Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2016 (December 16)

Dec 16, 2016

The Holiday Hootenanny chat is one of the Washington Post's most beloved annual traditions -- the holiday-themed edition of Carolyn Hax Live. It started way back in 2000, and has been going ever since.

Carolyn was online Friday, December 16 at noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column, what ruined your holidays last year and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life.

Check out some of our favorite stories from years past:

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 there.

I am meeting with one part of my family, who I usually only see once a year, this weekend for an early Christmas celebration. 5 days before we are to be together my cousin emails everyone to say she will only be giving a present to her mom and our grandparents. She is skipping our aunt, my mom and me. That is the entire party. We gave each other small inexpensive gifts last year. I have zero instinct for whether they are tight on money, time, or it is a more selfish reason. I really like this cousin and would be very happy with a card with a nice note. It could even be a print-off-your-computer card. It also hurts my feelings because I put a lot of thought into her gift and it is already wrapped. Do I not give it to her or ignore the email and give it to her because IT IS ALREADY WRAPPED!? It can't really go to anyone else, but I don't want to create awkward situation or come off as passive aggressive. It is a gift I know will make her laugh which was the entire purpose of the gift. Now it feels weird.

People usually have their own reasons. Generally--very generally--the reasons for suspending a gift-giving tradition are negative for the giver, such as being broke or tired or overextended to the point they're giving up on getting everything done.

Reply to her email that you already got her a gift and you want her to have it anyway, no reciprocation expected, you're fine with her doing what she needed to do about gifts. Say that the important thing is that you'll get to be together again in just a few days.

If she pushes back on the gift, then say okay and just return it or save it for next year or keep it for yourself.

My boyfriend is divorced and the relationship with the ex is contentious and bumpy. I struggle when I hear the things he has to go through, I can't imagine how he feels. I am the type to get super emotional and over-involved when I hear about what I see are injustices/unfair/inappropriate behavior. Is it wrong to ask him to keep that part of his life separate? Or to tell me key things and not the mean text exchanges and issues that come up everyday? They have a child together, so I recognize if I stay with him, this will be part of my life for the next 8-10 years. He is great, but this part of his life, his past- I struggle with watching him go through it. How do I handle hearing about his issues with her everyday in a supportive way?

This is at least a two-part problem, because between you there has to be a balance. If this is all he's talking about, then that's on him. If instead he's sharing this in proportion with other important things in his life, then your not being able to deal with it is on you.

So first you need to consider whether he's under-, over- or just-right sharing. Maybe before that you even need to decide what you believe is the right amount of sharing to begin with. You can talk about this, too; if he tends to convey every little detail of what transpires between him and his ex, you can certainly say that it feels to you that too much of your present together is about his past.

If instead you believe he's sharing a reasonable amount, then you need to work on your role. Why should it be his problem (i.e., he has to be extra careful about what he says, not ask for support, etc.) that you have unhealthy boundaries? Because that's what it would be if you get so "super-emotional" about other people's struggles that you can't even hear about them. 

Granted, we all have things we just don't want to know about, like the news story that we can't get out of our minds for days and wish we'd never seen. But this is everyday life you're navigating here, not an isolated vulnerability, so finding a way to respond proportionately to the routine ups and downs sounds like a valid effort for you to pursue. Counseling is the logical next step, but you also might get a lot out of "Life Skills for Adult Children" by Janet Woititz, which is a quick read on Boundaries 101.


Dear Carolyn, I have a legitimate question but I know it might turn into a Hoot story for 2017. My 11 year old daughter is going through a phase right now of very extreme, black and white thinking. Right is right and wrong is wrong. This is challenging sometimes, and one place where it comes up is social niceities. As always, we are going to my in-law's for Christmas Eve dinner. For reasons that are unclear to us, my MIL loves to host this evening but it's pretty obvious she buys the entire meal pre-packaged from a grocery store chain, puts it in her own dishes to reheat, and passes it off as hers. She has been doing this to various degrees for about the past 10 years or so, and sometimes my sister-in-law and I sort of snicker about it privately but all of the adults have more or less agreed to just pretend we don't know she didn't cook. Earlier this week my sister-in-law came over and we were chatting and she brought this up in a joking way and she, my husband, and I had a laugh about it. Well, my daughter was listening to all of this and confrontred us about Grandma's cooking. We tried to explain to her that Grandma wants us to think that she cooks this meal and it's a kindness not to say "I saw this exact meal advertised for weeks in the grocery store and it's the exact same thing as last year, and you didn't take the garbage out so I saw the take out containers." My daughter replied with "So when you told Grandma her potatoes tasted good it was a LIE?" She is right, really. We all sort of lie on Christmas Eve, and so does Grandma. My daughter told us that under no uncertain terms will she pretend that Grandma cooked the meal. She is also rather frosty towards us, with our willing participation in this, her word, charade. She even said "what else has Grandma been lying about?" My husband thinks we should just let this play out, and that our daughter will not be able to look her grandmother in the eye and actually say this stuff on Christmas Eve. I am almost positive that our daughter will say this stuff, and maybe we should give his mother a heads up that the jig is up, for her sake. Any advice? Ho ho ho!

I can make a case for both approaches--to let it play out and to tip off grandma beforehand--mostly because the consequences just aren't that dire. Arguably, in fact, the most important thing here is the socialization of your daughter.

As kids do so mind-blowingly well, your daughter is forcing you to think through and capably defend beliefs you probably haven't examined for a long time, if ever. So do your thinking now, since you have to either adopt the 11-year-old's approach to honesty or to make a case for yours that withstands her scrutiny. "It's a kindness" is fine as far as it goes, but where are the lines between cruelty and kindness, and kindness and deceit?

How the dinner plays out will be a key part of that, and can include (depending on what you choose) having your MIL as a tipped-off ally or as a startled victim of your daughter's bluntness. That is, if your daughter even challenges the charade. Your husband might be right that your daughter backs down when faced with the real person her choices might wound. 




So, yeah, I'm giving you nothing. See you in 2017!

Hey Carolyn! I'm not sure if you are fielding non-holiday related questions today...How do you go about breaking up with a friend when it isn't a specific event (like the column from this morning) that is causing it. My friend of over 10 years has always been very difficult to get along with. She gets angry at seemingly insignificant things and then, instead of addressing things head on, becomes passive aggressively nasty until you basically guess what is upsetting her. In high school this used to cause me lots of anxiety, but not as an adult I'm pretty over it. What is the best way to approach this? I feel like she is owed a direct explanation, but all the things I think of in my head seem really mean ("You're a difficult person and I can't be your friend anymore"). Slowly freezing her out also seems unpleasant to be on the receiving end of. What do think is the most direct, but still compassionate way to handle a situation like this?

The direct, compassionate thing is not to address the capital-F Friendship, by either confronting or drifting or freezing or whatever, but instead to address the behavior that's driving you away--and to do so as it's happening. 

For example, you say she "gets angry at seemingly insignificant things and then, instead of addressing things head on, becomes passive aggressively nasty until you basically guess what is upsetting her." When that happens, don't guess, or in any way go along with her games. Just say to her, "That was a nasty thing to say. You're obviously angry. I don't understand why--would you please tell me, so I can at least respond?" 

Here's how this goes. Either she will tell you, and you can then respond and talk it out, and think, wow, I wasn't expecting that, and remain friends non-passive-aggressively ever after, OR she will do exactly what you expect and avoid addressing her anger head-on. 

At which point you can then say: "Okay then. When you're ready to talk to me normally again, you know where to find me." 

And you can end the interaction there and hang up or go home or whatever, and then it's up to her to call you. And you're done.

See? This is the option you make available to yourself once you decide you're ready to give up the friendship: the option to set the terms of the friendship that you're willing to remain in. Either she goes along with those terms by talking to you in a healthy way, or the friendship ends--by her actions, not yours. 

My mother-in-law has terminal cancer. She is undergoing her second round of chemo, and it's unlikely that she'll be around for much longer. I've never liked this woman. She's always been rude, if not downright nasty, both to me and my oldest daughter from a previous marriage. I've also been told by my husband that she was physically abusive to him and his two siblings while they were growing up. Lately, she seems to want to make amends. She's never actually apologized to me, but when I see her, she becomes tearful, hugs me, and tells me how much she loves me. I feel like the cruelest person on earth, but I can't bring myself to reciprocate. Am I supposed to just suck it up, return her hug, and tell her that I love her, too? Am I supposed to forget about the first Christmas I spent with the family, when my daughter was ten years old, and she unwrapped old, obviously used gifts from my mother-in-law, while the "real" grandchildren unwrapped piles of new, expensive gifts? Am I supposed to forget the years of my mother-in-law either totally ignoring me during family gatherings, or else referring to me as "she" as though I weren't present? I can't quite bring myself to hug her back and say, "I love you, too," because this would be a total lie. But I'm afraid that if I don't do something, I'll regret it. I've been compromising by patting her on the back and nodding when she does her hugging-and-saying-I-love-you routine. Should I do more?

"Should," I won't touch. The real question is, do you *want* to?

You can take this on, if you're up to it. When "she becomes tearful, hugs me, and tells me how much she loves me," and if it happens when it's just the two of you at a calm moment, then you can say: "I appreciate this, I do. I'm so sorry you're ill and glad I can bring you some comfort. But I'm having a hard time understanding what changed--for years you ignored me, wouldn't even say my name. What changed?"

It's a tough call because some people would be horrified by the idea of being this raw to someone nearing her end, and others would be horrified at the idea of sending her off this earth with an insincere pat on the back instead of at least trying to get to a deeper truth. 

For what it's worth, my experience with the dying is that it's a gift to let them speak their truth. Anecdote, not evidence.

As the person who was at the wrong end of her sharp elbows for all that time, you get to choose either one with a clear conscience. Your husband might be a good source of clarity here too.

I think the biggest risks of regret are not thinking it through, and not taking your preferred path because you're afraid to.

My husband doesn't enjoy holidays. Everything about holidays is reluctant and grudging. He will dutifully eat any holiday meal that I plan, shop for, prepare, and clean up after, but his interest goes no farther. I decorate, or it doesn't get done. He doesn't seem to care one way or the other. I've asked him to do things with me, but he has such a long list of things that come first that nothing happens. Gifts are likely to be random and perfunctory, like a calendar he picked up in the grocery store. He hates wrapping, and does a minimal, sloppy job of it. We are not short of money, and he's not ungenerous about anything else. Every year, I feel like I'm trudging uphill with him on my back. I finally suggested that we just give it a miss, but he was terribly upset. If I didn't make all this empty effort, apparently he'd feel guilty. I'm not sure what to do at this point. I'm worn out. Holidays are no fun anymore, but I seem to be trapped in a producer role for an audience that doesn't care but won't leave the theater either. Suggestions?

Maybe, but first I want to say that this is genius: "I seem to be trapped in a producer role for an audience that doesn't care but won't leave the theater either. "

Okay. What if you bring your show to someone who will appreciate it? Senior center, homeless shelter, battered women's shelter, community center or elementary in an economically depressed area, VA hospital. Imagine seeing the faces of people who want what you have to give. That's what it's about.

I'm sorry your husband won't play along or make up his mind to let you off the hook; it's okay for you to make up his mind for him, though.

I'm single and in my late 20s. My dad passed away over a year ago, and lately, I've been having panic attacks at the thought of my mom passing away soon too. Her health has somewhat declined since becoming a widow, but she's not ill or anything. I was sure that I wasn't going to get through the grief of losing my dad without going insane, but I'm here and hanging on - I just always thought I'd be married with kids before losing either one of them and now I'm so anxious over the possibility of losing both before I even hit 30 that I've been acting flaky about spending more time with my mom because on some level, I don't want to establish a new routine with her in my life only to lose her too and have another gaping hole in my day to day life that I can't fill. Do you have any wisdom - I feel like I can't really think straight right now.

Why not run this by a good therapist? This isn't just grief for your dad, or even pre-grief for your mom, though both are obviously at play here. I'd say it's significantly, even mostly, about your unhappiness/discomfort/anxiety with where you are right now in your life. "I just always thought I'd be married with kids before ..."--or even more to the point, "I just always thought"--is a tough force to have weighing on you. Consider an exploration and unburdening. A gift to yourself. 

Okay, so.

Goodbye Christie, and Bachmann!

And Walker and Paul!

That's last year's bunch!

Farewell to them all.

And by this I mean, I've allowed Pops to retire "The Night Before Christmas." Fifteen years for this forum and nearly 50 for now middle-age Hax kids, and I think he's earned a reprieve from the torture of imagining fresh stale jokes. Plus his grands are all over 12 and over and the great-grand still too young, so it was really for us that he kept the tradition going. The verse-case scenario.

BUT. The Hoot lives on. I'll post the soundtrack link next, and I think someone kindly submitted the link to the goats, which I'll be playing on Spotify. I'll send that out, too, so we can blow up our kitchens in the proper holiday spirit. 



Good morning, we 'nuts have a room at Dubtrackfm where we play every week on Fridays for the chats. We would love for you to send our link for holiday tunes during the hoot.

Hey all -- Chat producer here. Feel free to join the room of readers above for some Holiday Hoot music.

I'd like to thank the chatter from last year who mentioned All I Want For Christmas is a Goat. I downloaded it from Amazon, burned it onto a CD and gave it to my generally emotionless brother. We laughed till we cried; I thought he was going to have an asthma attack. Our parents thought it was completely ridiculous, but it's the best our relationship has ever been.

Okay, not finding a link but here's the title. I'm shaking two verses into "Silent Night," so help me.

To start, important breaking news on the Stuffing Incident of 2015:

I wrote last year and told the tale of how on Thanksgiving, right after having a baby, no stuffing was saved for me and I had a meltdown of epic proportions. That was not the end of my tale. My mother, feeling guilty, promised me a turkey dinner at Christmas to make it up for me. She forgot to make stuffing. Then she offered to make up the stuffing and bring a pan to my house with turkey leftovers for a Sunday dinner. She burned the stuffing. I finally took matters into my own hands. I was going to make a chicken dinner with stuffing and all the fixings. I planned it for a weekend in January, after all the holiday hubbub died down. I sent my husband out for a loaf of bread suitable for stuffing making. He brought back rye bread. It probably wouldn't have been too bad, if it hadn't had caraway seed all over and through it. Which we discovered while eating it. At this point I washed my hands of everything stuffing related and waited until this Thanksgiving, when we went to my in-laws. My MIL makes a huge pan of stuffing every year. She did not disappoint this year. But she did forget to turn on the oven for the turkey.

This is a holiday hootenanny unfolding this year. My best friend and her husband are the quintessential "millionaires next door". They live a fairly frugal lifestyle. No real extravagances but lots and lots of savings. Now the two oldest are in college. My friend says the girls neither want nor need anything at all for Christmas. She and her husband recently purchased a new car for their middle child to drive all through college then to be her college graduation gift as well. The oldest got a car last year. Her husband has a hobby photography business. He wanted a new camera that cost several thousand dollars so he bought that with his business account. My friend has decided to wrap the camera and put it under the tree. And to wrap the car keys and put them under the tree. And for the other two girls she thinks they neither need nor want anything and since she's raised them to understand the cost of things, she's wrapped up essentials like shampoo, conditioner, tampons and sanitary pads, and she's giving them that for Christmas. She's certain they'll appreciate it. She's not trying to be funny or ironic or to teach them a lesson. She sees that as perfectly logical. I, on the other hand, have told her she'll be infamous for this and will never live it down. "My dad got a fancy camera for Christmas, my sister got a car, and my other sister and I got tampons and sanitary pads for Christmas." She said she never thought of it that way but it's all wrapped now and under the tree. She's going to think about it.

If you ruined this by speaking up, we will officially not be on speaking terms. Whoever you are.

In the early 80's I recognized that I needed some help so I went to therapy. It really helped me feel better. When I was leaving the family after Christmas that year I mentioned that I had been seeing a therapist and that it helped. My older sister replied, "Yes. I noticed that you didn't ruin Christmas like you usually do."

There's still time to ruin the chat.

Right before Thanksgiving a few years ago, my husband suggested we invite Friend X and her daughter to join us. We had a lot of people coming, but there is always room for friends on Thanksgiving, right? So I did all the cooking, baking, cleaning, hostessy stuff. Turns out I was doing this all for his mistress. But it gets even better! He arranged for my kids and I to take care of her house and pets while she was away on an extended trip shortly afterwards. He is now, of course, the Former Mr. Husband.

A few years ago, I was bringing my sweet, newish boyfriend to Christmas Day at a relative's house. He'd met my parents before, but not the extended family. We stopped during our drive to get some delicious hot chocolate. Tasted great to me, but maybe wasn't so great to him. About 10 minutes before we arrived at the house, he said he wasn't feeling well. He reiterated this as we were pulling into the driveway, at which point I asked if he wanted to go to my parents' house nearby to lie down. He declined, saying he'd be fine. Well, we go into the house and begin making introductions, when suddenly he turns green and dives for the door to the bathroom in the front hall. The door is locked. With a desperate look in his eyes, he scans all around, but I had no idea where another bathroom was, and of course neither did he. As several relatives surround us, he sprints back outside, stops short on the edge of their lawn, and barfs his guts out. In front of those same relatives, who'd followed us outside. This sweet guy bravely insisted on staying and meeting everyone. (At dinner, he started feeling sick again, and at that point I did take him to my parents' house... with car headlights that had inexplicably both burned out. And then we set off their burglar alarm.) A great Christmas all around. We're now married. Last night I said we don't speak much about that incident. He said I actually bring it up all the time. Oh.

At first I thought this was just going to be another run of the mill sweet-newish-boyfriend-meets-the-extended-family-for-the-first-time-on-Christmas-Day-by-vomiting-hot-chocolate-in-the-yard stories, but, that kicker. Thank you.

Not really a horror, but a number of years back our new best friends in a new town (same age, kids same age, liked the same beer, etc.) came over for Thanksgiving dinner. He passed out on the couch in front of the game. She sat on the deck and sipped wine. The kids destroyed the house with abandon. Everything was normal. The next Wednesday, we found out that they split immediately after leaving our house. So that was weird. And now every year we warn any Thanksgiving guests we might have about our Turkey Day history. Seems only fair.

Big of you.

My 26 year old sister brought her 68 year old boyfriend to Thanksgiving...and he's coming to Christmas. Enough said.

Via chimney?

If you have addressed this issue in the last year, please send me a copy of the column. Thank you.

Oh honey. Have some eggnog, this could take a while.

So, there was the Christmas one of my elderly godmothers asked for a vial of mace/tear gas/whatever for self-defense, and someone in my family was dumb enough to buy it for her. She was messing around with it after dinner and set it off. A blue cloud spread out through the living room! People were coughing and throwing open windows (in Philly, where it was the traditional Christmas 33-degrees and raining), and general chaos ensued. The capper to the whole mess was an odd gasping sound once the main noise died down - it was my poor cat, under the dining room table, having an asthma attack. Norman Rockwell-ish we weren't.

Our family consists of me, my husband, our son (then 5) and our twin girls (then 3). Last year we decided to take our first family vacation to visit my much beloved friend, his husband and their son in DC for about 10 days at Thanksgiving. I should have known it wouldn't go well when I had to schedule a colonoscopy for the day after our return flight. It started off reasonably well. The kids did well on the flight. Our friends' 1 year old was recovering from an illness the day we arrived but our friends' home has a basement apartment so there was plenty of room for rambunctiousness and for naps without bothering the little one. We toured museums and went to parks every day, and made a few trips to local stores to prepare for Thanksgiving. Then, the day before Thanksgiving, I wasn't feeling well. I started to be nauseated. The vomiting set in. Then my daughters. My son. My husband. My friend. His son. By Thanksgiving day, seven of the 8 of us were vomiting. Those of us feeling well enough by the end of the day had a smidgen of the large meal made by the one unaffected adult for the few friends brave enough to enter the house of sickness. Within a couple days we were all healthy again, in time for our flight back. Whereupon we found our car battery dead. And then I got to start colonoscopy prep. So this year, when asked, How was your holiday? Nobody vomited. A resounding success.

Depends on what your definition of "success" is. 

More than several Christmases ago now, my brother and sister-in-law (SIL) went out with friends on Christmas Eve eve. Brother was quite successful in reliving college days and had a few too many. They came home after everyone else was asleep in my parents' house. In the middle of the night, my husband sleepily realized that, although I was sleeping in front of him, someone ELSE was spooning him from behind. Husband woke quickly then and discovers Brother. Husband tries to forcibly elbow (my) Brother out of bed, waking me for help, as Brother wasn't moving. Brother finally gets out of the bed in a huff, grunting angrily, and fights to take Husband's pillow with him. Husband wins the fight over the pillow; Brother stomps off saying "That's so Indian!!" (?!?!?) We find out from SIL the next morning that Brother came back to bed hours later, having spent the rest of the night on the couch. He thought that she was mad at him for some reason and had kicked him out of bed when he came back from the bathroom. When we told him what happened the next day, Brother thought for sure we were making it all up... but remembered enough of the pillow fight to realize it was true. We definitely don't let him forget it.

I think he was trying to say, "That's so Raven."

We were spending Christmas week at the in-laws. MIL had a candle burning on the kitchen table, but was off doing other things. FIL, husband, and I are sitting in the living room engrossed in books or video games or something. SIL1 walks into the kitchen and yells out "Oh [expletive]! The table's on fire!" Someone had moved all the laundry from the dryer onto, you guessed it, the burning candle. After the fire was extinguished, we're all trying to figure out who did it. The culprit was quickly determined to be my FIL, who gave himself away because he wasn't yelling at everyone else about being so careless. At this point, SIL2 pipes up with "Why does this always happen to MY clothes!?!"

About 20 years ago, my mother went straight into "New Age" stuff - past lives, gemstones have powers - and took a trip to Arkansas to dig for minerals. That Christmas, my brother and I received a big parcel with gifts wrapped. We got... rocks. Random pieces arranged in a little arty knick-knack box. Next package: big stone wrapped in pretty cloth. We started laughing and quoting Charlie Brown at Halloween: "All I got was a rock." Package after package.

Four years ago, I was in a serious and long-term relationship with a religious ex-boyfriend. My family is not religious at all but my mother wanted to make an effort for him to feel included at Christmas and planned a Christmas Eve trip to Bethlehem, PA for church (completely wrong denomination but its the thought that counts, right?) and festive light viewing. My mother is also masterful at getting worked up into a verbally magnificent tizzy whenever things don't go perfectly so there was really no way this wouldn't go wrong. My dad was pulling the car out into the driveway when my mom decided to rush frantically to the back seat and move the dog car towels. My dad somehow missed this (decades of ignoring said tizzies) and drove the car onto her foot. My mom started screaming bloody murder while my dad tried to figure out what just happened and get the car off her foot. Up until this point, I had somehow managed to keep the curtain drawn on my not so spectacular family dynamics for my ex. In some desperate effort to maintain that illusion, I bundled my mom into a car, told my dad and ex to meet us at the hospital, and drove away before she started shattering windows. The real kicker came when the nurse asked if it was intentional and my dad quipped that "Well, if it was, I certainly would have aimed better." Needless to say, with my mother's subsequent temper tantrum breakdown while trying to get upstairs on crutches, the perfect family illusion was shattered and fears of my becoming my mother were mentioned at the breakup. Somehow my mother remains committed to this Bethlehem idea and suggested it for this year's family Christmas activity with my new boyfriend. We offered to host instead.

Where's the fun in that?

Good one, Dad, btw.

Our family draws names for gifting. A few years ago my sis had my husband and asked me for hints. He has a small hobby greenhouse and had asked for a Meyer lemon tree to grow. These are readily available within the agreed $30 to $50 gift range, easily ordered online and direct-shipped from a grower. A few days before Xmas a package arrived, clearly not a potted plant but something else. A surprise. That's OK! We put it under the tree. He opened it on Xmas. It was a lemon. Like from the grocery store. The note said, "Merry Xmas." I wanted to kill her. Still she lives.

I'd vote to acquit.

Yesterday I hosted a cocktail party for my spouse's coworkers, which was confirmed only the day before. Two people showed up early while I had stuff in the oven, which ended up burning while I let them in/got them settled/prevented my dog from jumping on them. While I (a natural introvert) was making awkward small talk and trying to salvage burnt appetizers (note that spouse wasn't home at this point) my phone keeps ringing and I notice it's my boss. Apparently I didn't get our company lawyers to sign some super important form that no one told me about, and I have to fix it right then. So I excuse myself to another room to check my email/call my boss and try to not get fired or start crying, while my house starts filling up with random people and my dog is trying to stage a prison break from her crate. Spouse gets home and apologizes profusely, I convince my boss not to fire me, and I collect myself to host this damn party even though I just want to put on pajamas and curl up on the couch. During the party I managed to set an oven mitt on fire, but my proudest accomplishment was not punching a snarky guest who joked (while eating a burnt cookie) that since this was a "work party" I wasn't welcome and need to leave.

My family had a difficult Christmas a few years ago. We were basically falling apart, and after our traditional opening gifts, my sister and father got into a huge fight, and my mom was angry that we didn't want to spend time together. I was feeling terrible, and didn't want a part in any of this. My friend from work posted a link to Ringo Starr's Christmas song to my Facebook wall ( for the curious). It contains such poignant lyrics like "O-U-T spells out". I was in my room, and I broke down and cried while listening to that song. I think I may be the first person in recorded history to cry over that song.
Things have gotten a lot better since then - my parents divorced, which took an incredible amount of pressure off of the whole proceedings. 

Tears of sadness, at least. Playing it now.

When I was 14, my family hosted the usual Christmas brunch for our extended family. There was a lovely fire going in the fireplace, and my mom's crystal-and-silver tree was gorgeous. The 16 of us ate, exchanged gifts, and decided to get some board games going. I excused myself to the restroom and in the 2 minutes it took me to return, everyone had apparently decided to leave! Aunts, uncles and cousins were hurriedly putting on their shoes and coats and rushing out the door and into the snow as I stood confused, watching. When I noticed my own sisters rushing past, I decided I'd better follow. Not until I joined the family outside did I realize that half of our roof was ablaze. Firetrucks were just pulling up. Naturally I rushed back inside to get the dogs (they were OK), but there were several horrifying minutes when nobody knew where my dad was. Inside the house was now smoke-filled but still arguably safe enough for a quick search--and he wasn't in there. A couple more panicked minutes went by until we heard a firefighter shouting, "SIR--YOU HAVE TO GET DOWN!" And there was my dad. Up on the roof, holding a single bucket of water and trying to put out the entire house fire with it. The next year for Christmas, we were fortunate to be able to host Christmas in the same house, which had required 5 months of repairs but was ultimately OK. TWO of my uncles each gifted my father with fire extinguishers, which still hold places of honor by the fireplace.

Just overheard one woman jokingly threaten her friend: "If you ever do that again, I'll seduce your father, get him to marry me, become your stepmother, and insist on ham instead of turkey at your Christmas dinner."

If you see her again, ask her if she'll please be my friend, too. 

Ringo, cheezus. 

Let this be a cautionary tale for all the cooks out there. I shared a recipe with my sister for a ham that I had made that had a glaze created by combining the heavy syrup from canned peaches, brown sugar, and rum. It made for a very tasty ham and a gravy that was out of this world. Imagine my surprise when she called me on Christmas and accused me of trying to kill her. She had the ham in cooking and had all the family there visiting and suddenly there was an explosion! The door of the oven blew open and the ham came partway out – nearly fell onto the floor. It really shook everyone up. After some discussion, I figured out what had happened. Turns out she used Bacardi 151 Rum! That is 75% alcohol! No wonder it blew! The good news is that no one got hurt and the even better news is that I will never let her forget the year of the exploding ham. :o)

I think we need the exploding tequila turkey and the exploding Bacardi ham to have an explode-off for Hax-chat projectile-entree bragging rights.

Tequila turkey is from the 2010 Hoot LINK, btw, which I know because I Googled "exploding turkey carolyn hax," which brought me joy.

When I was a kid growing up, we lived out in the country and had a fireplace like everyone else I knew. There was no trash pick-up, so things that seem weird now that I'm an adult were completely commonplace back then. Done reading the paper? Burn it. Have some bread or veggie scraps from making dinner? Chuck it in the yard for critters. It's basically recycling, right? One of the things I enjoyed about Christmas was gathering up all the wrapping paper afterward and burning it in the fireplace. One year, when I was about 11, my 8 year old sister got this horrid vest from a teacher with that weird ribbon applique that the 90's were all about. Apparently, in my gleeful zeal to burn paper and boxes, I chucked the vest in the fireplace. All that was left was little remnants of ribbon laying sadly on the ashes. No one has ever left me forget this. Ever. It's been 25 years and I hear about it every.single.Christmas. Even from my husband who didn't know me then! Apparently, calling me an arsonist is a "fun Christmas tradition". Riiiiight.


I live in Maryland and my sister lives in Oregon. We're both in about the same financial situation in life. Every year, we hop on Amazon and get each others' kids something for Christmas. It's very impersonal and I felt like it fed into the idea that Christmas is a present-grab instead of being about family bonding. So last year, I proposed that the kids all make something for their cousins for Christmas. It was very hokey, but I thought it was adorable. We made ornaments and cookies, and they made airplanes (they were cool!) and put together little bags of candy. Afterwards, I was talking with my nephew and niece over Skype. The little one said "Aunt Katie, where did all your money go?" I asked him what he meant and he said "Mom said you couldn't buy us real presents because you don't have any money!" .....Thanks, Sis!

"I have plenty, I just prefer to spend it on myself."

I would have sent you the Meyer lemon tree that my husband's mother gave us. We live in the upper midwest in an old house where heat flies out of the walls. She sent us a potted Meyer lemon tree that required eight hours of sunshine a day and a temperature of at least 68 degrees, neither of which are achievable in our house without 1. moving the tree around all day to follow the sun and 2. paying hundreds of dollars a month in electricity. She might as well have given us a box of puppies. I am so glad that darn tree is finally dead.


Each year I ask my husband's family to send us recipes, which I compile into binders and send out as our Christmas gift. We had his parents over for Christmas one year, and my ordinarily non-foodie husband volunteered to make the main course. I happily retreated to the living room with a glass of wine. Well, not five minutes later I was greeted with the unmistakable smell of scorched, melting plastic. He had the family cookbook out on the stove, switched on the wrong burner, and cooked the cookbook. 

Was his recipe for it in the following year's book?

When I was a lot younger and definitely more hot-headed, I was working at my first job out of college down in Atlanta. Every year, the company Christmas party had a "Daughters and Sons of the Confederacy" theme. Which I found somewhat offensive. But being a yankee, "I just didn't understand". Now the dress code was fairly dressy, but men & women could also dress in period appropriate clothing. I had already decided I was leaving to another job in January so I figured I may as well burn all my bridges on the way out. I spent a lot of time putting my period appropriate clothing together and on the night of the party, I showed up dressed as General William Tecumseh Sherman. I heard that they dropped the period appropriate clothing from the allowed dress code the next year.

Now barely breathing.

Carolyn, please warn your readers that the hoot soundtrack contains the absolutely worst christmas music ever. Click at your own peril.

Technically it's one song up from the worst Christmas music ever. Because, Ringo.

Someone's annual Christmas gift to everybody is a collection of her in-laws' family recipes?

Just go with it.

Or set it on fire.

Technically, they are "her potatoes." She bought them--they are hers. So complimenting them isn't an untruth (saying she cooked them is, but you aren't doing that).

Ooh. You're good. Attorney?

I'm new-ish married and pregnant, and decided to have all extended family on both sides come to us for Thanksgiving in our beautiful new house. I planned for too many people and made a monster sized turkey, but it was magazine-worthy. But all good--my husband's favorite thing in the world are having leftover turkey sandwiches for a week--a fact which he exclaimed loudly and often, so he was delighted to have 6 extra lbs of bird. Imagine his surprise when we go to make sandwiches on Friday, and there's only enough for about 3 sandwiches. After scouring the house, we concluded that the excess bird must've flown the coop in my mom's purse. She's known to be sensitive, so I don't tell her but of course, when my sister is arguing with her and losing (over my baby shower, natch), she decides to deflect the fight by saying "Sister is accusing you of stealing her leftover turkey!" This results in me picking the phone up at work to hear my mother screaming how "my husband" (she can't bring himself to use his name) has unjustly accused her of stealing turkey. Did she have it? Of course she did, but she maintains it was mere "turkey crumbs that were insufficient for sandwich making purposes."

If you have addressed the presidential election in the last year, please send me a copy of the column. Thank you.

[Seeing spots and making wheezy noises.]

Last Christmas after the celebration we tried to carry our mother from the front porch down to her wheelchair but dropped her on my brother in-law. We also dropped her on my sister's porch after celebrating Easter dinner. Dropping Mom has become a holiday tradition for us.

She's ok!

Okay so, last year spouse and I got married (yay!) MIL (whom has control issues) sent us a present a few months later (generous!). It was the clock we had picked on our registry to test if the registry stuff was working. And promptly left there at the bottom of the list. the clock showed up, accompanied with a phone call "Did you get the clock? oh it's so nice isn't it?" thanks was given, the clock was set on the dining room table and we wrestled with each other on who had to put it on their desk when company was around. It is not a hideous clock, but it's huge, and frankly not helpful because it sucks up double A batteries like they're pineapple-orange-banana juice. One such battery-sucked day, my husband looks at the clock, sees that it has stopped, and goes to change the batteries. The entire face of the clock drops out and shatters on the floor. As a reasonable human being, he recycles it and only thinks to mention it when I get home. His face drops when I remind him it was from his mother. Not from genuine sadness, mind you (again, she's not a good person) but because xmas was on it's way and we would be hosting her. Not a day later, she calls, "Oh I can't wait to see that clock I got you!" I kid you not. Not "Can't wait for xmas!" or "Can't wait to see you my son!" No. It's about the clock. We look at each other in a panic. It was three days before xmas and the local bed bath and beyond was already closed. I hunted for others in the area and started calling- they were sold out too! Who the heck wanted so many of this darn clock? why so close to xmas? why did we not take the thing off our registry when we should have? It was too late. she was coming, and we would have to sit through xmas while she kvetched about the clock not being there, why couldn't we have been more careful with her gift, didn't we appreciate her, and on and on and on. Either in a blind panic or a stroke of genius, we check an online retailer - they had ONE left! We ordered it and promptly devised a story: it was broken (truth), and we loved it so much (not so truth), that we sent it away to be repaired (definite lie). We even practiced who broke it (spouse), who thought they could fix it but only made it worse (me), and when we sent it out (the week before- gosh, they're just so slow!) All that storytelling went to waste - because it showed up the day before xmas eve and we put it on the table, dusted off the packing peanuts, and forgot to put in batteries. She loved it, we fawned over it, ate Chicken Marengo, and after she left, we stuck it in my craft room, never to lay eyes upon it again.

One New Year's Day, I was at home relaxing with my family when my mother called. She chatted for a few minutes - what did we do for New Year's Eve, did the kids like their presents, and so on. Then after this had gone on for a while, she indicated that the reason she was calling was because she was roasting two ducks for dinner, and the oven was on fire, and my dad opened the oven door to see what was going on which really got it going, and what did I think she should do? I very calmly told her to hang up on me and call 9-1-1. She said no, she doesn't want to bother the fire department. After I explained a little less calmly that her neighbours would not appreciate being homeless after she's burned down the whole row of townhouses, she agreed to call the fire department. About half an hour later I got another call. The firemen had arrived "and stomped through my kitchen with their big dirty boots", extricated the ducks flambé from the oven and put out the fire. But one of the ducks wasn't too badly burned, so did I think it would be OK if she finished it in the microwave? 

One Thanksgiving several years ago, my cousin favorite was being his usual funny/sarcastic/snarky self, so I picked up one of my home-baked cookies and winged it towards him. I expected it to sail over his head and land on the floor, where the dog would happily clean it up. But my aim was off. In spite of the fact that he was wearing glasses, the cookie caught him on the bridge of his nose, and it drew blood. It's something that they don't let me forget.

Do they also not let you bake anymore?

My brother-in-law decided we needed a pet. On Christmas Eve, he dropped off a Mynah bird! The instructions for care included no drafty spaces (our house was old and COLD), no potential gas fumes (we had a 60 yr old gas stove in the kitchen, the warmest room in the house of only four rooms), and no repetitive or high-pitched sounds the bird would mimic (our daughter was six months old). The mynah bird had to go. BIL grudgingly returned the bird, and replaced it with an iguana. A "No Live Gift" policy was promptly instituted.

And then there was the year my husband's parents (who hated me and told my husband not to marry me - many reasons, not the least of which is I eat bacon wrong) decided that the perfect gift for us was an 8x10 photo of them with the choice of one of two frames. And a cast-iron cat.

Bacon, though--I get it.

As a teacher of 11-year olds and plus, I applaud your comment that socialization is the most important part of this. I suggest the "letting her mother know the jig is up approach," and allowing the child to experience/learn the lesson of the, "keeping your mouth shut and appreciating you actually have a meal to eat on Christmas Eve, when many others don't, either store bought, or homemade, is the right approach." Having taught many children of many socioeconomic backgrounds, this is a perfect teachable moment!

Thanks. Not Hooty but I've been inundated on this Q and I'm afraid I'll forget to post at the end.

Actually, those cookies are his son's very favorite, and I make them all the time. I just don't throw them anymore.

Yes, indeed. Guilty as charged. :)

More joy.

Yikes, what the heck kind of cookie was that?

Projectile chip.

Are you sure we're not related? The same xmas we had to scramble for the clock, we got an empty photo frame! and the year before it was a half opened package of chipped fridge magnets!

Use the frame for a photo of the clock. Please.

My mother is not what you might call a "natural" at cooking or baking. She usually sticks with tried and true holiday recipes, and everyone leaves the Christmas dinner table happy. But from time to time her eye will be caught by a fancy dish in a cooking magazine, and then things can get interesting. Five years ago her dream for Christmas dinner with my grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins was to bake this enormous, many-layered orange cake, which truly did look delicious. She spent hours slaving away over this cake. We never found out how it tasted, though, because as she was approaching the table with the cake tray in her hand, the cake started wobbling dangerously. Without thinking about it, she reached up to steady the cake and ended up shoving her hand into its many, many layers. Everyone was silent for a moment, and then she started laughing harder than I've ever seen anyone laugh in my life. We all started cracking up too, and then in solidarity my uncle put his hand in the cake too, which made us laugh even harder. We just sat there laughing and laughing, with their hands still in the cake, for about ten minutes. My cousins, then 14 and 16, later said it was the best Christmas memory they have with our family.

you mean you DON'T use a knife and fork??? :)

I believe snorting it was where they drew the line.

Okay then! 

Teddy, who wasn't familiar with the sublime joy of caroling goats, has had this deprivation remedied and sent me this LINK for those who don't use Spotify.


And with that, I say Merry Everything to all, and to all a good whatever! And thank you, from the bottom of my queue, to all who shared their stories, for suffering in order to heal us all. 



And don't drop your mother this year. 

A few years ago, Mom was hosting Christmas dinner and asked me to bring something for dessert. OK fine, I actually was thinking of something chocolate, but she wanted pie. My Bossy SIL promptly jumped into the conversation and told me I was 'not allowed' to bring cherry or peach pie (my personal favorites). I could only bring apple or pumpkin, because those are the only kind 'we' like. I admit it, telling me I'm 'not allowed' to do something is like a red flag at a bull. No way was I bringing apple or pumpkin pie. Instead, I made a triple-berry (raspberry, blackberry, strawberry) pie and pecan pie. With homemade whipped cream. Everyone swooned over them and ate huge pieces of them. Except Bossy SIL.... She looked at them like they were toxic waste. She then went down to the basement, rummaged around in my parent's freezer and found a frozen Mrs. Smith's Pumpkin pie and a tub of Cool-Whip. She microwaved that pie until it was thawed enough to cut a piece and ate it with the Cool-Whip. I have giggled madly over the Pie Wars ever since. And still will not bring pumpkin pie for dessert.

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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 New England with her husband and their three boys.

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