Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2020

Dec 11, 2020

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.

Want more? Sit back and review some of our favorite stories from years past:
Hootenany of Holiday Horrors 2018
Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2017
Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2016
Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2015

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Hello! Sorry--I was caught up reading Hoot submissions. Already more than I can possibly get to.

As always, I will start with some regular Q and A and then open the Hootgates.

Carolyn i just found out my best friend has meeting a guy DURING A PANDEMIC every week for uh "indoor dates". She has 2 kids and 2 elderly parents. I am PISSED. i am her emergency contact should anything happen to her. she is always so responsible i cannot beleive this!! She says he is safe because he works from home and he gets tested regularly for TRAVEL!! she met him on an app just 4 weeks ago and has laready seen him 4 times! I dont know what to say to her. this i so reckless and dangerous. i am really upset over this.

I would be, too.

"You are my friend and I love you and it's your life to run as you see fit, but please don't kid yourself that he or this is 'safe.'" 

I'm sorry. 

Hi Carolyn, This spring, my husband and I got new neighbors in the condo below ours. We don't know them (or really anyone in the neighborhood - it's just not a chatty community), but we need to open a line of communication with them about a major issue: their pot smoking. While somewhat square ourselves, neither of us has an issue with weed as a concept; in fact, many of our friends smoke. The problem is, four or five times per day, sometimes as early as 5 am (!), our neighbor smokes out on the balcony, and the extremely pungent smell-cloud comes directly through our screen door and sits in our place like a stink bomb went off.  It's not a problem now in the winter, of course, but we get very pleasant weather in the spring and fall, and we like to be able to keep doors and windows open. We've thought about how to write a note, or try to talk to them in person, but after three quarters of a year, we haven't figured out how to approach them. It just feels like a bummer to have our first interaction be a hopefully-friendly-but-somewhat-stern request for what might actually be impossible: "Please find a way to control your pot smoke." Instead, we just close the door when we start to smell it.  So what is the right way to handle this? For a bit of color: we think they are professional ping pong players. They have a table in their living room area instead of couches, and whenever we pass by their door on our way out, it sounds like they are constantly playing on it, or running around and giggling. What IS their life? How do I get it? Thanks, Non-Confrontational Square

Duh--you replace your living room furniture with a ping-pong table, then get high and play ping-pong. That's how you get their life.

Since you're not really connected to anyone in your community, and since that is less than ideal, and since you're presumably all shut in to some degree for the next few months, why don't you put together a note to distribute to all your adjacent neighbors? "Hey, it's going to be a long winter, maybe we can help each other out by pooling errands or just checking in with each other in a socially distanced way." Whatever you're willing to take on.

You have no need to address the smoke issue till spring, so use that to correct the initial mistake of not having a friendly foundation with all of your neighbors. It's always a disadvantage when something bad or awkward comes up and that's the first contact you ever have.


Hi, Carolyn, My son who lives in NJ and I live in Florida calls me every morning like a good son to see how I’m doing. My problem is that practically every call ends with him yelling and, now, ordering me to purchase and wear an expensive N95 mask. I live alone ,use curbside pickup for groceries and purchase everything else online. I walk by myself every day. I feel I’m doing everything right. He is causing me SO much extra anxiety by his trying to protect me. Any thoughts on how to get him to stop? Thanks

Ask him to order you one and have it shipped. It'll help him with his anxiety, to do something concrete for you.

Wear it when you're around people. Then, when he asks if you're wearing it, say yes.

Anyone who spends any time here knows I believe in two things: boundaries, and not caving to people who ignore boundaries. But sometimes being pragmatic is just easier than being right.

My only child died of SIDS at 6 weeks of age. Yesterday was his 19th birthday and barely anyone acknowledged it. I used to post about it on social media every year but I have been staying away from that lately. My ex's sister (my son's aunt) text me out of the blue yesterday and I assumed she did so because it was my son's birthday, but she didn't even mention it. I acknowledged the anniversary of my best friend's brother's death last week but I didn't hear from her at all on my son's birthday. I mentioned to another good friend on Tuesday that his birthday was coming up on Thursday but she didn't mention it yesterday when she text me about other things. My brother and I are very close but I'm pretty sure even he forgot. I didn't realize how much this bothered me until my current boyfriend started asking about my son yesterday and I burst into tears. He thought he upset me by asking but I was upset about all the people who didn't ask. I like talking about him. I'm tired of being the thoughtful one who remembers everyone else's stuff when no one remembers mine. Do I just need to accept that after 19 years, no one is going to remember unless I post it on social media?

Oh I am so sorry. That's awful.

I do think coming to a point of acceptance is your best option, but I'm not sure some version of "accepting people won't look out for me unless I tell them to" is your only option.

I think it's also reasonable to accept that even people who do remember the date might not be sure of the right thing to do. Your social-media posts may have been taken as the all-clear to mention it, for example.

There's also the current state of minds addled by 2020. It is not an excuse for everything, and you absolutely deserve a show of support from those who know of your suffering--but i think it's fair to treat 2020 chaos as a mitigating circumstance, where even people who are on the thoughtful side are blanking on things regularly due to stress and burnout.

Just in general, I don't think we can go wrong in assuming people are hopeless about the whole subject of death--talking about it, understanding someone's feelings about it, showing support for people dealing with it, etc. It's terrible that it places another burden on people who are already grieving, but it makes the most sense for the people who need something to be explicit about those needs. To a close friend, for example, say it would mean everything to you just to get a text on his birthday. Give the date. Almost all of us have calendars in our pockets that beep at us when we tell them to. If someone asked me to do that, I'd do it, grateful for the clear instructions.

I just realized I didn't spell this out clearly: Your sadness is valid that no one thought of it independently. 

I'm sorry for your loss.

Hey Carolyn, happy holidays! So, my mom is most likely living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (not dxed because 'there's nothing wrong with her') and really it was never a problem until I grew up and wanted to do my own thing. Fast forward 20 years of emotional abuse and manipulation after putting forth my best effort and never being good enough, I'm going on year three of no contact. I want my mom, but I know we'll never have that relationship either of us wants, and I can't be trusted to maintain healthy boundaries with her outside of just not talking to her. The holidays are the worst and I just want to know, how do I work through that? I'm in my 40s and I am so thrilled to see other women have that with their moms but I really want it, too. But I'm embarrassed that I want my mom and can't have it. Thanks, c-

Why embarrassed? This isn't your fault. You cared, you tried--*for 20 years.* You reached a point where this is what you need to do.

So let yourself off that hook first. That's step one of working through this.

Next, the holiday this year, at least, is easy. This is the year to be apart, even from Mothers of the Year. So go all in there. Merry I-don't-have-to-second-guessmas.

Next, treat your present, today, as just that, an accumulation of your current conditions. Currently, your mom cannot give you anything of significance except abuse and manipulation, and currently, you still want things from your relationship with her that you can't have, and currently, you "I can't be trusted to maintain healthy boundaries with her outside of just not talking to her." Not ideal, but real, and good for you for being able to see it clearly for what it all is. 

Now add the understanding that any of these could change over time. I'm not saying, "Gee, your mom could miraculously become a healthy person!"--no false hopes here. I'm just saying that changing conditions--due to time, and whatever else time brings with it--can change the emotional math for you. You might change how you see her, or how she affects you might change.

Next, as you deal with this--or at least when you're ready--think of other ways to get your emotional needs yet. What is the maternal relationship you think you're missing out on? What are some of its individual components? What are some other sources for that experience?

It's easy to type and hard to do, but it's still something people do. Just about everyone is living without some relationship they'd always assumed they'd have--they're not close to their parents or one of both have died; they're not paired with a "soul mate," whatever their definition of that is; they don't have a best friend; they have a smattering of friends but no friend group; they know a neighbor or two but feel no sense of a real community; they are at odds or just meh with colleagues, and this accounts for the majority of their waking hours; they don't have children; they have sons but always hoped for a daughter; they have daughters but always hoped for a son; they have children but they're estranged; they're not estranged but they're just not close and it's a mystery why. They have a tiny family and always envisioned a loud, extended one; they have a loud extended family and are tired of not being seen.

I can go on all day and have taken half of it just typing out this list. Yes, some of these are much more significant, there are some apples mixed in with oranges, but the upshot is the same. We who can't have everything need to learn to invest in what we have. 

I hope you can turn your attention to letting go of your hope you can have this, and/or your disappointment that you can't, and start cultivating other things that might feed you.



My sibling's kids are between 9 and 14 years old. They never send thank you notes. I really can't blame the kids, because what kid is going to voluntarily send a thank you note if s/he's never sent one before? But it grates on me and it hurts my parents' (their grandparents') feelings. Is there something I should do? On the one hand, I feel some responsibility because these are kids who presumably don't know any better. And I love them. I don't want them to be unintentionally rude to future friends, co-workers, in-laws, etc. if they continue to never send thank you notes. But what could I realistically do? Reaching out a couple weeks after the gift is sent to say "hey, just wondering if you received the gift?" might work on people who intended but forgot to send a thank you note, but it doesn't work on kids who have no thought of a thank you note in their head. I also can't think of a way to say something to their parents that doesn't sound like I'm critiquing their parenting. I know that another tactic could be to just stop sending gifts. I think this is mean and, as I said, I really don't think the kids are at fault here, so how would that help them? They don't know any better. So .. I'm thinking I should just assume I will not be getting thank you notes from them, and then let it go as best I can. What do you think?

Yep. Pretty much. I've gone over this a few times over the decades, and where we are now is a place where the thank-you note rate in young people is about .0000001 percent.

I can't explain it. I can't defend it. But I've seen parents of the full range, who were diligent about demanding them and who cared not one bit about teaching this social grace, and as far as I can tell all kids from parents and guardians throughout the range went through the same funnel into the "never send thank-you notes" bucket.

If you are the parent of children or young adults who do send thank-yous (even by text!) , then 1. congratulations, 2. know they're the scarcest of exceptions, and 3. give them a celebratory pass on something else, because 2.

BTW, OP, you might want to mention to the grandparents that it's not personal and neither they nor their children failed, it's just the end times.

Over the past 3-4 months, I tentatively gave an ex a second chance (he has been aware of and acknowledged my hesitation). I am very impressed by his growth and the positive changes he has made, feel affection towards him, and like spending time with him. However, I've also realized that in the long-term - even with his great progress - I'm not in love with him anymore (I know that he is in love with me). He just left for a much-anticipated two week trip and with quarantines + holidays, we won't see each other in person for at least 6 weeks. Do I wait until January to break the news that I don't want a relationship with him? Call him and tell him now? Call and tell him when he returns from the vacation? I know the right thing to do is tell someone as soon as you know, but it seems cruel to disrupt his trip. He doesn't celebrate Christmas, so doing it over the phone when he is home later this month is an option too. Thanks Carolyn! Can't wait for the hoot...

I'm interested in what others think here, because my impulse is to go against what I'd typically say, that the time to tell is when you're sure--and you sound sure now. However, the unrelated six-week break is such a happy and potentially useful coincidence, it seems a shame to waste it. Why not use this time to sit with your feelings, and see what happens to them in his absence?

Hit me, everyone, if I'm wrong. 

Not that you've ever needed an invitation to do so.

Or waited for one.

My husband and I (no kids) are supposed to drive 10 hours to see family for Christmas. We have 3 sets of parents to see, all about 1 hour apart, so it's a long trip and not a vacation in any way for us. Due to covid and for the sake of our mental health, we are not going to make the trip, and instead will stay home, take a couple of days off work, and try to recharge in anticipation for 2021. All of my friends and my husband's family, while disappointed, completely understand our choice. My mother is not going to be happy and we are going to get pushback. If we cite covid, she'll ask why we traveled to see her for Thanksgiving (we didn't want to, but for a variety of reasons felt pressured to do so) and why did I just take a trip for work (essential to the business and I am now quarantining for 2 weeks). If we cite mental health, she will say well we won't be doing anything so you can relax here (it will not be relaxing for us). Any advice on which explanation to take and how to hold firm when she tries to pressure us to change our mind?

Cite covid. It's the only truth. Square up and take the maternal flak for it.

If she hits you with TG, then say TG travel was a mistake and you regret having done it. (Your not getting sick wasn't due to the excellence of your decision-making, it was luck, and luck is not a plan.)

If she hits you with your work travel (!?), then say you would have skipped it if you could have.

No more explanations beyond that. "It's sad, but not up for discussion." Change subject or end call. Pleasantly as you can.

My spouse, who has railed against people who don't wear masks, shamed those who have tested positive and is boycotting all sports viewing because of COVID (it's not fair to ask athletes to put themselves at risk), now insists that we travel six hours by car to their parents house for Christmas. They won't hear any talk of not going, despite elderly parents with extensive conditions that make them more vulnerable (and our own children, one of whom is also more vulnerable). Instead, all I get are responses like "testing will keep us safe", "it's not really that bad" and "we'll be so much more careful than everyone else." I'm insisting to the point of refusing to go, but that has led to threats like "You want to quit the family? Fine. Don't be here when we get back." Well, I'm not leaving (not this month, anyway) and I'm not going. Is there another way to handle this?

Not if your spouse continues to see this as all about spouself.

Think about it: shaming those who test positive, a showy sports boycott? Those are both, "Look at how virtuous I am." I could argue the sports thing the other way, and I'm a shoo-in for any railing-at-the-anti-mask-people championship--but the shaming is the thing. When medical staff are getting infected and dying under their PPE, we've got all the evidence we need to recognize that precautions are not perfect. 

So, anyway: Take the "Look how virtuous I am" performative outrage and add it to the "... but since -I- want to see people, it's okay to travel," and what you have in Spouse is a self-defined No. 1, Priority Person. You all [makes dismissive hand gesture] are little people. Oh--don't forget Spouse's attitude, that "WE will do the travel thing safely, because I'M special."

Maybe I've read this wrong, feel free to defend Spouse's honor--but that gawdawful "You want to quit the family? Fine." reaction to your presuming to take a stand against No. 1? That suggests I'm not too far off. 

The issue of your having children makes this very difficult, because you can't just stay home and keep them home if your spouse is going to fight you on it. But this battle is worth fighting. "You go--I'll stay here with the kids." Much safer for the parents that way, you can say.  You can keep your more vulnerable child home. You can appeal to your pediatrician for help/support. Toothless, ultimately, but maybe enough to tip it. 

[Coming back to this after agitating: If you mean it about leaving--"(not this month ...)", you say, but apparently it's in the realm of consideration?--then please make appointments for you solo with a therapist and attorney. Hard as that is now, I expect Zoom is an option and the need sounds immediate. Take care.]

I know this is going to show how middle aged I am (41), but this pandemic has been an amazing chance for me to really cement some relationships on the phone. We are all stuck at home and when I have something boring to do, I call someone at the same time. The person is usually home too and enjoys the break to talk to someone else. I know email, text, and messaging is how most people tend to stay in communication, but it takes a lot more mental energy for me to compose an email than have a conversation. Plus, it’s easier to really have a heart to heart conversation. I know a lot of people are feeling done talking because of Zoom, I feel exhausted after a Zoom meeting, but relaxed and energized after a great phone conversation. It brings pleasure to the mundane things in life since I’m not doing them by myself. I just wanted to throw out the phone conversation option to people. It’s been a lifeline for me.

What's a phone

I would check the condo association rules on smoking - smoking anything. Many have rules again smoking, or smoking in areas that affect others. If so, you could ask the association how to proceed. And I'm with you - have nothing against weed, but the smell is very intrusive and it is everywhere these days.

I am so sorry that the poster is going through this. Though I have not been in the same situation, I can say that I would be paralyzed at feeling like I had to respond to a flood of messages, sent however kindly, on a day of grief for me. Yes, I know that I would not have to respond immediately, but it's also not hard to imagine someone writing to you and saying, "I texted my cousin in remembrance of a sad event, and she ignored me." My point is only that grieving is individual and it's so easy to project what we would want or do onto what everyone "should" do. It doesn't mean that the person who messages me when I would rather wallow privately doesn't care that I would rather wallow privately; it means they've interpreted being kind to me in the way that makes sense to them.

Lovely, useful thought in that last sentence especially, thank you.

I text my friends and family on death anniversaries/deceased loved one's birthdays all the time, but I don't always mention the loss specifically. I want my loved one to know I'm thinking of them and that I'm with them on that date, and that I remember their lost one, but I don't necessarily want to say, "I'm so sorry your husband died so young, 10 years ago today." Or to my brother, "I remember my nephew and I remember that he died today, 13 years ago, but let's talk about your other kids." Instead I just remind that that I'm around. If they bring up the lost loved one, I will talk about it, but I have a hard time being the one to bring it up. What if this year was the year they weren't thinking about it much, since forgetting is impossible? What if this is the year they marked the date but didn't dwell? I don't want to be the glassbowl that brings it back to the forefront of their mind. Anyway, I would guess her son's aunt texting her on the 19th birthday out of the blue probably WAS doing it because of the birthday, she just didn't know how to say it. She didn't want to bring up that ghost in case mama was at peace this year, but she didn't feel right letting it pass without marking it in some way.

Also a nice thought, thank you. 

Do you have any other relationship with these kids beyond the occasional gift? Because you can leverage that. My nieces/nephews are my Godkids and I just took that on myself as their Godparent (it's annoying + if you do it, people will love you and you will make your own life easier). I didn't even involve my sister. It was easier once they got their own phones because texting is just easier. And, a text, esp with a photo, definitely counts. My 21YO niece actually recently thanked me for it due to work situation she was involved with.

I was you and am now going on 15 years of no contact. I think the farther she gets in your rearview mirror the more you'll see that it didn't just become a problem when you grew up and wanted to make your own choices. It was there all along. And you'll recognize kids who are in the same boat much better and quicker than other people will, and you'll know how to be there for them. Maybe this isn't super helpful during Covid but when the world opens up again you will save hearts and maybe lives too.

The only way to address this is with the kids. If possible especially now in COVID establish an email relationship with them or regular zooms or calls. And tell them that when you send them a gift you really want to see them enjoy it -- you would LOVE to see a snapshot of them with the gift. It isn't a 'thank you note' nag, but a statement about how you hope to make them happy and you wish you could be there with them but would love to see them with the gift. Kids this age have the technology access to make that happen. And you model thanks to them and hope they get the idea on that.

One of the things I've seen over and over - especially for the whole bend-over-backwards rationalization attempts to allow text/phone instead of in-person - is the whole school of thought that you're breaking up with someone that way to 'set them free/not embarrass them/etc' rather than what a breakup is at its core: an act that's necessary but also intrinsically selfish, since you're doing it for you, not for them. The flip side: if you keep the selfish part in mind and try to really put yourself in his shoes and figure out what's in his best interests, decisions like this are a whole lot easier. Is he on a relaxing vacation (in the midst of COVID, hah!) where he can meet someone else/rebound/etc? Or is he on a brutal work assignment in an ER and just wants to collapse at the end of the day? Is he putting tons of effort/money into trying to maintain a relationship that isn't going to exist? All these factor into whether or not you tell him now or later.

I have two tween nieces (sisters). One is great with my young kids, the other one is dismissive toward them at best, completely rude at worst. Am I allowed to spend more on the "nice niece"'s Christmas present...?


If I ever have the opportunity to allow someone to enjoy their vacation or whatever by not giving them bad news until they're back home, I do it! Unless it's something that they obviously need to know ASAP. And that's a call I have to make. If you're not seeing the person every day (and feigning feelings you don't have), why not wait?

Well, one argument is that it could retroactively change the person's view of their vacation. Stage-managing for someone else is an inherently flawed business, so I generally save it for when it's a no-brainer. Like (I think) in the comment I posted upthread, when someone is on a brutal work assignment.

But the rest of your point stands, thanks, to take all opportunities to leave people to their joy. If it's a tough call then err on the side of not ruining things.

Re: Thank you's - I stopped sending my goddaughter gifts because I never got a thank you, written or verbal. Her parents don't say it and she hasn't learned it. While it's a not a quid pro quo, once she hit 12, I simply stopped. I was chatting with her mom the other day, who mentioned causally "We buy X whatever she wants so she doesn't even notice gifts." 'Splains a lot. Now I only provide experiences when we are together; means more in the long run than some material items she doesn't even notice...

Never underestimate the power of a good "broken record." If Mom lets it go, great. If you have to end the call, it's not great but it's okay. If she brings it up again later, do NOT go through the explanations again. "I know, Mom. It's sad but not up for discussion." Yes, again. Yes, same words or very very close to same words. If you try to vary the way you deliver the message, that may give her a foot in the door for a new attempt to change your mind. Same words. She might not like it. She doesn't have to. You might feel weird repeating yourself. Feel weird and give yourself big credit for maintaining your necessary and important boundary.

The best way to get kids to write thank-you notes is for adults to write thank-you notes. Write them to the kids at the slightest provocation! Write them to the kids' parents so the kids will see them! If you're an adult raising kids, write thank-you notes to other people where your kids can see you doing so! Often, the only exposure to thank-you notes that kids get is their parents trying to make them write thank-you notes. They never see another thank-you note in the wild, so they perceive it as something their parents are making them do to be mean, rather than a normal part of life. If they see adults are also doing it, they'll likely be more receptive.

Otherwise every text you send in the next six weeks is a lie, or worse. We're not really any of us good enough actors to pull off waiting, just do it.

My recommendation - give this to the HOA, they are equipped to handle it.

I vote for Now. It sounds like you've given this a lot of thought and attention for a few months. Give him the opportunity to start processing this as soon as you know. It sounds like you know.

Let him enjoy his trip, and tell him when he gets back, but before he is out of quarantine (if he's quarantining for any reason) or before he calls to make plans. You can always cite the break as helping you realize that you just didn't miss him enough to believe you're still in love.

May I recommend Compassionate Friends? They're a national organization dedicated to supporting parents who have lost children of all ages.

Based on what you know of him as an individual and what you know of the details of his trip and of his regular life when he returns from the trip, will he be in a better position to emotionally process the breakup now or later? Is there anything going on (either during his trip or when he gets home) where he'll have to be at the top of his game, or will be particularly busy, or it would otherwise be especially inconvenient for him to go through emotional turmoil? Is there anything where he's more likely to have the time and space to deal with emotional turmoil?

"Not that you've ever needed an invitation to do so. Or waited for one." I'm pretty sure you meant that as humor, but it sounded borderline self-pitying. Just in case, though, let me send you a hug (( )) to say we love you and appreciate you. There's never a bad time to say you are appreciated.

Ha. Thank you. I meant it as a joke. 

...for refusing to hang out with or give quarter to the parents' bigoted friend. Cheers to him.

Yes. My mistake, not saying that.

When I was a kid, my parents didn't let me have the gift until I wrote a thank you note or called the gift-giver to say thank you. That stuck, even when I got old enough to be in control of the gifts I received.

We did this--def worth a try.

Thanks, Carolyn! That's what I figured. Ah well. :-)

Nice try though. 

After telling him you'll stay home with the kids, don't forget to establishh, in advance, how he'll quarantine in your house or elsewhere when he gets back. Also decide when/where he will get tested. My husband and I had a similar discussion in July, and we had a pan for afterward. The event we were both invited to ultimately got cancelled, but his feeling like he and his friends could "be smarter than others" regarding distancing was infuriating.

Good points, thanks. In-house quarantine/isolation is surprisingly complex.

Shouldn't the LW's response be "If you go, don't bother coming back" (followed by a quick call to a divorce lawyer)?

If LW is ready, perhaps, but LW didn't sound ready.

We all need to hear about the crazy, funny family shenanigans!!!

OKAY, okay. Give me a second to bring some water to the goats, then we're on. 

Yikes, crowdsource needed! The singing goat soundtrack isn't where it always was on YouTube--it's voices now. I have it only on Spotify. Anyone?

Also--no Pops's Night Before Christmas this year. He says it's NSFW and about 90 percent politics. So, it's all you guys this year:

I was at a party at a friend's house when something gave me gas (a constant problem of mine). Not wanting to embarrass myself, I stepped out on the deck behind the house, which was empty. I was about to let loose when a guy came out, walked over and said, "A lovely woman like you shouldn't be out here all alone. My name is Todd. What's yours?" I farted VERY loudly -- I'll never forget the shocked look on his face. I said, "Oh God! I am so sorry! I came out here to do that in private. Now I'm mortified." He replied, "Beautiful AND courteous. I didn't hear your name, though." We laughed hysterically, and then began a long conversation. We've been dating for four months! Lucky in Love

And we're off.

In 1971, I'd just come back from Vietnam from my 2nd tour of duty as an Army nurse. I worked as a civilian at an Army hospital at Ft. Campbell, KY. I invited all of my co-workers, mostly younger Army staff who would be away from home for this holiday to my rental home on a wooded lot on Barkley Lake. Come anytime! Enjoy! I had the huge turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, taters, green bean casserole, pies, the whole nine yards. Just before the first folks arrived, I had to retrieve something from the basement for some reason. The floor was wet as the basement toilet was overflowing. I tried plunging it, but stuff kept returning. Every time the upstairs toilet was flushed, the contents would empty out onto the basement floor. What to do? I had got an entire ward in 2 shifts along with friends coming to my home. I couldn't really send them out to the woods with toilet paper. So I went upstairs, locked the basement door & greeted my first guests. We had a great Thanksgiving with lots of laughter & good food. The day after, I cleaned the basement and called the landlord. The house was on a septic tank and the drain field was full. (This was not in my knowledge base at age 23). He immediately had the problem fixed. In Dec., I paid the $150 rent minus $20. The landlord called and asked about the short payment. "Well, Dewey, I shoveled sh** for 8 hours, I think you got a bargain". He concurred & this became one of my most memorable Thanksgiving Days.... the frozen turkey with the giblets & spoon inside was another as well as the time the dogs ate the pumpkin pie in the VW van but that's for another time. Pat

Can I use that too? For, like, everything? 

"Well, Dewey, I shoveled sh** for 8 hours, I think you got a bargain."

My family has a tradition of spending Christmas Eve at a local arthouse theater that shows Christmas classic movies the whole night long. Last year my older brother, who'd told us he couldn't make it home, found a last-minute cheap flight and decided to surprise us all by sliding in next to us at the 7 p.m. screening of It's a Wonderful Life. Except, for once, we didn't see It's a Wonderful Life. We couldn't get six tickets, so we were next door at Meet Me In St. Louis, everyone with their phone ringers off. The movie ended. We went out for Chinese food and drove around to look at light displays. Meanwhile my brother watched It's a Wonderful Life by himself, in a theater full of strangers, and then spent the next three hours dialing our turned-off phones and thinking we'd all died in an accident.

That's "It's a Wonderful Life"-level dark, if you think about it.

I want to thank the poster in November 13th's Live who mentioned that a certain online behemoth sold screaming goat figurines. I immediately ordered one for everybody participating in our Thanksgiving zoom, which we called NoThanksgiving Awkward Dance Party. Armed with adult beverages, everyone got to say what they missed doing/having/seeing this year, and we all made our goats scream in solidarity. Then we danced, and the hip young persons refrained from laughing at the olds' flailing. We may do it again for Christmas. It'll be way better than the year the Little Green Elf (aka Grandma) gave my teenage sister a sample pack of tampons wrapped in a styrofoam meat tray. Could have used those screaming goats then.

One Christmas, my mom's parents were coming over, which always made mom tense. Her mom was a natural at cooking, baking, hosting, etc.; my mom, not so much. That morning the house was spotless and sparkling, a vision of Christmas. The tree twinkled in the corner, laden with gifts. We're all in the living room: mom, dad, sister, grandparents, me, when in comes Bootsie, our orange tabby cat. He must've picked up on mom's tension, or maybe didn't like having "strangers" in his house. He proceeds across the room, nears the tree, hikes up a leg, and lets loose with a mighty blast of cat pee. Like he's Zorro, and he's writing a 'z' in a diagonal line from the loveseat, across the tree, and onward to the couch. People are sitting all around the tree at that moment, you understand. Complete pandemonium erupts. My grandmother, a matronly southern women, is making a sound I can't really describe. Like an extended chicken cluck, a ululation, like she's inhaling and exhaling at the same time. My grandfather is up on his feet in a shot, patting his front breast pocket. He mumbles something about going outside for a smoke, but we lock eyes for a second and, even though I'm only about 6, I KNOW he's really going outside to laugh his ass off out of earshot of his wife and daughter. The last thing I see is his head bobbing off in the distance. Meanwhile, my sister gets blamed. Completely unfair. She had held Bootsie sometime earlier that morning and was said to have squeezed him too hard. Parents, in the heat of the moment, sometimes, falter. She immediately bursts into sobs, weeping uncontrollably, a fountain of woe. She is right, it is UNJUST. Dad grabs Bootsie by the scruff of the neck and punts him outside. The cat, by then, knew he had gone too far and was content to vapor for a while. Next, dad grabs the bole of the tree, doodads and all hanging off of it, and stalks out back to power wash it. It was a fake tree from Sears, the kind you assemble/disassemble. Mom, meanwhile, retreats to the kitchen, weepy, and is trying to salvage some of the decorations and gifts that were under the tree. Perfect Christmas was a bust. My parents were children of the Great Depression. In case you're wondering, we used that same fake tree for another 20 years - even though the smell never did quite come out. And cat pee will take the paint right off of a Christmas ornament. Mom kept using most of them too, even though they were, uh, blotchy afterward. The kicker is, this is my family's second best cat pee story. Happy holidays, y'all.



Dearest Carolyn, I am a longtime fan of your column, but only recently became aware of your chats, and much to my delight, your holiday hoot. I immediately binged on all the available horrors and was inspired to write some new words to an old favorite, I hope you enjoy it. I will send it in all caps, to inspire belting. Thank you for all you do for me all year. 


On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

A Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent me,

Five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Seven stripping Susans, six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

An eight ball of cocaine, seven stripping Susans, six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Nine kids a-barfing, an eight ball of cocaine, seven stripping Susans, six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Ten hope-it's-not-clothes, nine kids a-barfing, an eight ball of cocaine, seven stripping Susans, six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Eleven blown-up Pyrex, ten hope-it's-not-clothes, nine kids a-barfing, an eight ball of cocaine, seven stripping Susans, six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.


On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Twelve please no more gifts, eleven blown-up Pyrex, ten hope-it's-not-clothes, nine kids a-barfing, an eight ball of cocaine, seven stripping Susans, six kinds of chutney, five hundred miles both ways! Four singing goats, three used socks, two Atkins bars and a Death Chair for my Grampy.

And I will send it out in no-longer-all-caps to avoid inspiring violence over such a brilliant compilation.

Damn. Thank you.

A chatter lamented last week about being a pod of one, and that resonates. I'm not trying to compete in the My Pod of One is Worse Than Your Pod of One Olympics, but ... in addition to being solo, working from home, and no friends or family or relationships to bubble with, I got food poisoning (I think) the night before Thanksgiving and spent 7 hours in the ER, including a big chunk of time in the waiting room with other patients with mediocre mask compliance abilities. I wound up in the ER because I was convinced I was having a heart attack (yay acid reflux!). There are more gory details, but I'll spare everyone....although I do have pink rectangles on my torso because it turns out the adhesive from the EKG stickers irritate my skin. Thanks to the food poisoning, my solo Thanksgiving meal was applesauce. Lots and lots of applesauce because I was hungry but it took nearly a week for my stomach to return to normal. Anyway, like I said, my Thanksgiving was on brand. Can't wait to see what happens for Christmas 2020.

Bubble-wrap yourself, K? I worry.

So, the only Hoot aspect is that one Xmas my ex got a lovely (beautiful, really) bowl for my mum, and delivered it full of lovely muffins. It was such a perfect gift. Well, fast forward a decade, and he has left me in spectacular fashion, and I have outsources all anger to my mum, and she gives me the bowl and suggests it would make a lovely smashing sound dropped down the trash cute from my 7th floor post-divorce apartment. It did.

I like your mom.

One Thanksgiving, my extended family was visiting a cousin’s vacation cabin. He was a single man, no kids, so the cabin kitchen upkeep and supplies left a bit to be desired, making the preparation of a big, elaborate Thanksgiving meal more of a challenge than usual. When it was time to roast the turkey, the womenfolk discovered the oven wasn’t working, making my grandmother yell out in frustration, “Oh, I wish those damn pilgrims had shot a couple hot dogs for Thanksgiving!” Every year when I’m at the height of big holiday cooking, I find yelling out the same relives some pressure.

My MIL is skipping having Christmas with my husband and me and her newest grandbaby because she’s worried about who will coordinate Santa’s gift drop for my niece and nephew. They are 16 and 15.

My ex-in-laws were quite a collection of folks. Big Sicilian family who didn’t get along, but always came together for the Christmas Eve Feast of the Fishes, for which my ex-MIL cooked for weeks, but refused all offers of help, and then acted like a martyr. One year, she complained about all the cooking she had done and all the food would disappear in 45min. She brought the food in, slamming it on the table and cursing: “Here’s the damn pasta.” My ex-husband had been looking forward to the roasted potatoes, and loved the burned parts. When she slammed the potatoes down on the table, my ex said, “Ma, what happened to the potatoes? There aren’t any burned parts.” Her reply, I kid you not: “I didn’t have time to burn the damn potatoes.” It gets worse. The ex-FIL was a blamer. Whatever happened, he always had to assign blame to someone. The apartment was overheated, but the thermostat was in the landlady’s apartment, not theirs. FIL kept saying, “Mary, for God’s sake, would you turn down the heat? I don’t know why you always make it so hot!” My ex-BIL had strange habits, including routinely arriving 3 hours late, and my ex-MIL would make everyone wait to eat till he arrived. So everyone was starving and even more ill-tempered than usual. Between the several courses and dessert, the ex-BIL disappeared from the table. The next thing we know, the water is running in the bathroom and he’s taking a shower, so everyone has to wait for him again before we can have dessert. We hear the hair dryer start, then stop and all the lights went out—blew a fuse. Next thing we hear is my ex-FIL blaming: “MAAAARY!!!!”

"Well, Dewey, I shoveled sh** for 8 hours. I didn’t have time to burn the damn potatoes."

One year we went to a very upscale French restaurant on Christmas Eve. My dad was sipping a cognac after dinner when my grandma announced she was ready to leave. My dad protested that he wasn’t done enjoying his drink. She looked at it, picked it up, drained it in one gulp, put it down, and said “You’re done now.” Dad couldn’t argue with that.

A few years ago was my first Christmas without my sisters, who had moved out of the house. With just me and my parents on Christmas morning, I opened a present from my parents - a video game from a brand new system that I didn't own. Then I saw a second present - exactly the right size and shape of the gaming system. I excitedly ripped into the paper and unwrapped...a cat fan. Or, as the box said a "Decorative Fan Shaped Like A Cat." Not having my sisters around to make eye contact with them was just about the hardest etiquette experience of my life. I left the room in a coughing fit, and it took me several hours to approach my parents and politely say "I've been doing some research, and it turns out you can't play a game without a system." They were shocked....I guess they thought I could play the game on a decorative cat fan? (To this day, the cat fan sits on my mantle because a friend put it there while helping me move and I hadn't had a chance to get rid of it.'s an institution.)

We had 4 stair step kids in fewer than 6 years and went all out with gifts at Christmas. One year our oldest became super quiet and sad as the wrappings kept being ripped off. When we asked she said, "Why did Santa Claus that we don't even know give us so much and Mommy and Daddy didn't give us anything?" After we got a grip we told her that we, the parents, enjoyed pretending to be Santa which she understood. From that year on Santa did the stockings period. So much insight from a 4 year or so old.

Did you know "parent at christmas" is an anagram for "can't freaking win"? 

Humor me.

Back in the last age, when I was a teenager, I went to my aunt's house for Christmas eve. I was in town from college and staying there for three days. Christmas eve they get all dressed up, eat fancy food and give gifts. I was terribly uncomfortable already because I got one gift, while the five of them had heaps of gifts to open. Its finally almost over, and the dog jumps up on my lap. And she PEES all over me. In my nice clothes. I jump up, and try to mop myself off enough to walk downstairs and collect my things to shower. By the time I get back upstairs, no more than five minutes, my male cousin had run into the only bathroom to "take a bath" and was running the water, so of course, he had the right to be there first according to my aunt. While I stood there, covered in dog pee, gobsmacked that my aunt was okay with this. Her stepson took pity on me and drove me fifteen minutes away to use his mom's shower. When we got back, my cousin was STILL in the bathtub. The part that still gets me? That his mother, my aunt, her husband, ans his sister all thought this was perfectly reasonable behavior on all their parts. It was literally never spoken of again. When I tried to bring it up a few years later, they all told me I was exaggerating. Excepting the step-brother who took pity on me.

Good you got the whole package--sucks to be under-gifted, peed on, then not get gaslighted later. 

A few years ago we arrived at the annual family holiday testament to American excess only to learn that one of the families had been struggling with norovirus. My littlest nephew put the cherry on the sundae by recreating an iconic scene (I'm sure you know the one) from The Exorcist all over the living room rug, sofa, and a number of gifts. Of 25 in attendance 21 were hurling violently within twelve hours, and the pestilence quickly spread from there throughout the extended-extended family, eventually infecting several dozen. I escaped infection by clearing out and deploying the entire bleach section of my local supermarket; to this day I believe the probable ensuing lung damage was worth it. This year we're staying home.

There we go! It's not a hoot without a mass-vomit incident.

Thanksgiving this year was small, for obvious reasons. I've been hosting Thanksgiving (perhaps an over-the-top Thanksgiving) for over a decade. This year, a local restaurant had Thanksgiving dinners for 6. I ordered one. And day of, promptly transferred it into my pots and pans. Throughout the meal, my mother asks, "You don't normally make green bean casserole, right" and "This isn't your normal stuffing recipe, is it?" I gave vague, my non-confirming answers. Finally, "You did something different with the turkey this year, didn't you?" "Yea, ma. I ordered it from a F%%**ng restaurant." It's possible that a healthy dose of sangria had been applied. I thought my sister was going to die laughing at me.


Since my father-in-law retired he's become a big fan of those televised cooking shows. He has some very strong opinions on cooking for someone who doesn't even make toast. One is that garnishes should only be edible. Okay but it turns out we have different definitions on what is a garnish and what is edible. Two years ago he was annoyed that I had a ribbon tied around the stem of a pedestal dish holding cranberry relish. He yanked the ribbon off and knocked the dish over. Left a stain on the tablecloth I inherited from my grandmother. Last year a sprig of sage on the pork roast platter angered him. He made a huge show of throwing it across the room. It landed on the floor and our lab puppy gobbled it up. Later when she threw it up on the rug he blamed me saying I hadn't my lesson learned about garnishes. He and my mother-in-law can't be with us this year. I don't think I'll miss him.

"Well, Dewey, you have some strong opinions on cooking for someone who doesn't even make toast."

One year I bought my MIL a very nice name-brand jacket. I have one and love it and thought she would too. The next year I opened a gift from her and it was the same jacket in the same box. It was obvious the jacket had never been taken out. Did I mention we are nowhere near the same size? Another year I bought her and my FIL a set of cordless telephones for their home. She brought them back and said they didn't want them. Of course, it was past the date to return and get a refund. My husband shops for them now.

I hope he buys something lovely in your size.

My mom is extremely particular about how her Christmas tree should look: real tree, moderately sized, white lights only, ornaments following a strict color theme. When my sister and I wanted to add an ornament or change something up we were always over-ruled. When we complained, she always said the same thing: "When you have your own trees, you can do whatever you want." A few years ago, I bought a house and now have my own tree, just like she always said. Last year I had an open house and my parents attended. My mother was literally speechless with horror when she saw my 8 and a half foot artificial tree, with multi-colored lights and the varied ornaments I'd been collecting for years. She kept asking me if I REALLY thought it looked nice. Every time I said I loved it, she shook her head at the disappointment her older daughter turned out to be. The highlight of the night was when she saw my boss admiring the tree and told her, "I'm sure you're wondering about that tree, so let me tell you, she certainly didn't learn that at home!"

She said you could do whatever you want with your own trees--she didn't say she wouldn't go speechless with horror, trash you to your boss, and wonder to the end of her days where she had gone so wrong. 

My husband loves my stories about my Polish grandmom and how fussy she was about Christmas. He suggested I send you a list of the things that could absolutely RUIN her Christmas if they weren’t done. Buckle up, it’s a long list.

Things that could ruin Christmas for Babula:

if there was no carp served on Christmas Eve (it’s a Polish thing), if any meat or dairy was served on Christmas Eve (also a Polish thing), if the house wasn’t sparkling clean top to bottom, including the front step scrubbed with steel wool, no matter how cold it was (it’s a Baltimore thing), if the lights on the tree didn’t twinkle, if the tinsel on the tree wasn’t perfectly straight and evenly dispersed, it the manger scene wasn’t set up “right” (no baby Jesus until Christmas Eve, no wise men until Epiphany), if the lights on the front window weren’t in the right order (all five or six colors repeated perfectly from beginning to end), if you didn’t save every scrap of usable wrapping paper and ribbon after opening gifts, if you didn’t have some of her poppy seed rolls and say it was the best thing ever (I hate poppy seeds).

I loved her and miss her so much but d@mn that woman was particular about Christmas!

So 30-odd years ago, my parents bought boxed wine for the family holiday party and decanted it. No one but them knew it was boxed wine. So I'm 12, I've been paying no attention to the wine situation, and I don't realize that all night they've been telling everyone that asked it was "chee-ab-lay red" like it was fancy. So the end of the night, I walk through the kitchen and see the box and go "oh, cool, chillable red." They were *mortified* and all red wine has been chee-ab-lay red since.

Years ago, families from 3 states on my then-wife's side gathered at a winter resort community in Central Oregon for Xmas. When we arrived, we found the oven in the main cabin was covered with baked on residue and I had the gallant idea to use the self-cleaning feature the next morning. Problem solved! Once it started, the oven door locked and there was no way to stop it and when acrid black smoke started pouring up through the stovetop burners I quickly turned on the overhead vent. That's when we discovered that there wasn't any flue to the outside and all the fans did was push the smoke straight up to the ceiling! Everyone packed up and went over at one of the other rented cabins, while I spent the day with the heat off and all doors and windows open in 18°F weather trying to clear the wretched stench out of the cabin. Xmas dinner actually turned out great but I wasn't ever allowed near an oven again around them.

Ever? I'm trying this.

My contribution -- I received a SINGLE taper candle as a present from a cousin.

1. Tampons in a styrofoam meat tray. 

2. Maybe you'll get the other candle this year.

In normal times, the extended family spends Christmas at my sister's, as she's clergy and therefore can't travel for Christmas. Being either there or with my partner's extended family means I'm never able to host Christmas. So I decided about ten years ago to scratch the "hosting and cooking" itch by doing glorious decadent baking as my gift to the family. It has not historically gone well. The first year after I made this decision, I flew to my parents' house, made a gingerbread cake with fancy decorations, and then we all bundled up in the car, the precious cake carefully in its plastic case, to go to my sister's, about four hours away. Upon arrival in her town, we all checked into the B&B, unloaded the car, repacked the presents and food, and drove to my sister's apartment. As my dad was accelerating onto the highway, we heard a THUNK, and I looked out the back window to see the cake, in its plastic container - which had been briefly set on the roof of the car during the unpacking process and forgotten about - merrily sailing through the air, bouncing along the shoulder, and spinning into a snow-covered New England ditch. My dad pulled over, and three generations of the family spilled out of the car and started a search party among the snow, our wheezing laughter interrupted only by a carful of Good Samaritans who stopped to help, thinking our car had broken down, and who then joined in the search for the errant cake. It was eventually found - the lid had fallen off, and the cake split into three pieces, but centrifugal force had actually kept the pieces in its container. My dad carried it triumphantly back to the car, and we all spontaneously joined in his catchphrase from our childhood when we complained about how our food looked - "IT ALL WINDS UP IN THE STOMACH." Determined to recover from this catastrophe, the next year, I did the same - flew to my parents' house, and, this time, baked over 100 gingerbread cookies, all carefully and individually decorated in winter outfits, no two the same. I did striped scarves, cute hats, detailed faces - I spent hours on this. My mother then offered to put them in the freezer to keep them fresh until we went to my sister's. Except, instead of putting them in a rigid container, she painstakingly put them all in large Ziploc bags, and then moved them into the freezer and then into a paper bag in the back of the car. Where, over the course of a five-hour drive on potholed roads, they all split into pieces. So instead of 100 handmade unique gingerbread people, we had, instead, several bags of dismembered gingerbread body parts. Upon arrival at my sister's house, we discovered my nephew had been using his "3-d dinosaur gingerbread cookie" kit, so we suddenly also had about a dozen large cookie dinosaurs on hand. Our mission was clear: we hung up a blue backdrop, stuck celery in Play-doh to make trees, and then shoved various broken gingerbread person body parts into the mouths and hands of the dinosaur cookies, scattered other body parts around the landscape, added large amounts of red icing for extra blood and gore, and had a paleontologically inaccurate festive photo shoot of dismembered gingerbread people. Merry Christmas, everyone!

We'll be here again next year, just sayin.

Years back when I was a young singer scratching out a living, I made decent holiday money by being a professional caroler at malls, airports, events and such. One time in particular, there were four of us caroling through a local shopping center, and generally having a great time. We would wander slowly while singing to gather a crowd, and when we reached a more open courtyard we would stop and give a short mini-concert for all the assembled. Well. We had stopped at one such courtyard, and as we fanned out to do our little set, one of us pleaded, “Can we please do some different songs? We’ve been singing the same bloomin’ carols all night!” The rest of us concurred, and we decided to dig deeper into our carol book for fresh ideas. “What about 'What Child Is This?'” someone asked. “People know it, but we’ve never done it.” We agreed. The one problem with doing a new song is that while we were broadly familiar with it, its novelty meant that we would be more closely tied to our music. To simplify things, we agreed to have soloists take the verses. I took the first verse. Now, for those unfamiliar with the carol, the first verse goes: “What Child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” The second verse reads “Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?” Well… I did the unforgivable and let my eyes drop down the lines as I sang, accidentally combining the first and second verse. So my solo turn, sung with great gusto and emotion, was: What child is this Who laid to rest On Mary’s ass is feeding… There was a gasp—probably from me—and a moment of silence as the world went white before my eyes. “BREAKTIME!” shouted our leader, and we collectively fled the scene. I’ve never been able to hear that particular song the same way again.

Nor should you.

I was 8 in the latter half of the 20th c., and we had a houseful of relatives on Christmas Day. Cocktails were flowing copiously. Everyone was looking forward to a beautiful turkey. My mother asked her sister Vera to go check on the bird and baste it with the cooking oil on the counter. Now, Vera was a single “career gal,” a nurse, who never cooked but she definitely liked her G&Ts. She went to the kitchen and basted the bird. My mom sent me to the kitchen to get some paper towels to mop up a spill, and the kitchen smelled like a Christmas tree. I told my mom the kitchen smelled really good, like a tree. She went to the kitchen. Aunt Vera had basted the bird, liberally, with the Pine Sol on the counter near the sink. The bird was glossy, beautiful and smelled like an entire pine forest had been felled. With a grim look, Mom proceeded to the “loaves and fishes” operation, pulling out a canned ham and cans of pineapple, homemade spaghetti sauce from the freezer and a few other things. That fresh-smelling and well-sanitized bird went into a trash bag. Kitchen windows were opened to reduce the eye-watering pine smell and somehow, the dinner table was full. Aunt Vera never, ever lived that down. It came up every year. Whenever I see or smell Pine Sol, that memory never fails to pop up, in a heart-warming way. I had my own “loaves and fishes” moment many years later. I was a single young Navy officer stationed in Naples, and I invited some other single officers over for dinner on Christmas Eve. I had bought a large ham at the Commissary, which had to be pre-ordered, and carefully followed the directions for heating it at so many minutes per pound. I had wonderful sides prepared, the table looked festive, and all was going well. I picked up my carving knife and started to slice it, only to discover that a few inches in, the ham was still rock hard and frozen. So hard, in fact, the tip of my carving knife broke off and stuck in the ham. I had no idea when the big holiday ham shipments came in from the U.S., they were frozen. Channeling Mom, I opened more wine and started the pasta water boiling.

The first year DH and I were married, we hosted his sister, her husband, and their three kids for dinner. DH had given me a thong that played Christmas carols as a gag gift, and I happened to be wearing it during dinner. After dessert, quite full, I leaned back in my chair and... yep, my tush started playing Christmas music. The younger kids kept asking "where's the music coming from?", but I'm pretty sure their mom and the teenage niece figured it out.

Best subject line ever.

But I'm afraid the two people involved might be participating in the hoot, and there's no way they wouldn't recognize themselves. Too bad. It's a doozy. Maybe one day.


What is the first-best cat pee story?


Pre-COVID, my multicultural workplace had potlucks for holiday celebrations, and my coworkers would regularly hound me to wear something and cook food representing my "culture" (cook, not bring, because I present as female, I GUESS, while the handful of males get to have their wives/roommates(??) do it for them, I GUESS). So I finally did get into cooking a little as a result of cooking shows and dietary necessity, and I decided to do a fried dish popular in "my culture" that I had been craving. Problem is, I only had a small cheapo fryer that's a hassle to use, since I had never fried before to know what brands and features were good. All other shopping and prep work aside, it took about four hours straight to fry enough for the whole office to try some. Also, the house still smelled like the frying oil even after months have passed. The other problem is we have one (1!) microwave in the office and there was a long line ahead of me, so my food didn't reheat very well by the time my coworkers were hassling me about the potluck starting. But no worries! Because almost no one tried it anyway. Like, I saw ONE person take a single bite size piece and proceed to the next dish. Even after the potluck was over and everyone divvied up the leftovers, at least half of what I brought was still untouched amidst the dozens of other empty dishes. At another potluck, I had my husband bring freshly made Wegmans sushi, and it was a massive hit.

There you go. 

(Another A+ subject line)

Aunt Vera's niece or nephew was 8 for fifty years?

Yes, having something to do with household-chemical exposure.

Busiest holiday season ever with three teenagers and two working parents, way more appointments and events than possible to prepare for and attend, etc.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve afternoon, when mom finally realizes the tree isn’t even bought let alone decorated, so husband and son dash over to the nearest Christmas tree lot. There’s only a few scraggly trees left, so they choose one, load it on top of the car, and head back home.

As they manhandled it through the door Every. Single. Needle. fell off the tree. Six feet of forest fire fodder was standing in the front hallway with a large pile of needles next to it. Mom made husband and son return the tree to the lot for a refund, but, predictably, it was closed down when they got back. That year the potted Norfolk Pine with about six ornaments on it was the Christmas tree.

Loo loo loo, loo-loo loo loo loo ...

One year my aunt pulled up in front of the house to drop off the gifts before finding a parking spot further away. Instead of bringing the gifts into the house, she put them on the side of the road behind her car. Then she got into her car, backed into (and, in some cases, over) the gifts and peeled out. Every gift from her was a mess (wet, crushed, tire marks) and each time someone announced the gift was to so-and-so from her and held it up, we all died laughing. My aunt is no longer with us but that is one of my favorite memories of her.

I've been dumped the week before Christmas and after New Year. I much prefer before Christmas. Rip the band-aid off.

Talk about precisely relevant experience.


The year is, to my best guess, 2000. I'm 14, "helping" my mom with food prep, and she and I have nudged one another into a state of inexplicable, over-the-top, and all encompassing goofiness. We're both totally sober -- a fact no witness would have believed. So, the little leafy bits on celery stalks? We have cut some celery, and one ~3-inch segment has two leafy bits that look (to our dubiously stable minds) like arms, making leafy little jazz-hands. It cracks us up. Naturally we stab toothpicks into the bottom of the stalk to form legs...but we have to add a third leg, because he can't stand otherwise. We add grapes to the toothpicks' bottoms, for feet. We cut a black olive in half to use as his tiny hat. And thus was born: Celery Man! What laughs he provided as we danced him about the countertops! Now, when the rest of the family showed up and it was time to dine, did we set Celery Man aside? Nope. We used him as the table's centerpiece. And when we cleaned up after dinner, did we, say, eat Celery Man, or throw him away (i.e., behave sanely)? No -- my mom stowed him in a washed-out olive jar. Celery Man was born on Thanksgiving...and he stayed in a cabinet until Christmas the next month when, you betcha, he reemerged to be THAT holiday's centerpiece. Surely mother and daughter disposed of their celery/grape/olive/toothpick Franken-child after THAT, right? NOPE! He went into the cabinet, safely stood up in his glass jar, and was used as our Thanksgiving and Christmas centerpiece the next year...and the next year...and the next year: I kid you not, it has now been approximately TWENTY YEARS, and this "Celery Man" THING has sat in the middle of the bloody table EVERY SINGLE HOLIDAY. It wouldn't be so absurd (but wouldn't it?) if he maintained his original shape, but the passage of time is a cruel, cruel thing for a Celery Man. I don't know if my mom punching holes in the jar's lid helped this along, but rather than getting moldy, Celery Man basically turned into a mummy. Two decades down the line, mom and I have been known to make a game of forcing holiday newcomers to guess at the makings of the desiccated mascot in a dusty jar upon the table. I don't think anyone has EVER guessed that his body was, at one point long ago, celery. I suppose this is a holiday "horror" story in that most people wouldn't find it appetizing to eat dinner while staring at the withered 20ish year remains of a so-called Celery Man -- but we sure as heck intend to continue this tradition until Celery Man has literally evaporated. (And a note to my mom, who first recommended the Hax chat to me -- if you're reading the Hoot live, SEND EVIDENCE OF CELERY MAN! And PS, your daughter loves you)

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Just taking a run through the queue before I wrap up ... as I said, you guys outdid yourselves this year so I couldn't get to it all.

Not horror, but sure both strange and heart-warming. For many years, I would get my mother a present for Christmas. After I moved far away, she offered to get the present herself, and I would pay her for it. A few years after that, she decided to get the present for herself, and then wrap it. On Christmas morning, I would give her a present, having absolutely no idea what it was. She would open it, and then act surprised. I miss her.

I bet. Thank you.


That's it everybody--thanks for all the great stuff, hang in there, and there will be a chat next week. 

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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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