Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010; 12:00 PM
It's 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 happened most recently about a year ago... which must mean... why, yes!
Carolyn was online Friday, December 10 at 12 noon ET taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. And then suddenly, when you least expected it, a full-blown holiday hootenanny of horrors took over the chat.
Good news! Carolyn's archives have been updated. Check out the sidebar on Carolyn's archive page to find even more transcripts from past Hax chats.
Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, and welcome to the annual chat in which we devote the SECOND hour (-plus) to enjoying this year what ruined our holiday last year--or as far back as the darkness reaches.
Pops has filed on time, so the "reindeer" are filling up on kibble and they'll be ready to fly at 1.
I also realized, thanks to an inquiry to my Facebook page (thank you to the reader and to Elizabeth Terry, ex-producer of mine who still has my back) that this is the 10th anniversary of the Hoot, which caught me off-guard. I'll be posting the link to the original later on, too.
Carolyn Hax: For those who weren't around for it then or who, like me, were there but forgot just about everything I wrote, it's a Sunday Post Magazine piece about holiday traditions. I used my family's traditions as a launching point, and when I re-read it this week, it dawned on me that the year I wrote that, 2000, turned out to be the last time we had the Hax Family Christmas I described. The following year my mom was deep into ALS and had 5 months to live, so everything was different. What a time for me to take a snapshot of my history.
Anyway, as I said, this occurred to me only this week, so it took me almost nine years to realize what I had inadvertently captured in that piece. I wrote in last Friday's column (I think) that grief never loses its power to catch you unawares, and I know whereof I speak.
Just wanted to share that. Now to the usual Q and A.
washingtonpost.com: Great Expectations, The Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2000
Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Jodi.
Nyack, NY : Hi Carolyn (& Peanuts!), I'm engaged to a great guy and thought I was marrying into a fabulous family. Since we have been engaged the family has been less than fabulous,I don't understand the sudden change(s). We were dating 5 years before our engagement and during those years went to this house on holidays w/out any problems! Now that the wedding is on, his mom has changed focus. Anything that her son decides is not really his decision according to her but is mine, and it's my fault I dont want something her way. He hated lamps she bought us and returned them quietly for other ones, when she realized she cornered me about why I didn't like them and what my problem was. Now the age old adult only wedding debate has begun. We decided adults only a year ago, the family all knows about this, both sides of the family were OK with this and booked sitters so they could have an adults only day. Suddenly she has started inviting children on her side to the ceremony. The wedding is 2 months away, why this drama now? I know the ceremony is technically open but her response when I mentioned that some people may be hurt since they planned for an adult only day w/out their kids was 'well tough pickles for them'. I just don't understand the sudden spite. We have a holiday party with her and her family this weekend and for the first time in 6 years I feel like a complete outsider and don't want to go. How can I crest this ridge with her? Thanks and sorry for the length!! -Not so new girl in town
Carolyn Hax: This might not be it (in which case, do come back here another week and we'll try something else), but I think it might help if, from now on, you go into every encounter with his mom with this in mind: "She's afraid she's losing her son."
I'm floating it because 1. this is SO common, especially with mothers of sons; 2. your fiance's mom was fine for five years, and her change dates to your the engagement. Logic says the engagement is the reason, and "fear of losing child" is the most logical new emotion that an engagement might introduce.
If you think of her odd/combative behavior as a byproduct of fear, then that might be enough to introduce some sympathy into your responses and reactions, which would probably be a productive place to start anyway, even if I'm wrong about the reason she's freaking out.
Baltimore, MD: Not holiday related, but...do some people just never outgrow high school? I wished my very good guy friend a happy birthday on his Facebook wall. An hour later, the post was deleted. I asked him why he deleted it, and he said he had no idea what I was talking about. I believed him -- we are very close and he would have told me if he had deleted it.
Then I realized that his current "lady friend" must have marked it as spam. She hates my guts (probably because I used to hook up with him). I don't really like her, but I have no feelings of ill will against her, because she makes him so happy. I want him to be happy. But I don't get why she has to be so vindictive and possessive, especially since she's essentially stringing him along (he wants to be a full blown couple, she does not, but doesn't want him to see anyone else). We live in very different parts of the country, so it's not like I see either of them, ever.
I mean really, it's HIS wall. He has control over what stays and what is removed from it.
He told me he doesn't want to get in the middle of this, but -- what am I supposed to do? We are all in our late 20s -- I feel like this type of behavior should have ended a decade ago.
Carolyn Hax: Sure, but the guy should still run this by a doctor if he hasn't already. Some snore-makers are okay to ignore, but some, like sleep apnea, are not. For one thing, you don't even know the "LF" did it. And I'll withhold judgment until/unless I have more details about what happened after you posted, but I am wondering why you even know that your greeting was deleted. Were you checking his page for something?
And, too, the "but--what am I supposed to do?" question is self-answering to someone who has no ulterior interest in the guy and no "feelings of ill will" against the LF: You just say oh well and let him sort it out, if in fact there's anything to sort out.
Now, if you do still have feelings for the guy, or don't want him and LF to be happy, or whatever, then the best thing you can do is admit that to yourself and figure out what that means from now on. And if you're worried about losing a very close friend to a possibly vindictive LF, then you need to talk to your friend more directly about what you fear--without blaming her for things you can't prove, mind you.
But, again, if this is just a couple you know and you have no great investment in them besides Happy Birthday on his wall, then the fact that it's a question is the question.
Snoresville: Hi Carolyn! I write in with a relatively silly problem. I am in a fairly new relationship, and it is by far the happiest relationship of my life. But the relationship is not the problem at all. The problem is that my wonderful BF snores. Big time. We are both in our 30s and are used to living alone. The snoring is keeping me up, and in turn I poke him to get him to stop snoring, and that keeps him up. Thus, neither of us really sleeps well when we spend the night together. How do couples deal with this? I can't handle the not sleeping!
Carolyn Hax: Here's where you find out how wonderful you two really are for each other: Suggest he talk to his doctor about the snoring. (It can, after all, be linked to serious underlying medical conditions.)
Re:Nyack, NY: Son needs to have a chat with his Mother too to help alleviate her anxiety. Love the tough pickles!
Carolyn Hax: Until it's being said to you in response to a real concern. Then it kinda loses its charm.
Good idea re the son talking to mom, but son can't present himself as his bride's envoy. That'll only alienate his mother further. It has to be, "Mom, you okay? It seems like you've got your dukes up lately and it's not like you."
Friendly Boundaries: Carolyn,
I hope to get this in before the hootenanny. I have been friends with a woman in my neighborhood for almost a year. We have a lot in common, and so our friendship has become very tight. We also have a lot of clashing opinions, however, and it's hard not to be insulting when she says something I feel is blithely ignorant or one-sided. She also has a tendency to try to manipulate others around her into doing her will. I'm not one to be steamrolled, but I really don't like being told that it's time for me to leave a group activity because she has to get up early, or that I should order X or Y when I said I was ordering Z. I know she doesn't mean to be so self-absorbed, but I hate being told what to do, especially by someone who claims her central philosophy in life is live and let live (she's a staunch libertarian). Do I just go on pretending it doesn't bother me and doing my own thing if necessary, or should I make a thing of it? She really is a kind person, and I think she'd be hurt if she found out that not everyone is charmed by her manipulative tactics. Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: The problem isn't that your friend tells people what to do. The problem is that your friend is one to tell people what to do, and you are one to cringe at being told what to do. Please look at this as a problem with two halves, one of which you're holding in your hand.
Knowing you have ill-fitting aspects of your personality is a lot more productive, I think, than looking at someone else as the problem. When you go into a conversation knowing you're going to clash at specific, foreseeable points, you can prepare yourself beforehand with a response that neither starts a war nor demands that you "just go on pretending."
Ultimately the best approach for this friend will depend on your nature/style, but you can decide beforehand to, say, just do your own thing with a smile. "Thanks for the ideas, but I think I'll order Z."
I might also humbly suggest you became too friendly too quickly. Having things in common can move things faster than our conflict sensors can handle. If you can't adapt your way around your friction points, you might just have to speak up--but remember to do it in a way that doesn't point fingers at her, but instead treats each "side" neutrally and without judgment.
Tough Pickles: You seem to just gloss over the fact that this woman is inviting uninvited guests to their wedding. That's not something to just be sensitive about--she's creating a real problem for the couple in not only possibly incurring extra costs but also having to face the ire of people who went to the trouble and expense of finding sitters. Some advice on what the LW can do in that regard would probably be helpful.
Carolyn Hax: Actually, I referred to it as a "real concern."
The mother has put the bride and groom in a terrible spot, I agree--and the people who were told it was adults only may well be angry when they see kids there. People have an obligation to behave like adults, though, and so anyone who is offended needs to consider that some people may have ignored the no-kids request. I.e., the offended need to resist the impulse to jump to conclusions.
As for how the couple deals with it, they both can tell people who left their kids home that it was in fact a snafu and they're sorry; they can even say this preemptively. The son can also include this in the conversation with his mother. And, the people the mother has encouraged to bring their children can, I hope, realize that they got conflicting information and so need to talk to their hosts directly to make sure they're doing the right thing.
Unfortunately, though, no solution is perfect, and it's also still a side issue; the main issue is figuring out what has the mom chafing and causing trouble all of a sudden.
For Snoresville: Custom made earplugs! They're comfortable enough to sleep in, cost around $75 for a pair, and they can even make them so they glow in the dark so you can fumble for them on your nightstand. Contact your local audiologist.
Carolyn Hax: Sure, but the guy should still run this by a doctor if he hasn't already. Some snore-makers are okay to ignore, but some, like sleep apnea, are not.
Montvale, NJ: Hey, wow, I saw the last question was from Nyack, which is like 10 minutes from me, and far from DC. Hi, neighbor! Hi, Carolyn, from your far-flung fans!
My whole body aches for my ex. I know he's no good for me - I had to get a restraining order against him. It goes to trial Monday (I won't have to be there).
I think that because of the court date, I am feeling overwhelmed with this idea that I have 2 days to "change my mind." I know he's no good for me, but I'm lonely, so I guess I'm fixating on this option, whereas the truth is I have no current options except riding out the loneliness until I (hopefully) find someone.
Any words of comfort or wisdom before the hootenanny starts?
Carolyn Hax: No comfort and wisdom comes to mind, but I do feel a verbal mitten upside the head coming on. There are OTHER WAYS to beat loneliness, ways that build you up, ways that don't end up in court. Please look around Greater Montvale for areas of need where your arrival would be cause for celebration. Get out of your own head and your own needs for a while, on purpose.
And if there's anyone reading this in G.M. who knows of an organization in need, shoot me an e-mail--if I hear of anything, I'll post it on my Facebook page for (really) all to see.
Son talking to mum: What he can talk about is the details that have directed at wife.
a. Mom - sorry you're upset that I returned the thingy you gave us. I didn't realize you were invested in it. Are you ok - you seem a bit out or sorts recently
b. Mom - now that you've invited children to my wedding can you help me figure out how to present this to people who were expecting and planned for an adults only wedding. I care about these people and don't want them upset.
Carolyn Hax: Yes, well scripted, thanks.
Facebook Stuff: Just FYI, sometimes Facebook posts vanish from people's walls for technical reasons. I've thought that friends deleted my messages, too, only to have them reappear, or wall posts fail to show up, or sometimes an entire friend's series of posts goes missing from MY wall. Best not to leap to blaming the girlfriend - I don't even think there's a way for somebody else to "mark posts as spam" on another wall.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the reminder--the possibility of an accident or technical burp always has to be considered, not just on FB.
Baltimore, MD: Not sure what it's doing in DC, but up here in Baltimore we're having an unexpected snowfall. It's a Holiday Hootenany miracle!
Carolyn Hax: It was snowing here, but it stopped. Mirabile interruptus.
Carolyn Hax: Which means ....
Pops's Night Before Christmas
'Twas the night before Christmas
And faces are droopy.
Our secrets are leaking,
The economy's poopy
The stockings were out there,
Same as last year.
Same stockings, same place;
Less in them, I fear.
The kids were in blankets
Thrown over their beds.
The glow of their iPods
Could be seen through the threads.
So Ma's in her kerchief,
And I'm in my bonnet.
Did we really wear that stuff?
I wouldn't bet on it.
When out on the lawn
There was a commotion
I stuck out my head
And splashed on some lotion.
Away to the window
I flew like a bat;
Stepped on my slippers,
Or was it the cat?
The moon on the breast
Of the new-fallen snow
Lit up the yard
Where the dandelions grow.
When what to my wondering
Eyes should appear?
The same sled again?
With the same reindeer?
Or appeared to be--
These are temps, you see,
They're short on money.
The little old driver
had a big white beard;
the glow from his laptop
made his face look weird.
More rapid than eagles?
No, not these guys.
Instead of reindeer,
They were dogs in disguise.
On Rover, on Fido,
On Squiggles and Fluffy,
On Billy, on Hillary,
On Cuddles and Muffy.
To the top of the porch,
Then over the wall.
"Hang on, guys!" said Santa,
"Don't let me fall!"
As dry leaves before
The wild leaf-blower fly,
And get to the street,
As the leaf truck goes by,
So up to the housetop
The dog team did haul--
The sled, Santa,
the toy bag and all.
And then in a twinkle ...
Is that the right word?
There's one other meaning,
As maybe you've heard ...
As I took a step back
And was turning my head,
Down the flue shot the red guy.
"Why not the door?" I said
He was dressed all in fur
From his top to his bottom.
Moths? Ah yes.
I'm sure he's got 'em.
A bundle of toys
He'd flung on his back.
Some were adult,
They were wrapped in black.
His eyes, how they twinkled,
His dimples, how merry--
The Botox worked wonders
And so did the sherry.
His droll little mouth
Was drawn up like a bow.
How did he do that?
We'd all like to know.
The stump of a pipe
He held tight in his teeth
Which tobacco had stained
Above and beneath.
He had a broad face
And his belly was round.
His daily nutrition
Was always unsound.
He was chubby and plump,
A right jolly old guy;
His elves were much smaller,
About ten inches high.
With a wink of his eye,
And a twist of his head
He checked his iPhone,
"I'm late!" he said.
He reached in his pack
With both of his hands;
Out tumbled all
The most popular brands.
He spoke not a word,
but finished his task,
Then he texted his elves
and refilled his flask.
He placed all the toys,
and checked GPS.
Quickly he punched in.
The next address.
He crawled to his sleigh,
To his team gave a shout:
"Got miles to go, doggies,
So get the lead out."
But I heard him exclaim
As he waved his hat,
"This outfit, I wonder,
Does it make me look fat?"
Montvale again: Thanks for taking my question. I already volunteer at two organizations. This is more about how to redirect my feelings during the downtime.
Carolyn Hax: Oh, good good--then you're redirecting your time. To redirect your feelings is harder, but it's best to approach it in this order: redirect your time, your energy, your thoughts, your feelings. You need the momentum of the first three to help push along the fourth, because it's almost impossible to do from a cold start.
So if you've got your time directed well, and that leaves some energy still, then direct that into things with a -known- (or at least very likely) good outcome--exercise, projects, healthy food, hard work, etc. When these aren't enough to redirect your thoughts, look for things that have a history of sustaining your interest. If you're stuck, look to (non-relationship) passions you once had but have drifted from lately. Etc. Be disciplined at these three efforts and your feelings will come along too, in time. If they don't, then it may be time either to get into counseling or revisit the goals you set when you started counseling.
Pop's Nite 2010: I love it! Please tell me the dogs are pit bulls like Zuzu...
Carolyn Hax: They can certainly pull. Could be rescue dogs, too. ooh, I should post Billy, my dog. Hang on ...
Flaming cake: Every year we fly in to spend Christmas with my husband's family. A couple of years ago, I was assigned to provide dessert, and I decided to bake a cake. It was a rather heroic effort considering that I had to use my mother-in-law's kitchen which had absolutely no baking equipment or basic supplies - no flour, no baking powder, no mixing bowls, no measuring cups, no pans, etc. - and I knew my mother-in-law would freak out if I bought too much stuff. But I managed to create a lovely cake under the circumstances. My brother-in-law, who fancies himself a gourmet but is more of a glutton, complained that the cake did not have enough alcohol in it. (Of course it didn't - it was being served to young children.) I said nothing but plotted my revenge. The following year, I made two cakes - one for the kids, and one that was doused with brandy. I set the liquor-soaked cake in front of my brother-in-law and my husband used a blow torch to, uh, caramelize it. With his beard a little singed, I didn't hear any more complaints from the brother-in-law.
Carolyn Hax: Kids, do -not- try this at home, unless you have to.
State of Annoyance, Population Me: So, my SIL tells me what my 12 y.o. nephew wants for the holidays. I hunt around til I find this hot item. I buy it, wrap it, the whole thing. It's ready to fulfill his sweaty little pre-teen desires.
She calls last night---he wants something else instead.
Carolyn Hax: Donate the hot item! just heard on the radio that Toys for Tots is pulling in way less than usual this year.
While you go do that, the rest of us will try to expunge "sweaty little pre-teen desires" from our minds.
Holiday gift exchange horror: Carolyn,
I hate the office holiday gift exchange with every bone in my body. It's one of those "White Elephant" games where people steal other people's presents. Everyone gets loud & obnoxious and they drink way too much as they steal and resteal. When I open mine, I never swap, because I just don't feel comfortable taking other people's gifts--then people harangue me about not stealing. This year the party is on my telework day. I'm tempted to skip it, but I don't want to jeopardize my job by seeming to be a non-team player.
I wish I had the Reindeer Poop award for Unchristmaslike Behavior to bestow on the WHOLE office....
Carolyn Hax: Then someone would just steal it and give it to you.
Please try this: Steal the gift of the person who harangues you for not stealing. Do it for us. Report back next year.
Carolyn Hax: Billy!!
USA! USA!: I would like to tell you about my upcoming office party. In no particular order:
1. It takes place from 1-4pm, in the office.
2. Attendance is mandatory (there are maybe 100 people in the office). Attendance is established by handing out pre-filled "Hello my name is" stickers at the door. Those who have not picked theirs up by 1:05pm are rounded up and forced to attend.
3. The food is taken away at 2:00 pm. Grazing is not permitted.
4. No alcohol. Our boss is teetotal and does not believe anyone else should drink, ever.
5. At 2pm, the games begin. Everyone is divided into teams. Everyone must participate. If you are caught not participating fully on your teams, you are chided and forced to participate in the games.
6. Our boss is expected to win any game he plays. If not he becomes a big giant baby.
7. The prize for overall winners in the various game categories is a giant poinsettia. No one likes them but about half the budget every year is devoted to buying poinsettias.
8. When the party breaks up, everyone goes back to work.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Carolyn Hax: Maybe you should swap parties with the White Elephant person.
Donate it!: If you can't afford to donate it, post the item on Craigslist and/or Ebay...you'll get your money back, probably with dividends because inevitably, every really hot item for kids is underproduced and some kids don't get them. Parents will pay money to make sure their rugrat has his/hers.
Carolyn Hax: Wicket smaht, thanks.
Bellevue, WA: Here's one for your holiday hootenanny. It was my second Thanksgiving with my now-husband's family, so I was pretty well acquainted with all the principle players. After the turkey-feast, we sat around the living room discussing Christmas plans. As it is a pretty large family, comprised of adult children from two marriages and a few significant others, the gift buying had gotten increasingly expensive and overwhelming. A gift exchange with a $50 dollarish range was suggested and gratefully acccepted by most of the 14+ person group. With the exception of husband's 23 year old recent college graduate stepsister "Joan". Joan begins to argue with increasing animation about continuing to buy gifts for everyone. The family allows her to speak, but the majority is for an exchange. After which, Joan bursts into hysterical tears and, heaving and sobbing, shouts, "But nothing I want is under $100!" She is angry and inconsolable. The rest of us write down our top 5 items around 50 bucks and draw names. Guess who I get? Oh yes...Joan. Her list includes an iPod, $120 running shoes, and designer brand clothing and workout items from a high-end store. I managed to find a simple shirt around $60 from a store she liked, reasoning she could take it back and apply the credit to something more expensive if she didn't like the item. Now I'll take you to Christmas, where my husband was unlucky enough to have Joan as his gift giver. What did he get? Certainly nothing from his list (which had been pretty simple). A cheap, plain brown collared shirt...nothing like I'd ever seen him wear before from a store geared toward high-school kids. He said thanks and later went to return it, only to find that she had gotten it from the clearance rack and it wasn't worth the gas to drive to the mall to return it. Yet, everything she wanted was over $100. She had me the next year and gave me a cheap bottle of wine "because it had a funny picture on it". This year, hubby and I are opting out of the family exchange and spending the money on a nice Christmas eve dinner for the two of us! But I will never forget Joan's soggy tantrum the year she wasn't going to be getting presents from the whole family.
Carolyn Hax: Not just a good moment, but also proof that tantrums work: Granted, it netted her only an extra 10 bucks in the end, but you also have to admit that you shopped more carefully and spent more than you would have if she hadn't made a complete spectacle of herself.
Anonymous: "It's ready to fulfill his sweaty little pre-teen desires"
I'm curious, but a little wary to ask - what on Earth did you get him?
Carolyn Hax: No, we don't want to kno!
Edmonton, Canada: In preparation for the holidays, my mom and I were flipping through the Sears Wishbook together and picking out things we thought we'd like to give as gifts. My brother, jokingly pretending to be a jerk, jumped between us and said with exaggerated loudness, "I wanna see THIS page!" and flipped to a random section, losing our place.
Unfortunately for him, the page he flipped to was the "matronly women showing off extra-supportive bras" page. He's gay, which made it all the funnier. My mom and I laughed till we cried and my brother just slunk away.
Carolyn Hax: ...
Santa traditions: So, we decided to follow the tradition from when I was a kid: Santa fills the stockings, presents under the tree are from people we know. How do I reconcile that with my son meeting Santa at daycare and asking for something specific? It certainly won't fit in his stocking (my 4 year old wants a Bumblebee pillow pet). Any thoughts on how to strike a balance so I don't set him up for a string of childhood disappointments from Santa?
Carolyn Hax: 1. Life -is- a string of childhood disappointments from Santa.
2. If you still want to postpone his introduction to that bit of reality, put a gift card in his stocking that either says "look under the tree" or has a drawing of a bee and an arrow pointing down, and put the gift on the floor under his stocking.
Freeze Out!: Oh, we still laugh about it just like it was yesterday: my mother-in-law, looking across the table at my husband (I was right next to him!) and saying, "You should really find someone who's as into [activity redacted] as you are."
She also got me a tabletop fountain. Two years in a row.
Carolyn Hax: Maybe she got two so you can use them for [activity redacted.]
Washington, D.C.: RE: Pre-teen Gift
I know you're trying to be nice and I am all about the Christmas spirit, but that is just not acceptable. You bought the present. Wrap it and give the receipt to the parents. You're done. No need to encourage little precious to be a brat and honestly I think it is a little weird that the sister even called to say that she should get something else. But I don't have a pre-teen so none of this makes sense to me ;)
Carolyn Hax: There may have been no ill or greedy intent; when the kid changed his mind, the SIL may have hoped to catch the poster before said poster had gone nuts trying to find the hot item.
trenton, nj: How do I respond to people who wish me a merry Christmas after being told every year that I celebrate Hanukkah? It just doesn't sink in! Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: "Thanks. Happy Hanukkah!" It's not worth the explaining or the angst.
Holiday Drinking game: Two things, first, I finally figured out how to deal with holiday gatherings with my mother: turn her nonstop talking into a drinking game. Every time she says something embarrassing, my husband and I take a drink. I think with my brother visiting for Christmas, we might make a dent in our wine collection.
Secondly, a question. My husband did not have the best childhood and starts getting really down around the holidays. His method of dealing is to start telling me that he doesn't want anything, don't get him any presents, if anyone buys him anything it's just going to suck anyway. The economy is sucking even more joy from him this year. I had a sucky childhood, too, but Christmas was the best part of every year and some of the biggest bright spots of my upbringing. I love to celebrate, big time. Hubby celebrates, too, but gets upset at the idea of anyone buying him gifts. I just don't know how to deal. I can't not get him gifts (and make sure to do his shopping early so every year when he tells me not to get him anything I can honestly say "Too late"), and I want him to feel loved. Ignoring him does not seem to be the best choice, though.
Carolyn Hax: Bonus for Part A, soon enough you'll all be saying embarrassing things.
Part B, buy gifts for the two of you as a couple. Then they're not gifts for him, per se, but they're a way you can still celebrate and still show him you're happy to be married to him. A gift for both of you can be anything from tickets to something or a trip, or just something for the home that you've both wanted. Make it clear "this isn't for you, it's for us."
I say this even though you might actually have hit on the best idea already. How does he respond when he opens the gift he was "too late" to prevent?
Philadelphia, PA: At our annual holiday party last year, I left my purse open. My 6-7-8 year old nieces went in my purse and found "mints." They were my birth control pills! Fortunately, they only took the placebos, but the way my bro and SIL reacted, you would have thought they took cyanide pills. After an hour calling various local hospitals and poison control hotlines and getting the same "it's nothing to be worried about" answer, they stormed out calling me various unpleasant names. My parents thought it was a hoot and have purchased thousands of Chicklettes, Tic Tacs and whatever other small candy they can find for this year's party, which is tomorrow. Hopefully, they've grown a sense of humor!
Carolyn Hax: We'll be hearing from you next year, too, won't we.
Pillowcase vs. Stocking: My husband's British tradition is a pillowcase at the end of the bed, which a pillow pet would fit into ;-). Last year, we traveled to Britain with all the presents...and back again. Husband bought me a Psycho shower curtain. Very cool, but the only place it could go in our house is the kiddie's bathroom. We moved, and now the only place is the guest bathroom. So I brought it to a White Elephant swap, with lots of other families. The winner left it behind. Sigh. (I think they were angry because we stole their fart-machine.)
Carolyn Hax: You did retrieve it and hang it in the guest bath, right? The fart machine goes in there, too. But any true host would know that.
Hoot!: My grandmother traditionally gave some presents "from Santa" to everyone, not just kids. One year, my aunt had a gift from Satan. Oops! It was an accident (a write-o?), ha ha ha, but what's in the box? Keep in mind, this is my grandmother's daughter-in-law, and she is not one for frills (to say the least). The present was black lacy underwear (!?!?) that was actually intended for my grandmother's other daughter (!!! ???). It really must have been Satan after all....
Carolyn Hax: I think I'd have an easier time arranging my face after opening a regifted nose-hair trimmer than if I'd opened the black frillies my mother bought for my sister.
Happy Hanukkah?: I'm Jewish and I don't get offended when people wish me a Merry Christmas. It's not like they're telling me to drop dead--wishing someone a Merry Christmas isn't a bad thing. Also, I don't have to go to work that day and I like that.
I took a flight last week from Frankfurt to Dublin and on the plane we received tiny snack pouches. The pouches had an embroidered Santa Claus on them. They were so cute!
Anyway, there was an Orthodox Jewish man on my flight, and I knew he was sitting several rows up. I wish I could have seen the flight attendant's face as she passed him his Santa snack pouch. I think it was at least kosher.
Carolyn Hax: The vision of someone greeting people at holiday time with "Drop dead" just made me laugh out loud. I have issues.
Notoriety: You'll be thrilled to know that your 2008 Hootenanny is the first result pulled up when you Google "smash the pot pipe with a cleaver."
Carolyn Hax: Now I have to go find out what's second.
DC: My sister is gonna kill me when she reads this, because I know she's reading your chat as I type this.
A couple of years ago I asked my parents for a nice paper shredder for Christmas. I wanted them to buy me a nice one, because I knew if I bought one with my own money, I'd get a cheap one that would eventually break.
I think I mentioned that I'd asked our parents for a shredder to my sister but I don't think she recalled the specific details, because when she was going out to do her holiday shopping, she too bought me a paper shredder.
She called my parents and spoke to my dad, and mentioned that she got me the shredder. My dad was confused, because he thought that he and my mom were buying me one, but he didn't say anything to my sister, because he figured he must be mistaken.
So Christmas day rolls around and I get excited because I have two rather large boxes with -my- name on them! So I open them, and I have not one, but two paper shredders. One of them is the nice, sturdy one that my parents bought, and the other is a cheaper, crappy one my sister bought (probably the same one I would have bought myself).
I started laughing really hard because a) have I really reached the age where I ask for things like A PAPER SHREDDER for Christmas?! b) Did I really end up with TWO OF THEM?
Also, then my sister cried because we were all laughing. She ended up returning the one she got me, and the one she also bought herself because she used it and realized it sucked.
Also, I want to add that was the same year that my sister received a Burberry coat from our parents, and all I got were two paper shredders.
Carolyn Hax: If it really is a good one, it can shred a Burberry coat.
White Elephant: I would not want to go to any party where the Psycho shower curtain was left behind.
Carolyn Hax: Can I get that decoupaged on a plaque, with curly script and roses?
I need a MIL threatening to kill someone...: ..."like she did with her last husband."
That is all.
Carolyn Hax: If each Hoot had to improve on the last Hoot, we'd have quit at the Death Chair. And then we'd have had no homicidal MILs, bathroom pot or albino hedgehogs.
St Paul, MN: Once, while getting ready for Xmas service with my grandma, I could hear her chatting away at my husband. I rushed so I could rescue the poor man and when I came into the room, he turned to me with a horrorstricken look on his face. Now, Grandma isn't that bad and he's usually better than I am at making polite noises. Grandma turned to me and I realized she'd applied purple eyeshadow (to match her outfit) all the way up to her eyebrows. It was a new look for her, and before service we agonized over whether to say anything. In the end we let her go to church like that. Are we bad people?
Carolyn Hax: Judging that one is above my pay grade. But, thank you.
DC, from California: Not a horror, but our family has a very... unique, tradition. After presents are opened, we break out a bunch of guns that shoot these small foam discs and make noises, and have a free for all shooting each other for about an hour or so until we get tired of it. The family is quite large, usually over 20 of us who get together for Christmas (and not everyone makes it since we're scattered around the country), and there are only about ten guns, so everyone has to take turns, and you're fair game even if you don't have a gun in hand. After that we generally have dessert or something. The family who hosts Christmas is usually finding foam discs in random places well into spring. It's something we all, adults and children alike, look forward to every year.
Carolyn Hax: Don't just expect hostilities to break out, schedule them ... I like it.
For the Hootenanny: Per family tradition, we eat a big festive very ethnic dinner late on December 24 and open presents afterwards. About 25 years ago, when my younger brother was 7, he was super anxious to open gifts and not a big fan of the food in old-country feast. So, he threw up all over the very fancy table. Undeterred, my mother cleaned him up, cleaned his spot, and dinner went on as it has since forever. I think he ate a potato. This incident was never forgotten because, it addition to the fact that we were laughing our butts off at the time, my dad, who always made sure to have his camera ready at family events, documented the whole thing. Not the type to gloss over the unfortunate parts of history, these photos are THE ABSOLUTE BEST sequence of photos in the 1986 family album. We, and now our kids, look at these every year and the happy tears roll. I think now even lil bro has come around and thinks it's kinda funny.
Carolyn Hax: Three words:
Scan, attach, send. email@example.com
White elephant: Intern edition: I was interning at a magazine and two of the staff members asked me to wrap up a bunch of junk from around the office - we're talking tissue boxes, a container of foot cream, a giant poster of a front cover, etc. Since I was an intern, I did their bidding.
Before the white elephant exchange, we handed out the gifts and asked everyone to open them up at the same time. They were all so touched...until they opened the gifts.
Carolyn Hax: If it wasn't a beauty mag, the foot cream wants explaining.
Christmas fireball: Just something funny to add-couple of Christmases ago we were cooking the Christmas dinner at my mom's. We were doing a southwest theme, so I was making a tequila lime turkey. I'm used to using wine for cooking and will often just dump more in if the sauce needs it. Well, I forgot about the MUCH higher alcohol content of liquor. O I check on the turkey, realize the sauce needs a little more tequila, so I just pour it over the turkey, mix the sauce in the roasting pan, and put it back in the oven. About 5 minutes later I am standing by the sink, the oven door goes flying open, there is a very loud WHOOOSH noise, and a giant fireball came shooting out of the oven door. No one was hurt, including the turkey, and after the initial scare it gave us a good laugh. We now like to laugh about me flambéing the turkey that year!!
Carolyn Hax: Of course it didn't hurt the turkey, it was blotto.
Delaware: My MIL provides a limitless supply of cringe-worthy holiday moments, but I think this is our absolutely most favorite story. My daughter is a teenager, trying desperately to seem sophisticated and mature, and also a very gifted pianist. Grandma came to the big family Christmas celebration and made a huge show of presenting this daughter with her gift. It was moraccas, "so my grandbaby can learn to make music." To make matters worse, they were made of clear plastic, with pink and blue beads inside so they looked like oversized baby toys, and were clearly stamped with the name and address of the nursing home that my MIL had taken them from. When my daughter did not appear as excited as the MIL would have liked, MIL snatched the rattles away and proceeded to demonstrate their use as an accompaniment instrument while she sang "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" to the entire family. I leaned over toward my daughter and said, "See, Grandma would never give you anything that she would not use herself!"
Carolyn Hax: Happy to be just the messenger here.
Hoot: I was 23, fresh out of college. I was enjoying my first post-college apartment (living alone! With my own kitchen! Heaven!) and was possessed to throw a dinner party. It was a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, so I decided to have a turkey, various side dishes, and a couple of desserts. I invited about 20 college pals and set about getting ready in the days leading up to the party.
I'd read or heard somewhere that if you had a fresh turkey, you should cook it within 24 hours. When I went grocery shopping three days before the party, there were only fresh turkeys, so I didn't buy one--I thought I'd just get one the day of. Well. You can imagine.
I went shopping again the morning of the party, and that day, the store had only frozen turkeys. I checked at two other grocery stores and frozen was the only available option. A low-grade panic set in, as I knew it took days to defrost a frozen turkey.
I bought a turkey anyway, not having the experience or wisdom to think of a different main course, and took it home with a heavy heart. I read the laughably-named "quick thaw" method on the packaging and despaired. Then in a flash, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant plan ... my apartment building had excellent water pressure, and I thought that maybe warm water AND the action of water beating on the turkey might thaw it faster.
I called all my guests and asked them to come two hours later than they'd been invited for. Then with the turkey still in its plastic wrap, I put on a t-shirt and shorts and climbed into the shower with the turkey. I rolled it back and forth in my arms with the water beating down on it for at least an hour. Then I called a local butcher, close to tears, and asked what I should do. "Turn the oven on to 500, wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil and roast the hell out of it for an hour longer than it tells you to," he said. "Then in the last 20 minutes, take off the aluminum foil so it'll brown."
I said, "Am I going to give everyone salmonella?" He said, "Good luck, honey."
No one got sick, the turkey cooked OK and everything was delicious. But the part my entire family and all my friends still remember all these years later is, of course, the fact that I took a shower with a frozen turkey.
Carolyn Hax: And you'd only met that day.
HannuChristmas: After years of fighting the "Merry Christmas" with various deflections and retorts, I have settled on saying "You too!" very enthusiastically to whatever anyone says at this time of the year. I look at it as reciprocating the desire to have a good holiday season without actually endorsing what they are saying.
Carolyn Hax: Bonus, it also works for "Drop dead."
Former intern: It was a magazine for women, so we had a column featuring beauty products. Some of them were more desirable than others...
The second part of the story is that in the white elephant exchange, I scored a fleece blanket. I was really excited about it because I was a poor student living in a frigid Midwestern state. Then it got stolen by a chain-smoking older lady. I ended up with the following box of trash: an XL men's shirt, a hat for a company I had never heard of, a SUEDE ice bucket, and a set of 4 drinking glasses with ducks on them (not cute ducks; hunting ducks).
I really wanted that blanket. :-(
Carolyn Hax: -You- picked them out, and now you complain?
Tossing cookies.: My dad makes these chocolate/peanut butter/paraffin cookies every Christmas, and we have taken to calling "Fat Balls."
One year, he screwed up the recipe and dumped the batch outside for the birds. Some of them landed in the yard of the crotchety neighbor, who was always yelling at my brother and me for messing up his grass.
Cue Christmas morning, and brother and I yelling at dad to "Get his Fat Balls off of the neighbor's lawn."
We have really good Christmases.
Carolyn Hax: No doubt.
Holiday hurl: Can't send the photos. First, they live with my parents. The albums - dozens of them - are arranged by year and can't be dismembered. Second, he is my brother -- gotta protect the innocent. Finally, it's a treat for those who are willing to tolerate the over-the-top barely-edible-to-foreigners dinner. The hurl/ethnic food aversion has always been explained by the fact that he is the only one of us born in the U.S.
Carolyn Hax: Yes, but now we have "Holiday Hurl" in our lexicon, which are words worth a thousand pictures.
Frozen...: I think we've all had a shower with a proverbial frozen turkey at some point in our romantic lives.
Carolyn Hax: Or wished that was all it had been.
Connecticut: Christmas 1999 - Rugrats were big, the movie where baby Dillon Pickle was born had just come out. I was at Kmart with a 2 1/2 year old who saw the doll of baby Dillon Pickle and started asking, politely at first for a Dil Doll, then louder and louder and louder until she was finally screaming in her 2 1/2 year old lisp I....WANT....A....DIL....DOLL (say it out loud)!
Carolyn Hax: Go for it, cube rats.
Re: purple eyeshadow grandma: I totally read your response as "Judging that is above my gay parade," which was both confusing and delightful.
Carolyn Hax: That's what we aim for here.
White elephant: Can we go back to the SUEDE ICE BUCKET, please???
Carolyn Hax: Only if you're good.
Frozen turkeys: We had a similar quandary this year (minus the turkey hug - WE defrosted ours in a cat litter tub, thankyouverymuch).
Why are their FRESH turkeys in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving, but on the day before when you actually need a fresh one, there are only frozen turkeys?
Carolyn Hax: Again, above my pay grade.
Somewhere: It wasn't Christmas, but it was a huge family gathering. People traveled thousands of miles to share a milestone event. We invited lots of local friends to celebrate with our assembled family. We cooked for days; we set up outside bistro tables with twinkling lights; we hosted about 100 people in our home.
In the afterglow, basking in the triumph of social success, my mother said to our teenage children, "Your parents produced another wonderful event from this substandard kitchen."
Although she has tried in many, many ways to top that quote, it stands apart in our collective memory.
Carolyn Hax: Maybe if you blow the door off the oven with some exploding tequila, you can raise your mother's opinion of your kitchen. or just renovate it with the insurance money.
Carolyn Hax: I'm still here, just making sure i didn't miss one ...
Holiday Family Introductions: Here is why you should not use the holidays as a time to introduce two merging families. At a Haunukah celebration, my friend's grandmother, upon meeting her granddaughter's Christian fiance for the first time, took it upon herself to corner him and as if he was at least circumcised. And they still got married!
Carolyn Hax: Sure, blame the holidays.
Don't take my baby (-related Rubbermaid products)!: So this year, we had a Hannukah party during which we had one of those White Elephant present-stealing games. My husband and I had collectively contributed one gift, so we were participating as a team. Someone opened a 40-piece Rubbermaid food storage set, and God only knows why, but my husband became fixated on it. He HAD to have it. I don't know what his deal was, but he's cute and rubs my feet, so I humor him. I should also mention that I am 8 months pregnant with the first grandchild on both sides of the fam. So, when it's our turn, we steal the Rubbermaid, and I immediately cradle it in my lap and start talking about how it will store the food that I will make "for my baaaaaaaaaaaaay-by," and I ramp the puppy-dog eyes up to 11, because I will throw down for my husband, dammit. I spent the rest of the game in a semi-fetal position, cradling the box of Rubbermaid and audibly sniffing every time someone started eyeing it. I have no earthly reason why it worked, but it did--my husband is now the proud owner of a $20-on-clearance box of Rubbermaid, and he is as happy as a clam. Just like the Maccabes.
I should also note that, at this same party, we sang a bunch of Hannukah songs off a distributed song sheet, including one I've never heard before, about how the Maccabes are coming to kill all the assimilating Jews. When we got to the line about nailing the Jews who associated with the Greeks, my Greek Orthodox husband and I happily (and loudly) high-fived.
Carolyn Hax: And humor him you should. Congratulations on booty well-seized. (Interpret as you wish.)
Death Chair: Could you fill us newcomers in on the Death Chair lore? Please, I'm so curious!
Carolyn Hax: You say it here ...
Carolyn Hax: ...
washingtonpost.com: The birth of the Death Chair, Dec. 4, 2000
Carolyn Hax: ... and it comes out there.
And extra round of e-pplause for Jodi, who scrambled for that 1 hour and 15 minutes after this chat is scheduled to end (but hasn't once ended when it should).
St. Paul, MN: One year for the office white elephant exchange, I was one of the people who opted out. Then that night, I snuck a wrapped gift under the tree: a wooden box used for holding marijuana and a device with which to smoke it.
When the very naive 25-year-old at my table opened it and asked what it was, the guy next to her laughed so hard, he fell over backwards in his chair.
I laughed with feigned shock like everyone else, mostly just glad to have gotten rid of a stupid gift I got from my spouse.
Carolyn Hax: Bathroom Pot, meet Office Pot.
Carolyn Hax: I know there's more (about 50 percent more submissions than usual so far, and counting--I did what I could) but I'm going to call it. I'll type to you next week on Thursday at noon, since I've got another event at my kids' school on Friday.
Thank you, thank you everyone, and have a warm (but not flammable) and memorable holiday or non-holiday season.
Death Chair originators: Does this mean our family wins the 10 year Hootenanny Holiday Chat award? :)
Carolyn Hax: It does, but if any sort of prize arrives, you might want to leave it out in the snow and maybe poke it with a stick (before regifting it, in its orginal wrap).
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