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Tag Archives: It’s a Wonderful Life

Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that après Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

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Please To Put A Penny*

My mailbox (and inbox) have been stuffed to the gills with donation requests since November. Cashiers in chain stores have been asking me if I’d like to donate to their company’s favorite charity for months now. The sidewalks are dotted with bell ringing charity workers (every time a bell ring and angel writes a check?) A person might suffer a wee bit of wallet fatigue by the time the holiday actually arrives.

If you find the notion of holiday tipping repugnant, I would encourage you to reexamine your stance. Whether one celebrates Christmas or not, we live in a country which considers the day to be a national holiday of sorts. Many traditions have developed in support of this practice. It is customary (when possible) to give employees the day off on Christmas Day. It is also the time of year in which people express their gratitude for work done throughout the year. Hence, the Christmas bonus. For those of us who are not a C.E.O. of a grand financial institution,the Christmas bonuses we dole out are more like, uhm, tips.

It is customary to tip anyone who regularly provides a valued service to you or your family, such as:

  • Grooming Professionals (hair stylists, manicurists, etc.)
  • Babysitters (for humans or canines)
  • Tutors
  • Cleaners
  • Home Health Aide
  • Handy-people
  • Newspaper deliverer
  • Mail Carrier**

Where one lives determines another list to be considered:

  • Assisted Living & Nursing Home staff
  • Apartment Building Superintendent
  • Doormen

I have often heard people grumbling about tipping their building staff. I would just like to point out that you probably were not forced to live in a doorman building, anymore than you were forced to eat food served to you by a waitress. It is implicit in the service sector that not all compensation comes from an employer.

There may be others you would like to acknowledge during this season. I would caution however, to consider a gift (versus a tip) if the individual is not a service professional. **And while mail carriers are not to accept cash gifts, I am a scofflaw in this regard, as my mail carrier is too lovely to me to be the recipient of baked goods (despite their indescribable deliciousness.)

How much one gives is entirely up to the individual. There are no hard and fast rules, there are only guidelines.  Never give more than makes you comfortable or than you can afford. Give the amount which makes you happy. Yes, happy. Tipping, like gift giving, is not the result of extortion. It should be a genuine expression of your thanks. And why in the world would you say thank you unless you actually felt gratitude?

Hee Haw and Merry Christmas.

* …in the old man’s hat. (“A Round About Christmas”-The Kingston Trio)

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Holiday

 

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Haul Out The Holly

The stash of Halloween candy has dwindled to the anemic lollipops and generic hard candies.  “Find gloves and scarves” is written on to-do-lists, and soups and root vegetables have been welcomed back into the home.  This can only mean one thing: it’s time to start the frenzy we politely call “the Holidays.”  Full disclaimer: I’m not sure who invented the colloquialism and I’m not entirely sure how encompassing it is.  I think it is the categorization of; Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year celebrations.  Like vegetarianism, the category seems pliable enough to fit the individual’s needs.  “Christmas” can be traded for “solstice” or “Chanukah” or “Kwanza.”  Which, as you can well imagine, does not help my confusion.  But no time for such concerns.  Veterans Day is almost upon us.  We must move and move fast.

Retail displays taunt us with their readiness as do television advertisements.  “You are already behind, you may never catch up!!!”  Even philanthropy (indisputably the very best product of the “season”) has jumped the gun.   The first New York Times Neediest Cases has appeared this week (originating 100 years ago on December 15th.)  I don’t think it’s anyone’s imagination that the frenzy starts earlier and earlier every year.  If only we treated our impending retirement needs in this manner!

I am no Grinch.  Really.  I love Thanksgiving; a holiday of food, family, friends, parade and pie.  I love how the world gets decorated for Christmas and everyone seems genuinely giddy.  I adore the classic movies of the “season.” My November and December would not be complete without visits from Natalie Wood (“I believe, I believe, it’s silly, but I believe”), Jimmy Stewart (“Attaboy Clarence”), the Heat Miser, Rudolph and yes, The Grinch.  I also love an excuse to dress a little fancy and feel grateful for invitations which allow me to do so.  I simply love the festivities, but not, definitely not, the frenzy.

The frenzy is responsible for people incurring consumer debt, often for gifts not needed or wanted.  At times, the consumer debt is so disproportionate to the household income, it takes almost a year to recover (and start all over again.)  Gift cards (their own evil web of exploitation) are purchased in huge amounts (evidently cash is offensive but an Old Navy gift card is not.)  Big box retailers are doing their part during these tough economic times and offering lay-away.  For a fee, you can have the retailer maintain possession of an item as you make regular payments (cement shoes are optional.)  The financial burden aside, the emotional toll this frenzy takes is absurd.  It is often the women in our culture who are lured into this vortex.  Decorating, baking, greeting cards, photos, shopping, wrapping, delivering, cooking, entertaining, usually (but not always) defaults to the woman in the household.  I am reminded of my friend’s mother-in-law, whom after hosting her very large family (yet again) one Christmas, plopped down on the couch with a large alcoholic beverage and proclaimed; ‘It’s Christmas for me too you know.”  Of course, she’s also the woman who gave my friend a Christmas theme sweater for her (summer) birthday explaining; “It’s for the holidays!”  Victim or perpetrator?  You decide.

So I will hold my head high as I resist the siren song of holiday frenzy.  I will affix my festively adorned blinders and grab all the joy of this season that is there for the taking.  I will walk past the shops, admiring their windows.  I will peruse the magazine layouts and shiny catalogs (because darn it, they’re pretty.)  I will pour sherry and pass chocolates at our family’s annual reading of David Sedaris’s Holidays On Ice as Johnny Mathis plays. And I will wish the same for you.  Happy Holidays!

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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