are in the same socio-economic bracket and I really have no desire for anything of theirs (including the silverware that they specifically mentioned in the will)? Anyway since then I play horrible relations bingo (which is from one of your chats I believe) and that is standing me in good stead. The question is can I sit them down this Christmas Eve and lengthily explain our emergency child care plans for our non-existent children? Including the fact that my distant cousin’s annoying girlfriend is higher on the list then they are?

Last year, I went up to New York City to visit with my brother and his family over the holiday and help with the kids since my sister-in-law had to work Christmas Day. Decorated gingerbread houses with the kids. Went to the Bronx Zoo on Christmas Eve day. That evening we went down to Bryant Park to see the light show that was projected on the Empire State Building. After it was over, my niece (almost 7) started to complain about her stomach. Then she complained again. We rushed over to the subway as that was the fastest way home. 42nd, 50th, 59th, 66th, 72nd (almost home) and oops. Niece vomits all over the floor of the subway car.

She definitely splashed a few passengers and their last minute shopping bags. My brother and sister-in-law were mortified, apologized profusely, got out at the next stop (ours) and got everyone home. Well, it had to be a norovirus, since she hadn't eaten anything likely to cause food poisoning in the previous days and hours. Niece lost it again after we were home.

I turned to my brother and asked him, "Didn't you eat her pizza crusts?" Sure enough, he started up very soon thereafter. Sister-in-law and I were both feeling queasy from all the smells, while my nephew was completely fine with the whole thing - 4 year old boys are rather fond of extraneous bodily fluids. Eventually, the kids and I fell asleep. Brother vomited most of the night, joined by my sister-in-law a few times. Neither of them got any sleep to speak of. She had to go off to work the next day, leaving an exhaused husband, a queasy daughter, a 4 year old and a rather inexperienced aunt (me) to deal with the day. My brother turned to me and said in a rather flat tone, "No standards today. If they are alive at the end of it, we win."

So, my niece (half dressed) watched fairy movies all day, calling me in to see the good parts. My nephew (not entirely naked) and I did puzzles, played with trains, had an epic battle of Toy Story vs. Car Story pirate ships and built a complete model of NYC out of blocks. My brother napped and did multiple loads of laundry including all the winter coats that had been splashed by vomit. No one except my nephew ate a thing. My sister-in-law was finally sent home by her co-workers after 3:00 because she looked so exhausted. The gingerbread houses were deemed toxic waste (just in case) and discarded. All in all, I would prefer to eat cookies for Christmas, rather than tossing them, but in the end, it could have been a lot worse.

I call fake! There are no good parts to fairy movies.

My FIL can be a very nasty person. I cut him some slack because he truly had an Oliver Twist upbringing. My SIL is equally nasty, and I spend most holidays getting myself to wherever they aren't. One year, my FIL was getting on his son (my husband's brother) about his weight. It was relentless. I could hear it escalating from my hideout position in the den. My SIL stepped in to defend her husband (very unlike her), and my FIL said to her, "It's okay if you're fat--you just had a baby." Her "baby" was 6. My husband and I call it a Christmas miracle because that shut them all up for a blissful 15 minutes.

This goes along with your holiday stories. Years ago, my family was in the middle of various arguments and mayhem. There are five kids, so there is always excitement in our family. This one year my older sister and I got into a physical altercation before opening gifts. Who knows why. But, our dad came out of his room in his tighty whiteys and started yelling at us. He then yelled,"Christmas is cancelled! Everyone get your shit and go home!" I started laughing and my sister and her family left. Once they were gone, we had a nice quiet time. We do not have a family Christmas anymore. No matter how hard we try to behave around each other, old issues pop up and new ones take place. Sad really. But, now when things get crazy I yell, "Christmas is cancelled!" And it breaks the ice! Happy Holidays.

The skivvies, though--they're key.

My in-laws are less than creative people. All their gifts to me -- holidays, birthdays, whatever -- are variety packs of beer. They're coming to visit for the holidays this year; would it be inappropriate to have their variety-pack gifts in the fridge for them to enjoy? I'm not much of a beer drinker and am somewhat particularly when I do drink, so I really haven't touched their gifts at all.

It's all fun and games until somebody serves old beer.

No, beer doesn't keep that long, so just get rid of the old stuff. Surely there's someone in your orbit who would enjoy the next and future installlments? 

hey guys, sorry, i accidentally published just the second part of a two-parter. Bethonie's restoring it to its full glory.

My no-wonder-he's-ex husband moved out on Dec. 1 while I was traveling and told only our three  teenagers, not me. I discovered on 12/19 that he'd left when one of the kids told me he was 'at his new house'. I had only enough money to buy cocoa, sweet cereal and popcorn for them for Christmas. Funnily enough, our lean Christmas was more fun than the ones when he was being a jerk. And now, we're ALL happier. So if you're spending your holidays as a new single, enjoy away - the best may be yet to come!

"Gift of the Magi" goes postmodern: What matters is that you don't have each other. 

My family should get frequent flier miles at the ER over holidays. All it seems to take is a stuffed bird, a little alcohol, and we're off to our home away from home, again. One year, we were all piled in the waiting room because my dad had fallen off the lawn and onto the driveway (down a few feet) because the 12 pound dog pulled him. After a few hours, I went for a walk. An EMT came up to me. He asked how I was (is anyone good in the ER waiting room over the holidays?) and then explained that he was an EMT and "I save lives." He then explained that he was off duty now, had a gurney out back and wondered if I wanted to play doctor.

Is picking people up in the ER successful? Apparently, my slightly stressed-out tirade was rather loud and entertaining, because when I was done, several people cheered, including the entire Indian family with the nose bleeds.

Many years ago, when my now-ex-husband and I visited his family for Christmas, we were given a present by his older sister who happened to work in a local pharmacy. It was about 12"x12"x4" and ... soft. When I unwrapped it, we found a 4-pack of pharmacy brand toilet paper. While he and I were trying to process this (thinking maybe it was a joke gift), she cheerfully piped up with something to the effect of: "It's something that everybody needs!" So we said our (mildly bewildered) thanks, and moved on. Later that night, my then-husband developed a case of food poisoning. Luckily not due to Christmas dinner, but due to the sandwich he'd picked up on our trip there. It turns out that she was quite correct about her gift, and even better? We had one less thing to pack up and take home with us. I'm pretty sure he'll always be grateful that she chose the "quilted" kind.

My boyfriend at the time was Hungarian and we'd just visited his grandparents and received a lovely Hungarian sausage. We brought it to Christmas at my family's house and when everyone was sitting around the table (I mean everyone - boyfriend, siblings, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins) I presented it with some bread and cheese and a little knife to cut it with. Then, I leaned down behind my boyfriend and whispered in his ear that I was looking forward to having some of HIS Hungarian sausage that night. When I stood up, everyone was staring and my sister was trying to control her laughter. I learned the hard way that I do not know how to whisper. 

And bless you for it.

The time: 2000-ish. The place: Thanksgiving at my parents' house, with my grandmother, my sister, and her then-husband. The setting: Thanksgiving dinner. Proceedings were well underway and there was a lull in the conversation, as there sometimes is. Apropos of absolutely nothing, my grandma piped up with, "Well, I know that everybody here is waiting for me to die." There was about a second's pause and then I started cracking up, just as my sister said, "Grandma! That's a horrible thing to say!" For some reason I don't remember how my parents reacted (probably with an eyeroll; Grandma could be dramatic at times). My sister's ex later reported that "I felt like someone just dumped a big old bag of $h!t in my lap." It's one of my few fond memories of that guy. Good times.

For the Hootenanny, a story I mean to submit every year, then forget to: Years ago, my entire family, parents, brothers, sisters-in-law and importantly, my 18 month-old and 3 month-old nephews (we'll call the youngest "Esau") and grandparents, decided to do Christmas at my parents' beautiful house. It would turn out to be the last Christmas that all four of my grandparents - all in their 90s and good friends for decades - spent together. One evening, we are all spending Rockwellian quality-time in the emaculately decorated parlor. My dear Grandma B rose from her perch in an exquisite King George arm chair, and let forth with the a flatulence so loud and clear that it shook the house. The scene froze. Polite conversation stopped. The WASPy perfection was seemingly shattered. From across the room, my usually inappropriate, teenaged brother said, accusingly, "Esau.....", clearly implying that the babe held by my other 90+-year-old Grandma was responsible for the disturbance. Everyone broke down in laughter. The standing Grandma B almost fell to the floor. Usually inappropriate, teenaged brother had saved the day... Unfortunately, he had not saved young "Esau's" reputation. Poor kid is not 14 and still gets blamed for every fart. And yes, I changed names to protect the innocent. Though if you post this, he will know exactly who he is. :-)

When we were in our second year of college, by boyfriend and I traveled an hour down to my father and step-mother's for Thanksgiving. Typically, my father's collection of eccentric friends made the event seem less like a family gathering and more like a party. One particular friend, a tiny, talkative, wild-haired lady, kept marveling at how much weight I'd gained in college (in her defense, it was about 50 pounds). So throughout the day at various intervals (in between talking about her husband, who she kept referring to as "my daddy") she would randomly interject in an amazed tone, "Wow, you sure have gotten fat!" Incredibly, she had no malicious intent at all. Which I knew. Plus she wasn't wrong. I had gained a lot of weight. J. was a sweet lady, just obviously struggling with the weight of her astonishment. It was clear to all that my transformation had dumbfounded her. Finally the party had wended its way towards dinner and many of us were sitting at the table eating and conversing. At one point, an Aunt or another friend turned to me and said "So what have you been up to at college?" This cued J., who just couldn't help herself, to pipe up yet again and say with fresh awe (and perfect timing), "Just getting fat!" Well, that was just too much for my German step-mother. She, as calm as you please, turned to J. and said, in her German accent, "J, since you've been so blunt vish our daughter, I will be blunt vish you: YOUR HUSBAND'S A BUM." She then went on to matter-of-factly describe all the ways in which J.’s husband wasn’t keeping up his end of their marriage. The husband, also a good friend, was in the next room with my dad and the other guys drinking and being jolly. What was remarkable about this whole exchange (now legendary amongst our friends) was that no one seemed to get upset or hurt by all the honesty and frank talk. J. just simmered down and the party kept on rolling.


Some years ago my mother hosted a Christmas gathering. She prepared some delicious red and green punch and made ice rings of each punch as well. For some reason she put the green ring in the red punch and vice versa and didn't notice what was happening until it was too late. It still tasted delicious but looked so awful that few of the guests would touch it.

I would like to share my finest baking moment, the one that makes me really proud: My mother's birthday is Christmas, so she never had a party on her birthday, until two years ago, when my sister decides to turn our family gathering into a surprise party. I eagerly volunteer to make the cake, hoping to specialize it for Mom's strict wheat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet. So being the procrastinator I am, I look up an obscure German Chocolate Cake recipe in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve, just as the last stores are closing and the snow is coming down hard. Based on what I can find at Target, I have to make a few substitutions (to a recipe already full of substitutions) before packing my family up and driving four hours to my sister's house in the driving snow. At 11 pm, I start baking this cake and quickly realize it's not going well. The batter isn't sweet--it tastes like a chocolate-flavored diet product--but it's very runny, so it drips through the spring-form pan and forms a large puddle on the bottom of the oven. When I pull it out, the center is collapsed. I hope, hope, hope that the frosting will be better. I find out my sister is out of butter and decide to substitute...shortening. It's nasty, and the more artificial sweetener I add, the more salty the frosting tastes. Once we realize, around 1 am, that this cake is hopeless, what do we do? Plate it and make it the centerpiece at our feast the next day, naturally. Just for good measure, my nephew takes a bite out of the candle when my sister isn't looking. So when Mom arrives, we really hype this cake. And we make everyone watch as she takes the first bite. As she closes her eyes and says, "Mmmmmmm," my sister and I burst out laughing. It takes Mom a second to realize we know how gross the cake is, and soon everyone is trying it, with many people spitting it out into the sink. We dubbed it the Dental Cement Cake (the flavor of the frosting), and many people reassured me it was the worst cake they had ever had.

No sense going to all that trouble just for second place.

It wasn't Christmas, maybe Easter? A LONG time ago. I was in high school and my sister had brought home a rather religious friend from college whose parents were missionaries in another country, too far away to travel for a short break. The whole family was sitting around the dining room table finishing a big meal. I have no idea how the subject of death came up, but for some reason it did. My grandfather began to tell the story of a family ancestor, a few generations back, who committed suicide. By suffocating himself. With a douche bag. The room fell silent. Grandpa kept eating. I could barely contain my laughter and was about to crack when my mother pulled me from my chair, into another room, where we took turns gasping for air and punching each other in the arm to relieve the pressure build up of wanting to howl. Later that day, when everyone had left, the friend quietly asked what a douche bag was...

"It's people who think they know everything, but that's not important right now."

Thanksgiving a couple years ago was the first time my then boyfriend (now fiance) met my extended family. So, we are getting out of the car to go into my aunt's house, and my aunt is frantically running out the front door exclaiming: "I burned the turkey, I have to go pick up another one." Burned was an understatement. Turns out my aunt was cooking the turkey on the bbq, the way my grandpa always had done (but she herself had never done). She was in the kitchen prepping everything else when her grandson exclaims: "grandma, the turkey is on fire!". She replies "yes, honey, it's supposed to smoke." He says "no! flames!". So my aunt and cousin run out to the grill, and there are flames 4+ feet in the air, singing the tree that is right next to the house. My cousin goes to dump water on it, but thankfully my aunt stops her and they pour an entire carton of baking soda on it instead. This is how the rest of our Thanksgiving goes: my boyfriend becomes the hero of the day, cooking the steaks that my aunt picked up (after the butcher gave 'em to her and said "you're not allowed to cook these yourself") and we spent the rest of Thanksgiving eating steak, drinking wine, and playing Texas hold 'em with m&ms. My aunt will never live this down; in fact, she went back to the butcher the next Thanksgiving and he asked her if she had her bbq privileges restored yet. And she loves the fire extinguisher my fiance gave her for Christmas last year.

It was New Year's Eve, and my parents had gone out for the evening, leaving my sisters and me in the care of Mrs. Lang, one of our favorite babysitters. Mrs. Lang told us that at the strike of midnight, there would be a big boom. (We lived in a tiny town in a rural Minnesota.) Anyway, we stood at the front door in our jammies, with the main door open. It was cold, but we figured worth it to hear the Big Boom. We waited. And waited. And waited. Then my sister "tooted." Mrs. Lang said: "There's the Big Boom!"

This is exactly the emotional experience of watching the ball drop in Times Square. 

Reading back on some of these old hootnannies, I was wondering if "DISHWARE" from 2008 happens to be reading and I was wondering if she was still receiving white casserole dishes every year after the MIL found out she saw all those boxes in the basement. Did she ever end up with a whole set?

For me, no Christmas will ever compare to the year the septic tank backed up.

Don't want to know the details? You must be new here.

I was seven. Two days before Christmas, one of my uncles visited. He told me he had a surprise in the back of his truck and I should come out to see it. Once there, he pulled back a tarp to reveal two dead deer in the bed of his pickup. "I got Santa's reindeer!" he gleefully laughed. I was inconsolable for the next two days, thinking Santa wouldn't be able to deliver the presents and it wasn't until Christmas morning when gifts were under the tree that I finally accepted that my uncle had just been a jerk.

So much for reasoned debates on the proper age at which to unmask Santa.

And I do in fact have four large casserole dishes and two medium size ones, whereas the youngest SIL has six of the one quart size. Fun fact: Youngest SIL turned out to be crazy and sued someone for running her over with their minivan even though every witness said the van was six feet away and SIL had just tripped. Maybe MIL knew something we didn't.

We do know she knew a bargain when she saw one, and is a fine judge of character. 

(for reference:

One year at either Hanukkah or Thanksgiving, we were sitting around in my grandparents house and they were talking about traveling they'd done when they were younger. And my grandfather is going on in great detail about the hotel they'd stayed at in Montreal and how the club next door kept them up because it was so noisy for all hours of the night and they never gave it rest. And my diminutive Jewish grandmother pipes up and says "Oh please, Will! It was a whorehouse!" There was some debate about how she knew that and grampa didn't.

As many Jewish children, I fought tirelessly for a "Holiday Tree" every year. I went to a small Presbyterian college (don't ask, I don't know) and one year I was home for break and was feeling particularly cynical. My parents had this dreadful fake tree in the family room, and I decided it was time to put it to good use. I went to CVS and bought a few 99 cent strands of white lights, and went to town. My dad got home and dropped his brief case in horror...but my mom didn't notice. I was in such hysterics at this point that my dad finally had to steer my mother in the direction of the tree for her to see what I'd done. Needless to say, it didn't go over well. But what went over worse was the fact that I'm (also) vertically challenged, and those lights got so tangled in there that my parents were never able to remove them and they went out the door along with the tree a few years ago.

My husband and I were watching a children's re-enactment of XMas at brother's church. The four year old playing one of the manger "animals" was fascinated with all the other actors. He stood up in front of the other children and interrupted their lines. Finally a man stood up and shouted "Will someone get that ass out of the way!" It was his grandfather.

It is never too late for Hootenanny ass. 

One year, our neighbor was especially nervous about Thanksgiving dinner, because she was cooking for her mother-in-law for the first time. Everyone on the block knew of her anxiety, so of course, someone thought it would be a good idea to exacerbate it. While the turkey was cooking, her husband lured her out of the kitchen long enough for a neighbor to sneak in, replace the turkey with a Cornish game hen, and vanish. Our poor neighbor nearly had a heart attack. Fortunately, the guilty party had put the turkey into his own oven so all was not lost.


I feel for all you folks who've topped being dumped the week before Christmas!

New definition of douche: a relative who makes you wish you'd merely been dumped the week before Christmas. 


Actually, that's a decent lead-in to these:

My mom has a history of being overdramatic and self-absorbed (I just got married, so I'll save the best of THOSE for the wedding hootenanny), but every Christmas in college and several years after, Mom broke down into hysterical tears and screamed that I'd ruined everything. The first was because I went to my then-boyfriend's family Christmas party on Christmas Eve for a couple hours. The next year, I finished the Traditional Christmas Potato Salad when my older sister was called away. The year after that, terrible gifts. After that, I had a cold. After I realized the pattern, I jokingly refer to myself as the Ruiner of All Things -- and skip Christmas at Mom's house.

From the time they met in high school, my brother's wife was a challenge. After a few years of dating, she agreed to join our family's Christmas celebration at my Aunt and Uncle's house, skipping her family's out of town trip to their relatives. Sometime after her family had departed, she learned that my Aunt was not serving a roasted bird, which was part of her family's tradition. This did not suit her at all, and she let my brother have it. Christmas morning I awoke to find my brother in his room, miserable from the fight with said girlfriend, drowning his misery with shots of vodka. In the end, they were able to procure a turkey, and they cooked it and had dinner alone. The bird was more important to her than the people. That was nearly 30 years ago, and my brother finally divorced her last year. Better late than never!

My husband and I have been together for 17 years, married for 14. Every year his parents send out a Christmas card with everyone in the family in it, everyone except for me. Never once have I been in it, though various girlfriends and boyfriends of his siblings have as well as spouses and children. My kids started noticing I wasn't in it year after year and when they asked why not, they were told it was because I wasn't pretty enough.

About 10 years ago, my husband's brother and his wife and their 2 kids invited my husband and me to their house for Christmas Eve, as they had been doing for years. This time we planned to bring along our 25 year old daughter, who had at the time a 4 year old (but no husband), assuming she and our grandson would be welcome. We were wrong. They decided on the morning of Dec. 24 to uninvite us. BIL called and said, "Sorry, we've decided to just have Xmas Eve as a family so please don't come." I was destroyed. My husband just laughed. It turned out later they didn't want their kids exposed to our wanton daughter and her illegitimate child, especially on Christmas as they were all going to church and it wasn't seemly. I had presents for them all. I threw away the gifts I had for their kids, gave the BIL's gift to to another guy, and still have the Nordstrom's gift card I got for his wife. It's still good, right?

No, better. 

Amid all the Christmas, let's not forget Hannukah starts next week. Happy holiday to everyone celebrating that OTHER thing. Thanks.

Not forgotten! Just woefully under-represented in the submissions queue. We embrace dysfunction of all creeds.

Speaking of the queue, it runneth over, and I have to go even though know I'm missing some good stuff. I'm going to sign off now, but I will post at least one more before I go. If I can read fast enough I'll post more stuff I missed.

So ... bye! Thank you, and enjoy the season, by any means necessary. 

Our family has a rather unique tradition of having a talent show of sorts each year at our family gathering. Usually it's people singing, reading poems/funny email stuff, telling stories. As all of this is going on, people are enjoying themselves (read: drinking). One year, my aunt decided to reinact the story of Jesus' birth w/her family; her, her husband and two kids. I can't remember how that was all supposed to work out, but I most definitely remember my rather drunk aunt, holding the baby Jesus while riding my uncle (AKA the donkey) across the living room floor. Ah, good times...

God, I hope poor Esau thinks the fart joke is funny. I am the butt of a similar joke in my family and I am SO TIRED OF IT.

Write it up and send it in! It'll be a Hootorcism.

If it also rids us of Hooterses, I'm okay with that, too.

Hold the phones! Some nice craft beers actually do age, just like wine!

I'll have to take your word for it. None has ever lasted long enough in my presence to serve as proof.

In economics, it's called "revealed preference." If you want to know what people really want, focus on what they do, not what they say. Leading to this joke: === Two economists are walking down the street and they see an expensive sports car. Economist 1: "I've always wanted a Ferrari." Economist 2: "Clearly not." === economist circles that joke KILLS.

A bunch of engineers just gasped.

of the vomiting nephews?

I find myself asking that often.

(It's there now--Bethonie fixed it.)

Okay, just one more thing, before I really really sign off: Just sending an e-hug to a few of you who wrote in to say you're reading this as a break from a very difficult time in your lives. Hope things turn around for you soon.

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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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