Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2015 (Friday, Dec. 11)

Dec 11, 2015

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.

Hello-ho-ho everybody, it's that time. I'll get to a few regular questions before the Hoot, as usual. 

Carolyn, I saw my post from last year in yesterday's column and wanted to send an update. I took your advice and found a great therapist who helped me (and eventually us) really think through the issues in the marriage. My divorce became final a month ago and while I'm sad that it had to end that way, I have no regrets. For getting married in the first place or for the divorce. My therapist has been an immense help in making me realize that I needed to put myself/my own mental health/my happiness first, which is something I hadn't done in a long time. As a longtime reader of your column, I know you always advocate for finding the right resources/help and while I never thought I would need therapy myself, I am now a huge advocate for it. Sometimes one of the best things about seeing her was just being able to talk to someone who had no stake in my decisions other than to make sure I was doing what was right for me. Everyone (family, friends, etc.) had an opinion on whether leaving my marriage was the right thing to do and all she cared about was whether I thought I was doing the right thing. Thanks again for all the great advice over the years!

You're welcome, and thanks for checking back in. 

You're right about the way the people in our lives become stakeholders in our decisions. It really can complicate the process of figuring out the right thing to do.

Hi Carolyn - love your work! One of the things I find most interesting in reading peoples questions is the details they throw in. Take today's column - the submitter chose to add 'middle-aged' and 'single' to the description of their mentally ill, difficult sibling. I kind of understand the context 'middle-aged' adds - that this an adult, not someone on the cusp of adulthood or early adulthood and presumably has had opportunities to work on their mental health issues as an adult. But the single? Its less clear to me why the submitter felt the need to include it. Thoughts?

To me both are clear and together answer an important question: that, no, there's no default caregiver or protector looking out for this person. A young adult presumably would still have involved/relatively youthful parents, and a married person would have a spouse.  

Hi Carolyn! I know this is the holiday chat (which I LOVE) but hoping you answer a couple of questions beforehand. This year my boyfriend and I of 4 years moved in together and got engaged. Things were going very well initially - everything I hoped our relationship would become. However, lately I had been a little suspicious of a co worker of his "Missy". I confronted him about it and he confessed they had feelings for each other but that nothing happened. I believe nothing physical happened but he did show me texts between them and it's clear he emotionally cheated. Missy has moved to another state and he has agreed not to reach out to her again. But I am deeply hurt that he "fell" for someone else while we were beginning our life together. He proposed to me during this time and i feel deeply betrayed. He says I am overacting and that crushes like his happen in long term relationships. Am I overacting?

Full disclosure, i've gotten to the point where I'm more bothered by the idea of being told "You're overreacting" than the idea of an extra-relationship crush.

Of course both are important here, and both are legitimate grounds for ending this relationship--depending on how you both choose to deal with them.

-You don't want to be with someone who is already not getting from you what he needs emotionally. 

-He doesn't want to drift into permanence under those conditions, either.

-You don't want someone who can't tell the difference between having a different opinion and dismissing your opinion. You're hurt, angry, and replaying his proposal in your mind as a fraud. He can acknowledge and empathize with those very real feelings while still understanding that commitment is not the same thing as crush prevention. The question is, will he?

- ... and, when the next crush comes along, will he cross the line again, while kidding himself that "nothing happened"?

Please talk again, starting with the "overreacting" issue. Find out now whether you and he can communicate to get closer and solve problems, vs. communicate just to get your own points across. For "everything I hoped our relationship would become" to have any kind of fulfillment- and staying power, it has to translate into the two of you looking out for each other, vs. looking out for yourselves while sharing address. Now's a painful time to find out whether it can, but better than postponing it till it hurts even more. Good luck.


Hi Carolyn, I'm hoping you can help sort out a family issue. My mother has been insinuating that something is going on in my brother's life, but won't say what. She's obviously very stressed about it, but stress and emotional instability are her norm, so that isn't always an indicator. Long story short, I googled him and found out he was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs three months ago. I assume he hasn't had his court date yet. He is a single dad with a school aged son (mom died two years ago). I don't know what to do with this information. Obviously he doesn't want me to know, he's lied to keep it from me. But it's not fair to my emotionally unstable mom to be the only one to bear this. I don't know if he'll be going to jail, or what. I feel like I should just text him and let him know I know, ask if he needs my help. We don't talk that much. My family's communication skills are so dysfunctional I can't even see what normal people would do. I'm so mad at him right now, but I do realize that coming across as judgmental or accusatory is going to shut him right down. Also, non-sequitor to make it into the Hootenanny- what's the best Christmas gift for someone who might be behind bars? I hear orange is the new black?

I think you're past the point where you need to worry about any individual's preference on who knows what. Tell both your mother and your brother that you found out what's going on--assure them no one spilled the beans except Google--and then find out whether either of them needs anything that you're able to provide.

My main concern is the child, because what happens if your brother does get incarcerated? Please figure out how involved you're willing to get, and then take thoughtful steps in that direction. Consider, too, seeking support through a local program for the family members of addicts. The court handling his case might have a list of programs to give you.

Hey- hoping to sneak in with a non-holiday question. I completely understand that people have very different expectations about who will pay at a celebratory "let's go out to XX restaurant" night. What I struggle with is HOW TO KNOW who will pay. This came to a head at a birthday party last week. I received an Evite from the birthday girl to join the her at a restaurant with a hipster bar, and because I love her and want to celebrate, I RSVP'd yes. Because I am short of money, I planned to buy the bday girl (and myself) a drink, stay for an hour, give her a little gift, and head out. My short-circut-the-money-converstation-plan was quashed, though. The party was not in the bar, but a seated, multi-course dinner, at which the birthday girl ordered lavishly (small plates) for the table, including bottle after bottle of wine. When the check came, she was silent, albeit gracious, as the rest of us split it. I was a loss, so I tossed in my faded-from-use credit card, and chalked it up to life lessons. Budgets get blown. We are old enough (early 40s) and far enough down our career paths that it isn't unusual for a host to pick up the check for the table; things have changed since our twenties when it was unfathomable that anyone had $500 or $1000 bucks to spend on a birthday dinner. The challenge is knowing what kind of night you are attending: are you being hosted? Are you able to swing by for a drink? Have you been summoned to fund the guest of honor's vision of a lovely night? Can you help me script a way to have my expectations set ahead of time on these events?

I say just ask the host directly: "Is this a sit-down-for-dinner thing, or a swing-by-the-bar-for-a-cocktail thing?" That has the benefit of sounding like a concern about the timing/schedule vs. $$$.

For what it's worth, I think a person who arranges the event and orders the food also picks up the check--even the birthday person, even when people at the table insist on paying for the birthday person. It's so easy for host to pull off by arranging in advance with the restaurant that host and host alone will be receiving the check. What you describe puts too many people in a terrible spot--not just the ones who don't have the money for a full share and were planning to order only what they could afford, but those who don't drink or aren't hungry. They all get hosed by this arrangement. Bleah. Sorry you got sucked into it.

Yes, they do. ACTING on those crushes - to the extent of "emotional cheating" however, does not. That's a choice. And it's not nothing that he was actively committing to you - proposing to you - WHILE he was acting on his crush rather than walking away from the temptation of it. No, you are not overreacting.

Yes--walking away from it, or reckoning honestly with it. Sometimes a crush is just that and sometimes it's a flag, but his approach doesn't address that, it just sweeps it under a rug.

You also reminded me that I forgot to address the idea that the out-of-state move of the OW solves anything. Because texts are strictly local? 

I still don't understand what emotional cheating looks like. I'm close with several friends and tell them things I don't tell my boyfriend, mostly stuff I don't think he'd be interested in. When would this become emotional cheating?

When it's stuff you don't want him to know you're talking about, when it's stuff he'd want to know or talk about with you, and when you get a thrill out of talking about it with this other person--e.g., looking forward to when you can be alone to check your messages.

Carolyn, as in years previous my in-laws emailed me asking what I would like for Christmas. I emailed them a link to a DVD. They emailed back that I should buy it for myself and they would reimburse me. I find that a very awkward arrangement. I know my husband will feel uncomfortable if I ask for the money. On the other hand I imagine the in-laws will try to pay me. Should I just not order the gift? What will the in-laws make of that? Rock and Hard Place


One of the gifts this season brings me is at least one improbable new way to mangle the gift-giving process. If you can even call it that in this case. 


Either buy it and refuse the money or don't buy it and say oh garsh you never did get around to buying it ... oh well! Whichever amuses you more at this point.

And next year respond to the in-laws' gift query with, "Anything or nothing, really--I'm easy to please. Look forward to seeing you!" 

I think you could just decline the invite and be Frank about your reason, but offer to treat her for a drink later in the week. Unfortunately, I think the expectation is that birthday girls don't pay. I agree with you Carolyn that if you want lavish for your bday you should pay for it -- but that just doesn't seem to be the way it works. I also think a compromise position (since I like lavish) is for the host to order appetizers for the table and then folks can get their own drink + additional appetizers if they desire.

One thing I always struggle with is how to start. It is kind of awkward to say "I hear you got arrested". It may help you to email him the news story and say "I saw this. I am concerned for you and kid. I am here to help you in whatever way you need." That way he knows you know and knows what you know. It's still awkward, but way less awkward than bringing it up over Christmas dinner.

Good stuff, thank you.

If someone is going to the formality of sending an Evite to their birthday party, they need to be Johnny on the spot re paying the bill. Because what's the alternative - they invited you to come co-host their dinner? No. The birthday girl is sorely lacking in social graces. Also, if the plan for the event is a multi-course sit down dinner, then the invitation needs to specify "join us for dinner at Hipster Fantasia" so that people understand what they're taking on, time-wise.

Agreed, thanks.

I think Hipster Fantasia closed last year, though. 

Take this as a PSA chatters - The person who invites pays, period. (*) That's good manners. If the guests want to pay then the person who would normally be obligated can allow them, but that agreement acknowledges that the initial responsibility was on the host (the one who did the inviting). It's simple manners, and anyone who makes you think otherwise is just plain wrong. * NOTE: if you're invited and want to order something that seems outside the normal course of what would be ordered for the occasion, you should ask the host if it's okay. That's part of being a considerate guest.

A P.S. to your PSA: If the guests want to wrest the check away from the host, because the host is also the guest of honor, then the guest who volunteers has to cover the whole thing. A guest can't volunteer -all- of the guests to pay for the host/honoree.

K, think we've got this covered. Thanks all. 

The Germans have a term for this, roughly translated as "fleeing forward/ahead." It's what you do when you are worried about your current situation, so you force the hand by trying to lock in with another commitment. Think; getting engaged while having an affair, having a baby to fix marital problems, etc. It's such a human reaction, it's a shame there's not a term to handily describe it in English. And, yes, I learned about this phrase the hard way.

Those overachieving Germans--they could have quit at "schadenfreude."

You're welcome to tell us what the phrase is, by the way. Most of the German I know is in the preceding sentence.

Hearing hoofbeats on the rooftop ...


... and muffled laughter in the bathroom.

Pops's Night Before Christmas



'Twas the night before Christmas

And everyone was dreading.

The coming election

And the choices we're getting.


The stockings were hung

By the chimney with care

While up north Santa

Was doing his hair.


The children were all nestled,

Faces aglow,

Lit by their iPhones--

Parents don't know.


Ma wore a kerchief,

I wore a bonnet.

It was getting all crispy

From the seagull poop on it.


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 rocket,

Ignoring, for now,

The dead mouse in my pocket.


The moon shone brightly

On what should have been snow,

But with global warming,

We can't really know.


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 ran.

Santa said, "Ho ho ho,

I'm off to the can."


Now Jindal, now Bachmann!

Now Walker and Paul!

That's last year's bunch!

Farewell to them all.


To the top of the porch,

To the top of the wall,

Gotta sort through the flyers,

Then off to the mall.


As dry leaves before

The wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle,

Mount to the sky.


Approaching the house top,

The deer were on final.

Santa's back's hurting

He should get a spinal.


And then, in a twinkle,

I heard a big noise,

Like when the ladies' room,

Fills up with boys.


As I drew in my head,

And was raiding the pantry.

Down the chimney St. Nicholas

Was making his entry.


Down the chimney?

Let's think about that.

Flue's kind of skinny,

And Santa, he's fat. 


His clothes were all sooty,

His booties were too.

No chimney sweep this year,

Santa just did the flue.    


A bundle of toys,

He'd flung on his back. 

His beard, all white now

Used to be black.


His eyes, how they twinkled,

His dimples, how merry.    

His cheeks were like roses,

His face was--well--hairy.


His droll little mouth,

Was drawn up like a bow.   

His nose, once stubby,

Has continued to grow


The stump of his pipe,

He clamped tight in his teeth  

Top teeth on top,

Bottom ones beneath.


He had a broad face,

And a round little belly.             

His clothing was all stained,

His feet were way smelly.


He was chubby and plump,

A right jolly old fellow.

From years with his pipe,

His teeth were all yellow.


He turned his head,

And twisted his neck.

From spinal stenosis.

He's a bit of a wreck.


He said not a word,

But completed his task.

Of stuffing the stockings

And filling his flask


And laying a finger,

Aside of his beak,

Before mounting up,

He should first take a leak.


He sprang to his sleigh,

Not actually springing;

His back, as I mentioned--

No end to the whingeing.


But I heard him exclaim,

As he drove out of view,

"Election next year!


How frightened are you?"

"All I Want For Christmas Is A Goat," available on Spotify. It's an album of Christmas carols composed of goat bleats.

Back in a sec ...

OMG now I can't see!

My father and mother shared an overall respect for thrift. Dad also had a mild, friendly competitive streak with Uncle Ken. Each year both families would have a fresh Christmas tree and, invariably, at one party or the other Uncle Ken would ask Dad what he paid for the tree, and whomever had found the best deal would get kudos. Well this hunt for the bragging rights escalated subtly over the 1960's, and Dad was increasingly driving the station wagon (yes, it had the faux-wood panels) further and to sketchier locations to get a deal. In 1965, Dad proudly came home with a scrawniest excuse for a tree and excitedly announced the stupendously low price as he put it in the living room. Mom, usually unflappable, burst into tears at the prospect of this hideous tree being the centerpiece of our holiday celebrations. Dad was clearly caught off-guard. He said "don't worry - it will be great! uhmm... I'll FLOCK it!" For Gen X or younger, flocking was taking a spray can of probably toxic sticky white stuff and spraying it, ideally lightly, on the tree to achieve the fresh-fallen snow look. Dad sprayed can after can all over the tree. Each sparse needle had an inch of flocking on it. It looked like a sickly, fuzzy white terrible mistake of a tree. Mom cried harder. Dad had to hang his head, throw the tree away (!), and go buy a completely new one. The price was not discussed with Uncle Ken. In our family "oh flock it" became shorthand for ineffectively solving a problem.

Ineffectively! Speak for yourself.

My uncle got my grandmother a nice coffee maker. She didn't drink coffee. It was so she could make him coffee when he was over.

Every year my mother likes to send my son a Christmas tree ornament that reflects something he did that year. This past summer we went to Costa Rica, so she asked me what he most remembered from that trip. Honestly? He's 8. What he remembers most is the howler monkey jewels were dangling in the sunlight. He even wrote an essay about them at school this year. So without comment I jokingly sent my mom a link to an ornament that showcased a similar exhibitionist monkey, just to see if she'd notice.  She must not have seen what I saw, because she called to proudly tell me that she had purchased the ornament, had it personalized, and sent it in time for Christmas. The (ahem) package arrived in the mail today, and I cannot wait for my son to come home from school and open it. I only have one question - do I tell Mom?

Tell her it's hanging with pride.

My brother married a Turkish woman and they now reside in Istanbul, which always makes gift-giving difficult. Last year I was told that my then-6-year-old nephew wanted "something science-y," but that I couldn't send anything made in China due to some sort of trade restriction. So after looking in 3 different stores I found a science kit that a) was small enough to ship, b) was made in the U.S., and c) looked age-appropriate and fun. The focus was "The Human Body," and it seemed to involve things like discussions of the senses, reflex tests, etc. So on Christmas morning we Skyped my brother with a holiday greeting, and my nephew shouted gleefully, "Aunt Kim! I'm so excited about the human body! I learned three new English words today!" His mother was somewhat less excited, seeing as the new words came from the (apparently very detailed) Anatomy portion of the kit. That's right...I apparently sent a sex ed lesson to a first-grader. Mutlu Noeller!

Right back atcha.

Seriously--I've got a stomach ache now from the goats. Though now it's the GOATs.

This Christmas, I decided to move to Alaska. With a month's notice. Mom really wanted to help so I said ok knowing that she and I are not best friends and have wildly differing views on many things, including whether or not I am an adult that makes her own choices. ANYWAY, despite my pleading, she arranged for her trip to last for 3 weeks. (She's sitting right over there. --->) She hasn't shut up since she I picked her up from the airport. She is deathly allergic to cats (I have two) and is disabled from a back injury. Our dance between clean cat-free sheets and correct firmness pillows from hotel to hotel has been at an Olympic level. She packed so much stuff for her "Alaskan Vacation" that I had to carry her bags for her along with mine and 26 pounds of cat thru the airport. Don't worry, she had a wheelchair, but she lost her license, boarding pass and phone at Security. Again, don't worry, after 20 min of yelling at TSA, she found it in her bag. She won't drive herself anywhere and insists on going shopping every night when I get off work. Did you guess? I hate shopping. Also, HELLO, I am MOVING. She also has a strange relationship with Starbucks Cold Brew coffee. Apparently Starbucks rarely is able to serve this type of coffee, but we've stopped at every Starbucks in Alaska to check. Now, I am in Alaska living in a very tiny hotel room with two cats and Mom (Dad arrives tonight). My new little house is almost ready, thank god, but it's not all that much better able to handle 3 adults. Mom and Dad don't go home for another week. Then, in the spirit of family togetherness, I leave a week after that, for 2.5 week Christmas Vacation at Mom and Dad's, booked in August. I already checked, $1000 to change the tickets. I just want everyone to know that if there was a "Hootenany of Horrors - the Longest" award, I WIN.

There?  --->


I live across the country from my family and always try to take my girls back to visit my parents for the holidays. On first seeing each other (at home or at airport) my mother always smiles warmly, reaches out and pulls me into a tight hug.... and whispers something awful into my ear. Last year it was "You've gained so much weight". I've also gotten "I have a comb in my purse," "why did you stop wearing makeup" (I haven't - and I usually cake it on in self-defense before-hand), "People are going to ask if you're pregnant"... I'm starting my preparations for this year's visit and I can't help but look in the mirror and wonder what it will be this year! Maybe I should just use stage makeup and put a great big blemish on the end of my nose?

No no, this year you whisper something in -her- ear. Nothing vicious--maybe, "You've shrunk a little."

Go with the stage makeup too, just because.

Do you want to hear the one about the year my grandfather convinced me I had given Santa & all 8 reindeer food poisoning and the hospital wasn't sure they were going to make it? Or about the year my Aunt boycotted Christmas dinner because she claimed a different Aunt was "the Grinch trying to steal My Christmas"?


So, last year my daughter-in-law has an apron on while cooking. She tosses it in the washing machine just before dinner and runs a load, but forgets she has her freaking brand new IPhone in the apron pocket (because it had recipes on it). And then we sit down to dinner,looking out towards the backyard, where a septic tank pipe breaks (too much water running during the day???) and then erupts!

Yes, and ...? 

When the going gets weird, the weird do improv.

A few years ago, I was unexpectedly hospitalized mid-morning on Xmas Eve. I was in pain, placed on an NPO order, my military child had just come home for the holidays, I had several tests well into the wee hours of Xmas and an invasive procedure Xmas morning with another scheduled for the day after. In a word, misery. My husband suggested postponing the Xmas celebration, but I said, "No. there's $120 prime rib to be picked up at the butcher and you WILL cook and eat it. Come to the hospital afterward, and each of you bring one gift to open," because it wasn't just my family, but my brothers and their kids, etc.. too and there really was no sense in all of us missing the day. I knew I'd be drugged to the gills anyway for most of the day. Around 4pm they all arrived with a few gifts for me, and we had as good a time as possible, considering the circumstances, with one glaring exception. My younger brother (~40) was sullen and quiet in a chair in the corner of my room the entire time and I finally asked, "what the hell is wrong with YOU?" His response, "I wanted turkey."

Several years ago, my son and his family were driving around admiring the Christmas sparkly lights. As they drove past a Nativity scene, in a voice of awe, my just-turned-four year old grandson said "Mama - look at baby bad word!" After a moment of silence, my daughter-in-law remembered that the previous week she had stubbed her toe and used some inappropriate language with the lords name in response. She told the kids not to use those words as they were bad. Ever since then, our family has used the expression "sweet baby bad word (SBBT) when frustrated. It's easy to forget how literal kids are.

Fortunately they keep reminding us.

OMG! I can't believe my mom's not the only one who does this! It drives me crazy. Mom: What do you want? Me: Oh, I don't need anything. Mom: Well, I want to get you *something*. Me: OK, fine, I want {x}. Mom: Well, go buy it and tell me how much it is. Me: If you're going to just give me a check, why do we have to go through figuring out what I want?! Mom: I want to know what you'll spend it on. ARRRGH

Watch "Mother" by Albert Brooks. You'll pee yourself. 

In a good way.

My in-laws are great do-it-yourselfers, and come from an extended family line of them. One Thanksgiving, my father-in-law took advantage of his dad's presence at the house, and the two of them were up in the attic working on putting in and framing a bonus room. My mother-in-law was putting the finishing touches on the turkey and side dishes on the island in the kitchen, when all of a sudden, there was a big commotion and out of the ceiling directly over the perfect Thanksgiving dinner appeared a shoe attached to my father-in-law, along with pink insulation bits, drywall dust, and debris. Everything was coated in white dust, which got worse when the owner of the shoe tried to free himself from being stuck in the ceiling/attic floor. My mother-in-law, was stunned for a minute, and then the screaming started. It was made worse when my father-in-law's dad chimed in from the attic with, "What's the big deal? Just tell her to make another one," just loud enough for everyone to hear.

The "great" being in dispute.

Here's a warm holiday memory from a family holiday dinner gathering at my house some years back. The creature my Dad married, commonly referred to by all as "she who must not be named," made history when she brought a dish to contribute for the first time ever. She marched into the kitchen, slammed a can of peas on the counter, and looked at me with angry insolence, daring me to say something, before marching off to the living room. Stunned, I said nothing as I tried to figure out what the heck that was all about. This memory has provided years of fond recollection for the whole family (except Voldeb*tch). Good times.

Your dad begged her to make peas.



My grandmother, age 85, has never driven. Never had a drivers license in her entire life. My grandfather passed away 2 years ago and she pretty much expects and demands family drive her wherever she needs to go, refuses to take a taxi or public transit. She is demanding in a boat load of other ways. My mom was hosting the family Christmas Eve dinner and the house looked great, decorated, inviting, traditional food on the table. Drinks flowing, Michael Buble in the background, the whole deal. We sit down to eat and as soon as everybody gets settled my Grandma announced she wants to be taken home. Right then. My uncle, who brought her, asked to wait for the end of the meal. Grandma then said "no. I want to go home now, where there is actually food a human can eat on the table." My mother wore a shocked expression and it was quiet, when my mother furiously found a phone book and ceremoniously dropped it into my Grandmothers lap and said "feel free to call a taxi or make reservations at a restaurant" my mom continued to eat as though nothing had happened. Grandma sat petrified for a few minutes, then stole my uncles keys from his jacket pocket and attempted to teach herself to drive. Which ended with my Grandma backing my uncles car into my other uncles car, incurring thousands of dollars worth of damage. My Grandma never paid them for the damage and who is driving her to dinner this year remains to be seen.

What about food a human can eat on the floor?



My former-copy-editor id is off its leash today. Sorry.

Hold on--I've got to put the goats back on. It's not a long-lasting high.

My college boyfriend and I were on the rocks... after a few years of dating, things were starting to fall apart, as early loves do. There was nothing extraordinarily terrible going on, but it was definitely rocky--we just weren't meant for each other. When Christmas rolled around, I wasn't invited to boyfriend's family Christmas as I had been in prior years, and so I spent Christmas Eve wallowing in my sadness, as dramatic 20 year-olds tend to do, rather than attending a party with my family. The next night, at Christmas dinner at my family's house, my dad--typically a VERY mild-mannered rocket scientist (literally)--decided to defend my honor at the dinner table over the roast beef. He started attacking my boyfriend for not including me in his family Christmas when I included him in mine, asking about boyfriend's intentions with regards to marriage, and accused him of being a horrible person for leaving me alone on Christmas Eve. Silence all around the table. I attempted to defend his honor, but Dad wouldn't back down. It was awful. I wish I could remember more specifics, but I've blacked out a lot of the details. We eventually got up and left the house for a while until the rest of the crew left to go to the movies (an old tradition from the early divorce years that still sticks around). Boyfriend and I bonded over how awful my dad was, while I secretly was happy that he got called out (I was 20 and clueless...), and Dad's attack backfired and actually probably extended our crappy relationship for several more months. Thankfully, I married a wonderful man who has never given Dad a reason to interrupt any holiday meals for a repeat performance, and I hope that holds.

I have no idea who the divorce belongs to, but a ballistic rocket scientist makes it all okay.

We are atheist, but my kids went to their first few years of school in Europe where there was christian religious education in the school, so my kids learned the manger story and did all the manger themed plays and art for Christmas. A few years back, my adult step-daughter was visiting for Christmas. One evening we were drinking wine while sorting through decorations (admittedly a bit tipsy), and we came across my kids (her half-siblings) old christmas artwork. One was the classic kid drawing of a baby Jesus in the manger that shows just the profile of his face sticking out of the manger, except my daughter wanted her picture to be a bit more dramatic so she tried to add a hand reaching up to Mary. Let's just say that the placement of the hand was suggestive of something else. My step-daughter and I looked at this picture, both started giggling, and then she simply said "boner Jesus". We erupted into laughter, at which point my daughter who was still too young for this type of joke came into the room and thought we were laughing about her art skills.

"too irreverent" = you are new here.

My mother gave "The Clapper" to her sister-in-law's father... who, as a result of a stroke 2 years earlier, had no use of his left hand (and, therefore, could not clap!).

Sweet bad word, I can't breathe

Two Christmases ago, my future grandma-in-law sent this e-mail out to everyone who had stayed at her house for the holidays (men and women): "Hi all of you, Just wandering who has lost and left at our house a blue panty found in our bedroom after you all left. Nobody else came to our house for Christmas. It was found near the curtain after you all went home I was told. I found it afterward under the sewing machine. It is a cute panty with a bow in front and was used.I am saving it until I know who it is so I can send it to the right address. Love, Mom" I do not think anyone claimed it, or if it's still in her possession awaiting it's owner, but this e-mail is forever starred in my inbox and I re-visit it every year.

Bless you.

At Thanksgiving this year, sister in law and I were cooking in the kitchen and I said something like, "I'm irritated with [husband] -- he'll never tell me what he wants for Xmas and he's impossible to buy for." And SIL goes, "I know what you mean. [Her husband] and I haven't had sex in six years and when he tries to kiss me I start to cry."

[User tip: Read the story first, then the headline.]

Pairs well with "Holy Night (Goat Edition)"

Just sharing for a quick hoot interlude. We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time at our apartment this year. My mother asked me three time on Thanksgiving morning if I had napkins that we could use for dinner. I replied in the affirmative twice and, after the third ask, actually walked away from prepping the turkey to pull out the actual cloth napkins to show them to her. Fast forward an hour, Mom has hijacked Dad into walking to the nearby grocery store under the pretense she is purchasing a poinsettia housewarming gift for a friend she will visit in two days. They return with two grocery bags (and no poinsettia). Guess what's in the bags? On the plus side, I only had to kick them out of the (very small apartment sized) kitchen once. Once. Love the hoot! Happy horrors, and may we all soldier on.

I was 6 months married to a kind, caring man who doesn't think or care much about gift-giving. We had already celebrated with his family: earlier we had exchanged a ceramic snowman wedding gift for a pair of earrings I said he could give me for Christmas. We were having 2nd Christmas with my side of the family. And under the tree was a 2nd gift from him to me. Now, I had gotten him a small second present as well, because I love gift-giving. But I hadn't expected one from him. I was so incredibly touched at his thoughtfulness that I couldn't have cared what it was. was the exact same earrings, rewrapped. My mother had thought it would be funny. I started crying. Which made my mom cry. And then the both of us crying made my sister cry too. And my poor husband was just standing there at a loss. (Yes, we laugh about it now. And no, my husband hasn't rewrapped another gift since.)

My husband and I have lived 500 miles from our families for more than 30 years, and for the first six years, we always made the trip to spend Christmas with them. Although there are a million little stories, our last Christmas Eve was topped off by my mother-in-law angrily calling her 12-year-old grandson a cheater as we all played a game. The next year, our second child was born and we deemed him "too young to travel," so we made and sent a fun/funny videotape for them to play at the gathering. It turns out that there was a big snowstorm in Hometown that caused one out-of-town sibling and family to be late to the Christmas Eve celebration, so my sister-in-law decided that "We always have to do everything on Brother's schedule; who cares if they're stuck in a snowdrift, we're eating and opening presents without them!" When they arrived after a harrowing trip in the snow, Brother called us and said, "Next year, we're just sending a video." 

I spent most Christmases growing up with my mom's side of the family. This included my Great Aunt and various cousins. Everyone got presents for everyone. My Great Grandmother once even wrapped stuff from her pantry. I got a tin of spiced ham ( I do love ham though). One of the best things wasn't any one incident but that each year there were seemingly endless gifts coming from some magical closet that most likely led to Narnia. My family had a Christmas tactic called "shop sales all year long, survey the stuff later, and attach a name to it right before Christmas". Needless to say we all ended up with a lot of junk we didn't want or need. Along with continued "I LOVE IT! I just LOVE IT!" exclamations from the cousins. The ride home was always a treat because you had to be a tetris champ to fit all of the original occupants plus the new stuff. To their credit, my family did start placing a 'Donations' box in the middle of the living room during present opening, just in case you weren't that interested in that basket of soap shaped like tulips or the off brand body lotion with all of the glitter. I kept my ham though.

Not sure this is funny enough for the Hoot, but it's upsetting anyway, and a bit time-sensitive: I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, for the first time since getting married. "I," not "we," because my husband lives in the home but did next to nothing to help me prepare--but that's another story, and something we're still working through together. I got overwhelmed toward the end and decided to have it partially (but still very expensively) catered. My brother originally declined my invitation but decided at the last minute to join, along with his girlfriend and a friend of hers. I also invited the parents of my daughter's preschool friends, who had decided not to travel because a brand-new baby. So there were lots of moving parts and a number of unexpected, extra people crammed into my not-huge house, along with my in-laws, who stayed overnight afterward. Generally, everything went fine, though for me it was hectic and sweaty and not relaxing for even a second. But the next morning, I received a text from my SIL (it was supposed to go only to my MIL, but she accidentally texted everyone in the family group, since we had all been texting about directions the day before). In just a couple of lines, she basically tore me, my cooking, my hosting, and all the extra invitees to shreds. Also, the language she used in her criticism made it clear to me that she and her mother have an established shorthand for putting me down. My husband also received the text, and was mortified (tried to clean it up by mass-texting a response pretending he thought they were talking about something else). SIL tried to call me, several times (I couldn't bring myself to answer the phone), and finally texted me an extremely awkward, barely helpful apology. The background is dense, but I’ll keep my question brief. Am I still hosting Christmas this year? That was the agreement we made (we have the most centrally located home now, and our kids are too little to be much good for long travel), but it feels senseless to take on a project I apparently failed less than a month ago. However, I have a competitive side that really wants to shove the perfect Christmas in my in-laws’ faces.

It's the immaculate text! Now that it's out there for all to see, its subject can do whatever its subject  wants.

Up to and including to tell them all where to shove their Christmas. 

Think on it, choose, don't look back.

When I was 18 I mistakenly made the pinata using plaster of paris instead of paper mache. While everyone got to hit the pinata several times before it broke, all the wrapped candy had plaster dust in it and my aunt's basement had plaster dust everywhere. Ever since, I get told not to bring the pinata.

Tell me you bring one anyway.

I love pecan pie. I make a tremendous pecan pie which is much requested at family holidays. One year my college-age nephew eyeballed my delicious pie and decided to see if he had outgrown his life-threatening allergy to tree nuts. He hadn't. He later told me that it was a wonderful experience right up until his throat closed up. The good news is that no ambulances were called and he ended up fine. But now everybody calls it "Death Pie". As in, "For Thanksgiving your assignment is 200 sausage rolls, chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies and a death pie."

"... Anaphylaxis in a pear tree."

Anyone bored enough at work to chip in the other 11 days?


My husband is in law enforcement and for the first 12 years or so he always had to work at some point on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. His parents were also divorced so we had 2 sides of the his family to visit in addition to mine (we all lived relatively close). Somehow the timing of each visit was doable but (my family Christmas Eve, our family Christmas morning, his dad's side at 12pm and his mom's side at 5pm. I was a trooper and kept to the schedule even when husband had to work during his family's side. One year, when my kids were 5 and 11 months, after a very long day, I sank into the couch at my husband's grandmother's house with my infant son finally asleep in my arms, when Uncle Howard walked over to me, leaned down and whispered "get your a$$ into the kitchen and help with those dishes", then proceeded to walk over and plop down into the bark-o-lounger. Gotta love Uncle Howard...

No, I gotta love bark-o-lounger. Seating for complete dogs.

In early for the Hoot. This year I gave birth right before Thanksgiving. Having been very pregnant, and afflicted with nausea, heartburn and reduced stomach capacity, I had been looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner with great anticipation. I would finally be able to eat my fill of a fantastic meal. The turkey, potatoes, cranberries, gravy. And the stuffing. Oh the stuffing. Since I had a very new baby, and my nieces had the sniffles, it was decided that I would stay home while everyone gathered for the Thanksgiving luncheon (being served early this year to accommodate travelers in the family), and then I would come over to my mother's house around dinner time, and eat all the leftovers I wanted. I got to my mom's house, new baby and postpartum appetite in tow, and my mom pulled out the leftovers and started making me a plate. But where was the stuffing? 'Oh, it all got eaten.' In that moment, the baby blues hit with overwhelming intensity. I lay my head down on the kitchen counter and sobbed. My younger brother, single and in college, looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears. I will probably never live it down.

If you do, your family will have seriously dropped the ball.

Scene: Christmas at my aunts house with 80 multigenerational family members present, ages ranging from 6 months to 93. To defray the expense of hosting this many people, guests often bring a folding table and chairs that seat 4-6, which is easier to arrange around my aunts house then one huge table. As large families are wont to do, my uncle had some beef with my aunt who was hosting. Nobody knows the original conflict, but they got in some heated argument in the kitchen, just as everybody was sitting down to eat. We all heard my aunt say "maybe I'm tired of doing this &@#%*@$ party every year and you should just be happy you don't have to do anything." And my uncle said "I'm sick of the martyr routine, I'm leaving!" Uncle then went and picked up the casserole he brought, the dessert he brought, and approached the table he brought. Where my 93 year old Grandmother was eating. He demanded he take the table with him, over the protests of his wife, kids, and everybody sitting at the table. Except my Grandmother, who calmly picked up her plate like nothing was happening, and sat at the kids table. She started coloring with them while eating and talking about their Christmas as if my Uncle hadn't just made a huge scene in the middle of dinner. Goal in life: be my grandmother.

My family came to me and said that because I "had" my children all year long that they should "get" them for the holidays. I laughed until I realized that they weren't kidding.

When I was married to my now ex-husband, we lived several states away from his family--parents, one brother and three sisters. One year at Christmas, one of the sisters called and asked if we wanted to go in on a gift for the parents, specifically a new garage door opener. We happily said yes, so much easier than buying and shipping something. After Christmas we got the call telling us how much we owed, and honestly I don't even remember how much it was, it was the process that floored me. Turns out sister and her husband did indeed buy a new garage door opener, but they kept it for themselves. The presented their old one to the parents as the Christmas gift. How did they decide how much we should contribute? Well, they estimated the value of their old opener, then added in the value of sister's husband's time (at an hourly rate) when he went over to install the (not) new garage door opener in the parents' garage. Still shaking my head... A few years later the youngest sister was getting married and we were invited to go in on a vacuum cleaner as her wedding gift, and you know I was biting my tongue to prevent myself from saying she could have mine...

You stopped yourself? WHY?


This could be why no one talks to me.


One year when my parents asked my adult sister, brother and I to pose with them in front of the house for a Christmas card photo, my mother invited my brother-in-law to join us. "Come on, you're part of the family now!" she said. He and my sister had been married nine years. Bonus anecdote: Just received the shortest "Christmas letter" ever. Bullet points on a sticker on the back of the photo card.

There will be a test.

When I was small, we had Thanksgiving dinner at my Grandmother's. Her dining room table was large enough to host her, my grandfather, their three children, and those children's spouses. Grandchildren went to the kitchen table (called the "kiddie" table, even though almost everyone there was old enough to drink), and great grandchildren went to the sub-kiddie table in the living room. When my grandfather died, there was no open discussion about what would happen to his seat. A sensible family might have left it empty in remembrance, or reorganized the tables a bit. But I do not belong to a sensible family. The eldest grandchild moved up to the main table. He was oblivious to the beams of hate being drilled into the back of his head by the 'not-so-kiddie' table, where everyone talked about how THEY deserved that seat more. Finally, the tension got too high, and my cousin handed me a dinner roll. "I bet you can't hit L's bald spot from here." I let it loose, and even though I can't hit the broad side of a barn, I beaned him. He turned, looked at me, decided it COULDN'T have been me, and threw his roll at his brother-in-law. He missed, hitting his sister instead, who threw her roll, missing him and hitting her mother. Suddenly, rolls were flying everywhere. We didn't even care who we hit, as long as it was at the OTHER table. My grandmother started hitting people with a ladle to get them to stop, but to little effect.  

When my son and nephews were much younger, someone in the family (thanks Grandma) thought it would be nice to buy them matching presents. So on Christmas morning there were 5 matching fireman helmets, with sirens, red flashing lights, and other assorted noises (loud). My father, being the joker he was, took about two hours of it then invited all the parents except Grandma out to his workshop for a drink, or three for the next two hours. The next year, Grandma had an evil grin on her face as each of the boys opened their gift, bongo drums as she was leaving to visit her best friend for a drink.

Okay, initially I thought the goat carols were stupid. Then I actually listened to "White Christmas," and my stomach hurts from laughing. Whenever one of them shrieks like a woman, I laugh so hard I cry. Thank you, goat whisperer, wherever you are.

Twelve rolls of Rolaids

Eleven board game grudges

Ten pairs of socks

Nine teary tantrums

Eight cold side dishes

Seven extra pies

Six folding chairs


Four TV trays

Three farting uncles

Two puking dogs

Anaphylaxis in a pear tree.

[drops mic]

I can't add to that, so the goats and I are going to go rest our voices.

Goodbye and THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, not just for hitting epic low points in your lives, but for having the wherewithal to take good notes while you were there. You are my heroes.


And a special thanks to Jess for the serious work that goes into this. 

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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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