Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2018

Dec 07, 2018

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 is online Friday, December 7 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.

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Hi everybody, happy Hoot Friday. I'll do an hour of Q and A first, to give the goats a chance to warm up for caroling.

In my 20's, I made the decision to live in a developing country for work and education where I stayed for over 10 years. It was tough, as life in a developing country is, but I came out fulfilled and with a renewed sense of self. Fast forward 20 years later, and I have a friend who regularly says things like "I can't believe you decided to go there" and makes disparaging remarks about my choice and the country. I've discussed both sides of the coin-the pros and cons and have even stated that it was once a home. But the friend doesn't let up. How do I curb the disparaging remarks?

Sounds as if you've been telling, so maybe start asking? "You bring this up a lot. Any reason?" And/or: "It sounds as if you're curious about my time there, since you keep bringing it up. Are there any questions I can answer?"  Or even: "Where have you traveled? I'd love to hear about it."

Think: part psychologist, part anthropologist, part subtext ninja.

If that doesn't get you anywhere, there's always: "Do you have any idea how narrow minded you sound when you say stuff like that?" Because, seriously. But leave it in your pocket till warranted. 

Dear Carolyn, Today's letter struck a chord with me because it seems evident (from the 23-year relationship + "small" children) that the LW and her husband were very young when they got together, which I imagine is why she has trouble imagining a life without him. I am 26 and in love with my partner. I have been in love before, but it is now clear to me that I would have been miserable if I had made a long-term commitment to people I thought were perfect for me 10, 5, or even 2 years ago. I was just too young; I lacked perspective. But how do I know that I'm *old enough* now to be able to judge whether my partner and I could be a good long-term fit? I FEEL like I have a better sense of what sorts of things might come up and how we would handle them together (versus in college when I was mainly concerned with what felt good in the moment). But what if my 30-year-old self would someday think it was laughable that at this age I felt ready to settle down?

This is such a great question. Possibly even -the- question come mate-picking time.

Short answer is, I don't think you can know. You can be a mature and self-aware person who fits happily and comfortably with another mature and self-aware person and be of an age where you can both reasonably conclude that you know what you're getting into--let's pick low-30s just for argument's sake--and then, bam, something happens in one or both of your lives 15 years later that changes everything. A brush with death, a tragic loss, a more positive but still transformative experience, an epiphany about something profound. So you and your lovely and mature partner suddenly see life so differently that you can't find a way to travel through life on the same path anymore. Or, more mundanely, you weather nicely into good old friends and one of you decides that a friendship isn't what you want. Whatever.

There's just no seeing around corners here.

What you can do, though, is know yourself well, which both hinges on and encourages complete honesty with yourself. If you don't do something well, accept it and admit it. If you need something, and it feels silly to need it, then resist the urge to rationalize and own your silly need. If someone you meet is great, "but"--make sure you get well-acquainted with those negatives instead of weaving around them as we're always inclined to do.


And, this might be the biggest deal of them all, watch carefully for the answer to the question: "What would a breakup with this person be like?" It's always important to see how you weather tough times, how the other person does, and how you manage them together. Anyone can be in love while having fun, but staying in love through Hell is the real double dog dare territory.

The question about a breakup is a crucial hypothetical because it covers behavior under duress, involves a realistic situation, and adds the twist of your being upset with each other, not someone safely outside your partnership.

The suggestion that almost goes without saying is to be patient, too, as you're choosing someone, so you can look for the various qualities in yourself and someone else that will carry you through time and other trials. Two people who listen to each other, share values and interests, are mature enough to admit fault, and have a flexible approach to live are most likely going to be okay--whether they end up together or apart.

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for the better part of a year now with no success. It's been tough, especially with several close friends and family members getting pregnant while I haven't, but I'm trying to keep my chin up. But my mother-in-law is friends with my parents and siblings on social media and comments on every photo of my baby nephew (and my family posts a lot) with things like, "You are so lucky to be a grandma!" or "Your family makes such cute babies!" These comments always end up in my feed, and they make me upset every time I see them. I feel ridiculous telling her that she can't comment on my family's photos, but her comments make me feel a lot of pressure and resentment. She has no idea we're having trouble conceiving or even that we're trying, and I definitely don't want to tell her. Do I just have to suck it up and seethe quietly to myself?

Social media is not required! That is the shortest distance between you and a healthier state of mind. Unplug. It is as basic as advising someone whose skin hurts to stop sticking herself with pins.

If you're afraid of missing something, then tell people you're cutting out social media for a while because it's too distracting (guess what!? it is), so if they have news, the best way to reach you is by text/phone/email. 

Use the sudden gift of free time on yourself, to do things that soothe or restore you during this tough time.

Carolyn, the guy I've been seeing for two years had an affair (before me) with a married woman. And he's engaged in other questionable behaviors, including sleeping with an ex (ex?) at the beginning of our relationship. He says the period just before we got together was an anomaly. My mom asked, "Do you trust him?" and the answer's no, even though I have no reasons other than the historical ones. Is it possible he's trustworthy, or would he cheat on me given the opportunity??? I love him and he's committed to me, so I guess it shouldn't matter to me, but it does. How can I forgive him? Should I?

"Given the opportunity"? Cheating is an opportunity everyone has every day, give or take a few logistical hurdles.

Plus, everyone who has ever cheated has to have had a first time cheating. So, there's no *predictive* way to sort people into "faithful" and "cheater" files based on their cheating histories. 

Not to mention, it just seems logical that some of those first time cheaters were people who themselves thought they would never cheat on anyone. It's something that dawned on me over my 100000 years of doing this: All the what-if questions are always about the risk that someone else will cheat. It's almost never, "I am afraid I will not be faithful." So, either 99 percent of the people who write into columns are in the "faithful" file, and the people they date are a mix of "faithful" and "cheater"--or, every population contains a mix of "faithful" and "cheater," some of whom aren't themselves aware that they're going to switch sides at some point.



All of this is to say that the biggest risk (to my mind) in the whole trust business is of oversimplification. It's not just faithful/cheater, though that is plenty complicated by people's moves from one side to the other. There's also the issue of making infidelity the cornerstone of questions about trust. You can have a person who is rock-solid faithful in the sense of not sleeping with anyone else--but whom you can't trust to support you when you're wobbly, to stand up for you when you're under attack by critics, to think of what you want and need instead of just doing whatever suits him.

And there's the issue of trusting yourself, which is the bedrock. Can you trust yourself to choose a partner who is good for you? Can you trust yourself to be happy alone, if that's the alternative to a guy you're concerned about? Can you trust yourself to admit there's something wrong, take difficult steps to get out, and have the courage to start over if the relationship takes a bad turn?

That's the trust you start with. Once you have that, then the other stuff gets a lot easier to work out.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I had baby number three this year, we also have a 3 and 5 year old. We have a pretty good life and are essentially living the dream, I'm sure. We both work full time and put all of our remaining time and energy into our littles. I feel (and my husband does, too) like we've lost our relationship. We like each other a lot and appreciate each other hugely (on good days!), 3 kids and keeping house is definitely a team effort for us, but our relationship has been back-burnered to the point that we're not sure how to get it back on track. We live together, we get along ok, we make a point to have the occasional-bordering-on-rare date night, but there is little intimacy and not much of a connection between us anymore. We talk about it, we try to make an effort, but we're always exhausted and it seems like we keep swinging and missing at attempts to get back to how we used to be. He's missing the intimacy, I'm missing the connection, and we get frustrated when we feel like we're making an effort and getting no return. Not exactly a hoot question, but I'm a little depressed about this whole holiday season when things are so off at home. Thank you!

Please, give yourselves two gifts: a once-a-week (not "occasional-bordering-on-rare"!), standing appointment to spend time together without the kids; and permission to take the long view. The kids won't be this exhausting forever, or even five years from now.

Wait--3rd gift: permission to stop trying to "get back to how we used to be." Forget the little kids thing--that's not a realistic goal ever. Life moves forward and changes us, and changes what we have. So, focus on making something more appealing out of what your life and your relationship actually are now. To keep looking back to what once was, as if it's somehow achievable, is torture.

If money stands in the way of your having a regular date night, then look into low-or-no-cost options like a babysitting swap with another family, or keep the dates you go on cheap/free. And keep in mind how expensive counseling and divorce can be, so you beat back any temptation to skimp.

And finally ... it's important also for each of you to find some alone time too, to keep yourselves from getting swallowed up by parenthood. Ideally you can find a way to remain interesting to yourselves and each other, but if that just sounds like another chore/another way to feel like you're doing everything wrong, then frame it instead as just a way to get out of parent mode for an hour so you don't lose your freaking minds. Plus, when you're covering for each other as the other one gets some air, you get to find your groove with being solo parent, and the confidence you build that way can make the whole gong show less stressful overall. Good luck.


I'm going to Q-and-A a little longer because there's a lot to get through and because I took extra time on a couple of long answers.

As someone who married young-ish, I’d say that you should probably take it as a given that you will look back in your younger self and think you were crazy. I expect to look back at my now-self one day and think I am/was crazy. I think the trick is to find someone whose values line up with yours, not just their circumstances. If you like that they’re close with their family, WHY are they close with the family, and how would those values manifest if something changed? If you both want kids, WHY do you want them and how would those reasons manifest in the face of something like infertility? The couples I know who have split up have done so because when their circumstances changed, the values didn’t line up.

When I was 27, I "knew" and married my boyfriend of almost-three years. We had a marvelous time together, and I went into the marriage knowing I'd do whatever necessary to preserve and protect the relationship. He, apparently, didn't share my perception of commitment, as he left me -- literally walked out and away, all but naked in terms of what he took with him -- five and a half years later, shattering me entirely. I was 32 then, and I'm 47 now... and now, what I know is that my current partner currently is perfect for me in ways that I didn't understand or imagine at 27 (autonomy was a concept, not a lifestyle approach, in my 20's), and if my currently-perfect partner became suddenly imperfect, I myself am perfectly able to (if not necessarily happy to) handle it because I've grown up. I'm ultimately responsible for my own happiness and being authentic about what does and doesn't work for me... and accountable TO a relationship instead of accountable FOR my partner. It's not easy. In fact, I think I'm pretty brave! And for other people, relationships worked out differently than for me... but one thing I've internalized from this column is the idea that a successful relationship is not necessarily an enduring one.

Falling in love/being in love isn't some static thing that once you attain it, it's permanent. People change and so do relationships. It's important to continually fall in love/be in love with the person you're with as they and you change. There's no guarantee that it will happen no matter if you meet someone when you're young or old.

I’m 37. My husband and I have been together 20 years. We’re still going pretty strong, despite some large, looming issues. We weren’t mature enough to start, but we dug some up to handle kids starting when we were 20, PTSD for childhood abuse, bipolar depression, a child with autism, unemployment, and scraping to make ends meet. You’re ready when you can understand the difference between making this turn out okay and being okay no matter how things turn out. If met people as old as 80 who never got there.

Hi Carolyn, I have a quick pre-hoot question about holiday office politics. I'm planning to make baked goods this weekend and put together treat bags for each of the coworkers in my small department. Should I give one to my Quaker coworker who doesn't celebrate holidays? She opted out of Secret Santa. Since I wasn't working here last Christmas, I don't know whether she attends the company party. If she were Jewish, I'd simply write "Happy Hannukuh" in her card instead of "Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays." Since she has made it clear she doesn't celebrate holidays, I don't want to offend her by offering a gift. At the same time, we're a small enough group that it'll be obvious she's the only one who didn't get treats, and I don't want to exclude her. Do you have any insight into what she might prefer? She's not someone I interact with regularly, so asking her myself would be weird.

Same gift, non-holiday card: "I've enjoyed working with you this year" or something. "Good luck in the new year" is calendar-appropriate and 99.99 percent holiday-free.

Hi Carolyn - In the past few years I've had a growing reluctance to participate in the Christmas gift giving ritual. Particularly with my significant other's family who are especially into making sure everyone has a gift to open (if not two or three). In my smaller family of origin, we are a lot more laid back about it and no one feels particularly obligated to exchange gifts. Just show up, eat a nice meal and spend time together. Gifts are for kids. That's my version of being an adult on holidays, I suppose, and I'd rather put my bit of extra cash towards buying gifts for children in need or to donate to non-profits in the community. Is there a good way to disengage from this ritual especially when it involves the in-laws and my SO has no issue with things as they currently are? It has much to do with my sense of wanting to do more for others when the people around me already have material needs met (in which case, gifts just become more "stuff" and Christmas loses its meaning).

Full disclosure, I am in the pleeeeeeeease-no-more-gifts camp. So I get it.

But gifts don't have to be "stuff." Favorite foods or beverages, for example, can show you're thinking of someone and of the poor landfills, and they can set you back very little financially so that the bulk of your extra cash can still go to the needy.

The participation in your SO's family ritual seems to me a valid expression of the meaning of Christmas. Bring some thought/creativity to how you can do so without compromising your values.

If that's not good enough, then the first obstacle you need to clear is with your SO, so start the conversation there.


Carolyn, How do I get comfortable and start to feel at home around my new in-laws?

Be yourself, be kind, listen to them, be patient. That covers the part you control, and that's all you can do. 

Every year my brother, an oenophile with a climate controlled wine cellar, insists that he alone bring the wine for the big family dinner. This is his sole contribution to the feast. However, every year my brother brings the wine and then is incredibly reluctant to serve it, even when I say "we are sitting down, please open the wine". This year I was halfway through my dinner before I was given a glass of wine. It's not just me, my son in law spoke up around 15 minutes into dinner this year and said " you know, they make some pretty good boxed wines these days". Then the frosting on the cake is that when my brother departs he takes any wine that is leftover with him. I think that's tantamount to bringing flowers to a hostess and then pulling them out of the vase and taking them home when you leave. This exact behavior has been going on every Thanksgiving for DECADES. My husband thinks we should buy our own (un-fancy and inexpensive) wine and pour it while ignoring brother in law, but hey you know how these things go, that will cause a serious uproar. Anyone have a better suggestion?

Instead of "we are sitting down, please open the wine," switch to:

"We're ready for the wine. You've got 5 minutes before I open the [your own wine that you bring from now on]." In good fun, as an over-the-top threat, but mean it.  And then, if he hasn't opened the wine in five minutes, open the bad stuff. 


My family all had a hissy fit when my 21-year-old sister married a guy she'd known for six months. Now my sister is in her 40s, still married, and the two of them have the most loving, supportive relationship I've ever seen. Meanwhile several of the family members who mocked my sister's immaturity have been divorced since then (one has three divorces since then). You never know.

To be fair, maybe that family member has a punch card that's only one square away from a free divorce.

These last couple of questions would have been fine accompanied by singing goats.

Did you know ...


The stockings were hung

Out the window with care.

Why hang the stockings?

They need the fresh air.

We went back to visit our friends where we had the stomach-bug-Thanksgiving. (See: LINK ) When we told our kids where we were going, the first thing they asked was "Are we going to vomit?" We had a lovely trip, the kids all got to ice skate for the first time, and again, nobody vomited this year.

Yes, Virginia, we are going to vomit.

During the Thanksgiving meal my (single) mom traditionally likes to have everyone go around and say what they're thankful for and what they wish for the new year. One year when we had 6 kids under age 12 among the 20 of us, she requested we do this and she'd go last. When it was her turn she said her usual list of things she was grateful for, then announced she'd like to get laid in the new year and not by an old guy either. Good times.

I've been a vegetarian for twenty years now. Last Christmas my aunt gave me the Steak Lover's Cookbook, and told me it was because men won't date a woman who doesn't know how to cook them steak. I'm gay and everyone in my family knows it.

Nail it to your front door, like garlic. You'll feel safer instantly.

My now-wife spent her first Christmas with my family 3 years ago, and she got a great taste of The Crazy. At some point on Christmas morning, a receptionist at my dad’s office sent him a text wishing him Merry Christmas. My mom then proceeded to spend the next two hours straight screaming at my dad that he must have done something to suggest to the receptionist that he wanted to have an affair with her, because wishing someone merry Christmas is a “very intimate” thing to do. Dad held out for as long as he could, insisting this was not the case and not a reasonable interpretation, until he finally gave in, and gave my mom what she wanted by apologizing for inadvertently sending signals to this receptionist.

And your now-wife didn't share this with us two years ago, why? I'm miffed.

Last year after Christmas dinner, my husband's extended family all gathered around the cleared table for a white-elephant style dice game. At some point, a cousin said something mildly amusing while I was drinking some water, I choked and I misted the middle of the table with a nice water/saliva mix. Unfortunately for me, my husband thought this was hilarious and tried to razz me a bit by hugging me from behind, jostling me around, and just being really playful. (I was sitting at the table and he was standing behind me). He leaned down on my back with too much weight and compressed me too much, remember how I said I was choking on the water?? I could not breathe at all and was continuing to choke while trying to push him off/wriggle away. This culminates in me aspirating/vomiting all over my lap. Husband finally retreats, shocked, and I push myself away from the table and run upstairs to shower. To his credit, my husband followed me apologizing profusely, etc etc and relayed that his mom said no one else noticed and to not be embarrassed. I might have believed that if I hadn't heard his aunt yell "I'm telling you, I saw CHUNKS!" during my hasty retreat up the stairs.

About 10 years ago, my cousin's son (then approximately 19) caused all dinner conversation to stop when he asked, loudly, if any of us had been to an orgy and what was it like. Yes, it was just like that record-scratch you hear in your head when all other noise suddenly goes silent. After everyone processed what he said, I recall my mother saying, "we don't ask those questions at dinner" to which I silently wondered when, in fact, it was a good time to ask those types of questions. I came up with: never. Never is a good time at a family function.

Ma wore a kerchief,

I wore a bonnet.

Wore a nighty too,

With Teddy bears on it.


When out on the lawn,

There arose such a clatter--

With difficulty, I

Kept control of my bladder.

I followed the rabbit hole (early link to 2015, then to 1st Holiday Hootenany in 2000) to pass some time, and goodness, was I rewarded! Remember this gem? " D.C. again: You asked... (from the family with the Death Chair)... It's really not that horrible. There is a chair at the end of the table that is labeled the Death Chair, because all of the men that sit there have been the most recent to pass on... Grandpa sat there, then Uncle Wally, and now Dad bravely accepts the challenge. He's had good luck and has been sitting there for about 15 years now. Hasn't died yet. Yes, us snowbound folks get a little twisted around the holidays. When I head home to Wisconsin I'm passing this one on. -- Lisa. Carolyn Hax: Just don't pass on. We'd miss you terribly. For those handicapping the race -- Death Chair is the strong mid-hour favorite for tradition of the day. Carolyn Hax: Lisa just sent me this: "Death chair! Death chair!" What do you say we not talk about problems at 3 o'clock, either? I'm digging this." I am still laughing. Love their sense of humor! I hope their Dad is still doing well, and giving them a good Pythonesque, "I'm not dead yet!" as he takes his throne!

Are you kidding? If I were Exley, the The Death Chair would be my Nite Owl.


At my Irish Catholic grandmother's house, Christmas Eve always included a read aloud from the Gospel of Luke about the Christmas story. In her version, there's a line about Joseph taking "Mary, his espoused wife" to Judea. One year, it was my younger brother's turn to do the reading, and being the inexpert eight year old reader that he was, we were treated to the story of Joseph and "Mary, his exposed wife." Who knows? They might have found a room at an inn if that was the case, and the whole Christmas story could have been changed forever....

We have a large family and often have extend members and/or friends of family come to Thanksgiving. One year, my aunt’s cousin “Susan” came. Most of my generation hadn’t met her before. We had a lovely dinner and were all hanging out in the great room of my grandparents’ house. A group of us were playing a charades game and my grandparents and other more reserved family members were sitting on the couches, across the room, but within line of sight. Susan was up for charades. This version had three clues you needed your team to guess in order. She lit up when she saw her last one, and said “I know how I’ll get this!” The first two clues were pretty normal, and we guessed them fairly easily. For the last one, in two fluid movements, she took ALL of her clothes off. I mean from clothed to naked in approximately 4 seconds, underwear and all. Unfortunately for our team, this backfired as a strategy, since half the team was speechless, and the other half was literally rolling on the ground laughing. Since I’m maybe a wee bit competitive, I was still guessing, but no one could hear me over the laughter. My poor aunt was bright red over her guest stripping at her in-laws’ house. The rest of us thought it was the best thing ever.

Last year, my husband and I spent Christmas with his parents and brother. His parents and brother live in adjacent neighborhoods and the tradition is to do presents at my brother-in-law’s house on Christmas Day. My BIL is single, childless, and admittedly a slob. On Christmas Eve Day, my father-in-law took me aside and told me he had “a great opportunity for me to be a wonderful sister-in-law and daughter-in-law.” He then proceeded to tell me that the condition of BIL’s house was the cause of much consternation for my mother-in-law, so it would be great if I could go over there and clean before the Christmas morning festivities. I mumbled something non-committal to get out of the situation but no, I did not clean my BIL’s house.


When my wife and I got together we found that our ideas for celebrating Christmas were worlds apart. I like a jolly, low-key, relaxing celebration and she likes a fancy, over-the-top, "elegant" one. We came up with a compromise by alternating - one year I get the 6-foot artificial tree, my plastic snowman and Santa out front, bakery cookies and a turkey, the next year she gets the 9 foot "real" tree, pine roping, white lights and home-baked everything and some entree with a foreign name. It sounds weird but it's been working for us for 8 years. Now that our twins are getting older, my wife says we have to find a way to compromise and have one Christmas or our children will grow up confused without any "real traditions". The way I see it, even though next year is due to be my year, she wants to change it up just because our kids will be almost 3. I think the twins will appreciate the alternating Christmases and grow up with double the memories. Her way neither of us ever gets the kind of Christmas we really want. Do you think I'm being unreasonable or she is?

Alternating Christmases IS your tradition. A great one, too, with so many lessons in it about flexibility and respect for individuality and breaking from rigid expectations.

I don't think it sounds weird at all.  

Why don't you alternate as usual for the next four, and then when the twins are almost 7, switch to a three-year rotation: your way, wife's way, kids' way. What a blast.

My youngest sister got her first period on Christmas Eve. Middle sister and I ran around the house joyously proclaiming the “Christmas miracle.”

Is this the sister who moved to a remote village in [country redacted]?

The moon shone brightly

On the new fallen snow.

Same rhyming crisis this year,

As last, as you know.

Several years ago my mother finally broke down and ordered her Christmas dinner from a local caterer as she could no longer cope with cooking for a large crowd. The food had to be picked up early so she sent my dad out to pick it up and by 1 he still hadn't returned. She met us at the door saying, "Well your father's disappeared with Christmas Dinner but we have booze and pie!" That has become the family motto at Christmas.

The family is large and politically passionate, but in many conflicting directions. Not even just liberal versus conservative. There are libertarians and green party members, Catholics and atheists, straights and gays, etc. Years ago, during a presidential primary year, Youngest Cousin (~5 y-o), discovered she could bring almost any discussion to a screeching halt by screaming “I’M VOTING FOR [CONTROVERSIAL THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE]!!!!” She did this multiple times over multiple days over BOTH Christmas and New Year’s. I could never figure out if she liked the attention, liked the chaos, or was distracting us from some even greater crime she had committed. The amount of chaos caused by the “I’M VOTING FOR…!” announcements would get greater and greater in direct proportion to how much the adult family members had been drinking throughout the day. A different year, Youngest Cousin actually composed a short story about how annoying and loud adults are when they argue after drinking too much wine, and then interrupted one of our heated debates to read it to us. Now an adult, Youngest Cousin has chosen to live on a different continent. Probably for the best, given the current political situation!

I’m not domestically inclined, and use the oven once every 3-4 years - particularly after two consecutive baking-adjacent dramas (one with pulverized Pyrex and the other with super-heated cast-iron). I therefore usually turn down a good friend’s annual cookie exchange invites, but cautiously decided to attend last year. I had a great recipe for the cookies I needed to bring along, but needed to bring some butter to room temperature first. So I put two bricks of it (big packages of the fancy European stuff), on the register by the window - in my defense, the heat was NOT turned on - and forgot about them. I remembered when I started smelling popcorn . . . which was not popcorn at all, but actually some of the approx 3/4 cup of butter that had melted through the register vents and onto the register itself. I still made a half batch of cookies with the remaining butter, and they were delicious. It was impossible to get all of the butter out of the register, though, and we couldn’t have guests over to our butter-iffic apartment for three months. My dear husband of 12 years has reiterated that I never need to feel pressured to use the oven again, as far as he is concerned. And I’m rsvp-ing no to this year’s cookie exchange invite.

No! Please go. We're counting on you. 

last xmas was my first as a separated (but not yet divorced) mom of 2 small kids. my now ex husband gave me a hair catcher for my shower drain "from the kids". how horrible would it be if i filled a glass tree ornament with some hair i collected this year and gave it to him this xmas? too much? not enough? juuuuuust right?

This year at the Thanksgiving table my younger sister (age 55) gave me back the birthday present I'd given to her in April saying that she didn't like it.

At least she put some thought into it.

Really, good wine needs to breathe. So, the second he leaves it unattended, I'd start opening a few bottles. So it can breathe, of course. But I'm passive-aggressive (or is that just aggressive-aggressive?) like that. And then he'll finally stop bringing it, and next year everyone can get pleasantly sloshed on the cheap stuff.

It's oeno-aggressive. I like it.

I grew up on a quaint little New England street where people were very reserved about holiday decorations. Think natural pine wreaths and velvet bows, with *only* white lights. We were very close friends with the neighbours across the road, who had fabulous taste in decor. One year, for a joke, someone bought my mom an enormous plastic Santa head that flashed. It was far to hideous to put anywhere in our house, so naturally we waited until the neighbours were at midnight mass, and hung it on their house up near the chimney (Dad had an extension ladder, neighbours didn't), carefully (but superstitiously) wiring it in so that it would start flashing whenever they turned the porch light on. Thus a tradition that kept us all happy and tacky for many years was born.

My MIL gives everyone socks for Christmas. Sometimes in addition to something else, sometimes not (ominous foreshadowing). Last year, I was three months postpartum when my family's gifts arrived. Sports-themed baby socks for the infant, check. Dress socks for my husband, his preferred brand, check. Each of them received a few other things as well - toys for the baby, a gift card for my hubs. For me? One package of control-top sheer pantyhose, also with reinforced toe!, with the TJMaxx markdown sticker (They WERE $8.99 but NOW $2.99!) still on them. A reminder that I was three months postpartum here. When my MIL called a few days later to see if we'd received the gifts, her only remark to me was "Seems like you might need the support when you go back to work."

As dry leaves before

The wild hurricane fly,

Another tough rhyme

I won’t even try.


Approaching the house top,

The deer started to flare

Oh good lord!

Is that orange hair!!

My in-laws host a really fun, no-holds-barred white elephant exchange each Christmas eve. A few years ago my husband's aunt and uncle joined the exchange for the first time. They are lovely, interesting, worldly people but were not familiar with the, uh, discourse level at these things. It had been a fairly tame exchange so far (think: a framed, circa 2000 Lance Armstrong inspirational poster) when it was his aunt's turn. She chose her gift, opened it up, and out came . . . a ten inch, black-painted wooden dildo with a bottle opener attached to the tip. It was my sister-in-law's contribution but she wasn't at the exchange that year. My mother-in-law and I both laughed so hard we cried, but my husband's aunt and uncle haven't been back to the exchange yet.


After years of travel at holidays with small children, my husband and I announced in July we were not travelling, but family was welcome to come visit us. Each of our families took the info well we thought. Hurray for boundaries we thought. My family made plans to visit us, in November his family starting mentioning our visit to them in December. Remember when we said no travel? They didn't think that applied to them, just my family.

What was Susan trying to charade?!

Agreed. Need. OP?

Only ok if it’s the kids hair. They made it themselves!

As an avid baker who has set water on fire, I need to know how you pulverized Pyrex.

Only if you tell how you set water on fire.

Don't leave us hanging!

Uh-oh, people are unraveling.


Possibly CH's suggestion was in jest, but I thought it was great! Except that surely there should a four-year rotation: I doubt the twins will necessarily agree to the same "kids'" tradition.

No, I was serious! 

A friend's very young twins thought the words were "Oh, well, oh, well" instead of Noel, Noel.

BRILLIANT. Yes. They're right.

Did dad ever come back?

Another cliffhanger.

Three years ago I knocked my spice rack over, after I had just gone to that fancy spice store in Rockville and purchased $200 worth of all new spices in nice, breakable, glass bottles. A bunch broke, but it was the curry powder that spilled all down my heating register in the floor right before Christmas. It was not a pleasant smelling Christmas morning that year. Or winter.

You can write my headlines any time.

His eyes, how they twinkled,

His dimples, how dimply.     

His cheeks were like roses,

Besides being pimply.


His droll little mouth,

Was drawn up like a bow.    

His nose, from fibbing, 

has continued to grow.

Put an ice cube in what he serves you.

You guys are good.

Assuming my SIL wrote that, please just leave our Christmas traditions alone. You literally don't help in any way on Christmas and instead sit in corner with your phone, droning on about how lame it all is. And we all know your comments about charity are just some weird deflection, since you do precisely zero charity work (or any work of any kind, actually) ever. Maybe posting bikini selfies counts as charitable giving. How about this: stay home, give us our brother for Christmas day, and you won't have to receive or give any gifts and we won't have to deal with you and your grumpy, selfishness. Happy Holidays! Thank you.

So much for quaint recollections--hang on, everybody, we're going live.

Wine was flowing plentifully at our family celebration one year. My two-year-old came running into the room and my sister announced “You’re my f*%^ing favorite!” at top volume. Note that her two children were also in attendance. It has become my favorite holiday saying.

My 5-yo daughter singing "Deck the Halls with Balls of Holly" at the top of her lungs.


Hello! Original Death Chair submitter here! Still an avid reader... Dad is fine! But it might help that we haven't gathered around that table much any more...

Hey! Wow!


I have mixed feelings about the diminished use of that table, though. 

Is mom perhaps worried that the kiddos will prefer Dad's Christmas of corniness and abandon to hers of fancy clothes and best behavior?

I think you're on to something.

One year while the extended family gathered in the kitchen during the Christmas Eve cooking and sipping ritual, my youngest sister marched into the room and announced out of nowhere that she was "donating her body to science upon her passing - all but her eyes". My mother asked "why not your eyes"? To which my sister said she wanted to see where she was going. My mother - not missing a beat replied "don't worry, you'll feel the heat". There wasn't a dry eye in the room for over an hour...

When my daughter was little she performed an earnest version of "Silent Night, Hopeless Night"

My husband and I spent Thanksgiving at his parents' house last year. You know how in most conversations, whoever has the conversational floor will pause occasionally for long enough that someone else could interject a comment or question without it seeming rude? Yeah, well. We happened to remember what time it was when his mom started talking, so we are quite sure that she made it three hours and fifteen minutes without a single pause long enough for us to politely say anything. After a certain point it was just morbid fascination to sit there and see how long she could go.

You can write my headlines, too, by the way.

Years ago, I was home from college for the holidays. My big, boisterous, and sometimes dramatic extended family was arguing over something I can't even remember in the days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, my grandpa, who was supposed to host Christmas dinner, called my parent's house and when my dad answered he simply said "Christmas is cancelled." We were left scrambling to put together a nice holiday meal with most grocery stores closed. I laugh about it now, and LOVE using the expression "Christmas is cancelled" whenever I'm just not in the mood.

I buy cheap plonk, and I still gasped aloud at the ice cube. He'll never cross the threshold with wine again.

Is this good or bad? Discuss.

He was chubby and plump,

A right jolly old dude.

He used to fart loudly,

Some thought he was crude.

[Hi Elizabeth, miss you, too.]

I have to vent to someone. My Thanksgiving was awful. I spent 3 days with my friend and her parents in a beautiful wilderness lodge. The problem? Her dad, who I had never met before, proceeded to mansplain, argue, cajole, and otherwise inject himself on every comment I made. If I expressed an opinion on my lived experience of a subject, he tried to refute it citing an article he had read (examples: my experience of sexism, my field of study, my actual job). They asked me to say a prayer over the meal, and I did. He added an addendum after I said Amen. (In my 35 years of praying, no one’s ever done that before.) To make matters worse, he’s borderline deaf, so the entire three days involved shouted “huh? What? Pardon?” And multiple repeats of literally every conversation. There’s not enough wine in the state to make me ever want to go back there again.

Huh? What?

I read somewhere that people do this when they like you and want you to feel welcome, but don't know how to show it. You probably just missed that. 

Oh gosh, I may have submitted this in a previous hootenanny years ago, but reading all these brought up this memory. This is Easter related but fits in nicely. Every year my family’s church does a live last supper performance. The actors (all church members) pose like the Da Vinci painting. They each in turn do a dramatic monologue of their thoughts during the last supper, a spotlight highlights the reader, it's actually quite captivating. The church is very quiet while this is happening and there are a few moments of silence between each one. One actor was REALLY into it, super dramatic. After he was done speaking and all was quiet, my young nephew said very loudly, “Well THAT was creepy!” I just about died laughing.

In a similar situation once, I remarked to my husband, "You know how if sharks stop swimming, they stop breathing? Well it's like that with So-and-So, only he'll stop breathing if he stops talking." This has morphed into a verb in our family: "Stop dead-sharking." "You've been dead-sharked." Or, under extreme circumstances, someone will just screech, "Deeeaaaaddd Shaaaaaark! Deeeeeaaaddd Shaaaaaaark!"

A friend of our family might be coming in his RV invited of course. It's like a Christmas movie coming to life. Just thought I'd share.

Much appreciated.

Pyrex doesn't crack, and eventually the dish will explode into millions of tiny glass bits.

I love how you all step up to help each other.

(Another triumphant headline, by the way.)

He said not a word

But went straight to his task

After all these years,

You still have to ask?

Doing a last walk through the queue before I go, and this is killing me:

...that led to the striptease?

To the OP: So was the word she wanted you to guess "strip"???

You can't do that to us. What was Susan attempting to charade for you????

How can you give us that naked cousin story without the answer?

What was the clue and the answer for the striptease?????

I am certain many, many, MANY readers join me in wanting to know, "Did you learn what the clue was and if so would you please-please-please share it!"

Can we find out what was the answer to her clue?

so what was the charades answer to stripping down to naked?

Wait, so what was the answer?

I am dying to know what the answer was....

If the OP is there, what WAS the correct answer to the naked charades item?


OMG, what was she acting out????!!!!

I think I speak for at least a good portion of the peanut gallery when I say we need to know, WHAT WAS THE CLUE?????


Wait, what was the clue?

You have to tell us what clue she was trying to act out!

What was the clue that had Susan disrobing? How do you leave that out?

But what was the word?!

That's not even all of them. Come back next year to see if I ever got the answer!

As a friend just said as we read the chat: "The new tradition is to look for the death chair in Hax chats, which have breathed new life into the Death Chair" True, true! Even though the family doesn't gather in Buffalo like we used to (everyone is scattered around the country now) I'm happy the story lives on here! Can't believe that was 18 years ago!

Neither can I. Yikes.

Is this Hoot organic?

Too late now!

Dear Carolyn's Dad, I could hug you. I'm so happy you're back.

Thanks, I am too. And I'll pass this along. 

Last year, we spent Christmas in the NICU with our very tiny, very premature twins paying that they're keep breathing through the night. This Christmas, we're spending it home around our tree, watching them eat wrapping paper and play with the boxes while ignoring their gifts. May everyone sad about the holidays have a better one than imagined. Merry Christmas, y'all!

Mic dropped. 

(Thanks, everybody. Till we Hoot again.)

It's me, Pew Loogie Guy, back after many years.

Pew Loogie Guy! Damn. Good to see you.

What's Cousin Susan's phone number?

You're an inspiration.

In This Chat
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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