Top Ten Ways to Enjoy the Holidays
Before I begin the actual countdown, here are a few rules about my Top Ten lists. First, they are not in order. #10 is not the least, and #1 is not the most. #1 is not first, and #10 is not last. Second, they will not always be ten items long: I always try for ten, because it feels nice to hit the mark; but I am also obstinate and mischievous, far more than I am traditional and organized, so nine is certainly possible and eleven is likely.
Third, and most important: people determined to take these lists to heart do not have to accept the whole thing. The reason for itemized lists is that the items are not all required to accomplish the goal. If every item were required, this wouldn’t be a list, it would be a full essay, everything linked together and with an end result that is greater (hopefully) than the sum of its parts. But a list is only its parts.
So if you like what I say here, take one thing away with you. Or two, or three. Not all ten.
Especially not if there are only nine.
This year, Toni and I tried to do this Jolabokaflod thing (The above article has a link to the pronunciation, but it is pronounced pretty much like it looks. All of the o’s are long, so the word rhymes with the phrase, “Joel, a bloke, a toad.”), the Icelandic tradition where they give gifts of books on Christmas Eve. We went out and bought them on Christmas Eve, which was actually pretty fun; Barnes and Noble wasn’t absurdly crowded, and I enjoyed seeing that many people in a bookstore buying books. I liked buying a book for her, and I loved seeing the book she bought for me. I should have bought her a better book: I bought the one that was a gimme, a Stephen King novel – we both love Stephen King – but she had already bought me the same book for Christmas. She actually took her time and looked around for a book I would like but had never heard of; she found a collection of essays called How to Ruin Everything. I’m going to go back and exchange the one I got for something else. And in future – because this thing will happen again; it was too good not to keep doing – I will buy these books the way the Icelanders (Icelandish? Icelandiks? Icees?) do: I will look around in the months leading up to Christmas and find something she’ll like. And I’m going to enjoy giving her that one, too. I may try to wrap it.
Speaking of wrapping:
#2: Wrap presents however you want.
I wrap presents like the proverbial mutant T-Rex. I usually struggle with it, and try to make my presents as, well, presentable as possible; my father is a perfect wrapper, and Toni, of course, is a deft and capable wrapper, and so I feel the need to live up to their standards. I can’t. It usually frustrates the crap out of me when I realize that I cut the paper at a bad angle, or just a little too small, or that my corners aren’t crisp. And why is it that every time I fold up the ends, I get a bubble along the center seam? Why can’t the paper just lay flat?
So this year, I said screw it, and I embraced my crappy wrapping.
It was both relaxing and fun. I mean, the point is to hide the present until the person is ready to enjoy each one, right? I understand the beauty of a finely-wrapped and beribboned present; but when that isn’t an option, why worry about it? Focus on what matters: the actual present. Oh no – I mean the thought. It’s the thought that counts.
Speaking of thoughts:
#3: Do something nice
Do something nice for someone you love. Then do something nice for someone you do not know. They can be things you do all the time. The person you love and do something nice for can be yourself. They can be holiday-themed, like putting money into the Salvation Army bell-ringers’ cans, or not, like donating blood to the Red Cross, which I will be doing this week or next.
Don’t overthink it. If you feel like the nice thing you’ve done isn’t quite nice enough, then do two things. Don’t do something so nice you regret the sacrifice you have to make. But do something nice.
#4: Listen to whatever the hell you want.
The Christmas music station here in Tucson really sucks. It’s terrible: they play two songs and then a pile of commercials; in the evening, when I’m in the mood for music, they have the most obnoxious sap-tastic hostess, who is constantly pulling that “Let’s hear everyone’s warmest wishes for the season,” and then taking calls from people who are grateful they got to have Christmas with their Aunt Buffina before she passed from the rheumatic cancer of the diverticulitis but at least they got to pray together one last time, and I just want to hear Blue Christmas, dammit.
But you know what I found this year? Hamilton. That is a badass musical. And the soundtrack is on Amazon Prime. (Want to know an excellent gift? A year of Amazon Prime. Don’t give me any shit about feeding the corporate monster: I buy local books, too. And Amazon Prime comes with free streaming, free shipping, a free E-book every month, and a streaming music player that lets you listen to albums without buying them. It is an outstanding service.) So this year, it’s been a very Hamilton Christmas for me. And I’ve been singing along, and enjoying it. I like that it has an uplifting element, and also a melancholy element, and that it is oustandingly, outlandishly cheesy.
And yes, I’m aware that I both celebrate the cheese in a musical about the Founding Fathers, and deride the cheese in the evening heart-warming radio call-in show. Everyone has their preferred cheese. Mine comes with speed-rapping about the Marquis de Lafayette.
Along with that: if you are a fan of Christmas movies, then go right ahead and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Story. But if you are not, watch something else that you love but haven’t seen for a while. This year Toni and I will be watching both the Lord of the Rings extended editions and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Because nothing says Christmas like pirates and Nazgul.
Hold on: imagine a Christmas-themed installment in either of those franchises. Hoo boy, there’s an image. Who plays Santa, Gimli, or Gandalf? Or maybe Elrond – Santa is called a jolly old Elf.
Speaking of weird Christmas mixtures:
#5: Eggnog Latte
The holidays should be a time for doing what makes us happy. The things I like about Christmas are enjoyable mainly because they aren’t things I do all the time. Like eggnog. I love eggnog. I would crawl a mile, over gravel and rusty nails, for a glass of good eggnog. But after a few quarts – okay, gallons – of eggnog, I get tired of it. Luckily: it goes away. And then when it comes back, I’m excited for it. And the best eggnog moment in the holiday season is when Starbucks brings back their Eggnog Latte. I can’t tell you how gorgeous it is to have a latte made with eggnog. If you are a fan of eggnog and of coffee, go get one, right now.
If you are not a fan of eggnog, that’s fine; turn this one into whatever treat you do love around the holidays. Sugar cookies, candy canes, fudge, roast turkey with all the trimmings, whatever. Eat it. Enjoy it. If you want to combine this with #3, do what my perfect wife did: bring someone an eggnog latte (or a roast turkey) while they are at work. A visit from a friend bearing goodies? Who wouldn’t love that?
#6: Whatever you do, no New Year’s Resolutions.
This may be a pet peeve of mine, but it’s also the truth. New Year’s Day is an invented holiday. It is not meaningful. (Well, this year it may be a little meaningful, because it will finally be the death of 2016. Hasta la vista, baby. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.) There is no particular reason to think of the first day of January as the beginning of the year: it has utterly no significance in the solar calendar, it is not the anniversary of a momentous occasion in history; it is the day we arbitrarily decided was first. It’s like someone having eight kids and deciding the third from the last is Kid #1. It makes no sense. And because it makes no sense, any feeling of renewal or a fresh start is entirely fabricated. Now, that isn’t a bad thing: I think it is good to decide that this day, this hour, is where it begins, whatever it is; but the only power in that is the act of deciding. And part of that is deciding that it is exactly, precisely, now. So I think when we base that decision on someone else’s arbitrary choice of starting point, it has only as much power as we think other people have over us – which, when it comes to breaking old habits or starting new ones, is not very freaking much. I did manage to quit smoking, almost exactly nine years ago – and I started on December 28th. Because I knew I was going to quit; why wait three more days and do it when the calendar says I should?
So: resolutions are fine and good. I have several myself, including blogging more regularly and getting back to the gym. But I’ll start them whenever I decide to. I recommend the same for everyone else.
#7: Decorate. But do it your way.
We all want to feather our nests, want to make the place where we spend the most time as comfortable and attractive as possible. So do it. The holidays offer a unique opportunity, because I think Christmas lights are beautiful. One of my favorite things is trying out new ways to hang the lights. Try new designs, new colors, hang them in different patterns or in different places, inside and outside. Along with that, the tree indoors is a splendid thing. Try for a living tree, maybe; the smell of pine is available through a wreath or cut branches, and living trees are often cheaper and reusable. While you’re at it, buy some knick-knacks that make you laugh; we have a Chris-Moose that always makes me smile. And a pair of holiday toads that hang on a doorknob that makes me laugh.
Now: if you have too many knick-knacks already, maybe the way you should decorate is by getting rid of them. At least some of them. Empty out one box, or one room – and I mean give them away or throw them out – and then thin the others to fill it back up again. But first, try sitting in a room with no knick-knacks at all; see how it feels. Whatever you do, if you have or want knick-knacks, don’t tell other people about it. If you tell people that you enjoy ceramic narwhals, you will never get anything else for birthdays or Christmas, and your house will look like a narwhal knick-knack museum within three years. Come look at my mother-in-law’s frog collection and you’ll see what I mean.
Along the same lines: a lovely way to decorate is to clean. Or to organize. Or both. Don’t try to do the whole house; pick one task that matters but is rarely or never done, and do it. Make it an accomplishment.
#8: Wear good socks.
New socks. Comfortable socks: ones that are the right size, that aren’t too stretched out to hold to your ankles and calves, but aren’t so tight they leave red lines on your skin. If you don’t have good socks: buy some. Don’t hold onto old socks. Don’t skimp on cheap socks. Nothing feels better than good socks. You want both thin and thick varieties to go with the weather, and if you can find ones that you think are funny or pretty, all the better. But wear them. And throw out the old ones.
#9: Change razor blades
Similar to the socks, but this one is even more important. Don’t cut yourself on Christmas. Use new blades. If they feel too expensive, then get a safety-razor; the blades are cheap and the handle isn’t disposable, so you’re adding little to the landfills – and no plastic. But if you like a nine-bladed cartridge, great, use that. Use a fresh one. Have a good shave.
#10: Go out and take a walk.
One of the loveliest things about the holidays is that, on the actual day itself, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, most people stay inside, stay home, don’t work. That means the world is quiet. Go out and take a walk in it. Go someplace that is normally busy and crowded and chaotic, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Move your feet, breathe the air, listen to the silence. Take someone with you if they can be quiet while they walk. Don’t listen to music: listen to the world. It’s a nice place.