SNOW AND THE HOLIDAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Today and tomorrow are doctor visit days for Garry. His three-month surgical checkup for his ear and a stress test for his heart … so I’m writing ahead because I’m just not going to be around. Hope you don’t mind.

This is turning out to be a crazy busy month. I feel like Alice, running as fast as she can just to stay in the same place!

The holidays haven’t officially “hit” because of a calendar thing. It’s not because Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Nope, it’s that all of a sudden, it’s winter. We’ve got snow.

Snow falls and suddenly, everyone thinks Christmas, including those of us who aren’t Christian. Much of the snow that fell while we were away has melted. Not all of it, but more than half, anyway.

More is expected today and tomorrow. I suppose we might as well get on with holidays since, with the ground snowy, icy, and muddy, there isn’t much else to do.

The last time we got significant snow before or on Thanksgiving was 2014, a year during which we got 120 inches of snow out here in the country. That is, no matter how you look at it, a lot of snow. It’s the amount they normally get in northern Maine. It’s downright Siberian.

Christmas is so minimal in this house, there’s really isn’t much for us to do. I don’t put up wreaths any more.  We have so few visitors and live far off the main road that no one sees them.

Also, the nursery where I used to buy them closed and somehow, buying them at the grocery store may be cheaper, but it doesn’t have that “feeling” it had, picking the perfect one at the nursery.

We don’t give gifts because we don’t have money and anything we can afford is no more than a kindly thought. We give small things. Holiday reminders, maybe. Remembrance of days gone by when we ran up our credit cards because we got into some kind of bizarre Christmas frenzy.

These days, the tree gets plugged in. Our blue Christmas lights live in the living room drapes all year round, so when the holiday arrives, I just plug them in.

It doesn’t get simpler than that. We had fun with Tom and Ellin and that’s always a treat.

The weather isn’t as bad as it is going to be in a few days. Hopefully, we’ll have time to get some of the many errands, doctor appointments, vet appointments, and other stuff done.

And I have my fingers crossed that we’ll find someone to plow the driveway!

Boston’s big holiday tree

This is an El Niño year which can be bad. But, you never know. Sometimes winter starts out bad but eases up. Meanwhile, I’m keeping a close eye on weather maps and trying not to worry.

ROLL BACK THE CALENDAR! I’M NOT READY! – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Wednesday – Not the Holidays again!


“Oh no,” I cried. “Not again!”

Bad enough that summer was nothing but a giant rainstorm … but it’s November and you know what that means! Holidays. I am even more unready for holidays as I am for finding someone to clear the millions of leaves off our property, much less having them mix with tons of snow. Arghh!

It will be a Christmas tree. At Christmas.

My son decided to not do Thanksgiving this year. It’s the first time we’ve ever lived near each other and not “done” Thanksgiving and he was a bit apologetic.

“Not to worry,” I said. He got an invitation to go to the Cape and enjoy someone else’s cooking. I congratulated him. I pointed out he might learn to enjoy not making a giant feast. We’ll do a get-together Christmas Eve and open our mini-gifts, which is what we give.

I have a tabletop fake (but it looks real) tree with decorations already on it.  It has lights, too. It lives in the guest room in a big black bag. Every year, I remove the bag, carry the tree to the living room, and plug it in.

Voila! Christmas.

I cook something on Christmas Eve for whoever is coming by. No one except Owen bothers to tell me they are coming. I think my granddaughter is hoping for a better offer.

We don’t buy “real” gifts. No big packages greatly reduce Christmas visits. I give better gifts for birthdays. One gift to one person — I can get something they may actually want. Garry and I give each other stuff all the time anyway. As for me, we’ve already got far too much stuff.

Christmas Day, Garry and I watch boring old movies during which they sing “White Christmas” and Garry always points out that it’s racist. Then we eat something, which this year, might be frozen pizza.

When I was a mere lass, the Thanksgiving through Christmas holiday season was a big deal. Mostly that grew out of being raised “atheistically Jewish.” That meant no celebration. No decorations. I always felt left out. When I married “out,” I was delighted to finally get a piece of the holiday.

November through a sunny window

But then, everyone, including my granddaughter, grew up. I realized we didn’t need a huge tree taking up half the living room nor did I need to go into five years of credit debt to buy stuff no one seemed to care about.

These years, the Holidays are stripped to the minimum. Enough so my little tree looks pretty — and takes less than 10 minutes to set up. Garry and I buy each other something small. This year, I think I’ll get him a Red Sox sweatshirt. He will buy me flowers because he figures if I wanted it, I’ve probably already bought it.

What a relief!

PLEASE DON’T PASS THE TURKEY – Marilyn Armstrong

For the past few years, there has been an increasing clamor to make everything shut down for Thanksgiving, supposedly so everyone can spend time with their family. Nice, well-meaning sentiment, on the face of it. Except for all the people who don’t have families with whom to celebrate. Or who are estranged from (or just plain don’t like) their family.

What about them? Are you making their lives better? Do they want the day off? Did you ask any of them?

Then, there are Native Americans who don’t want to celebrate the arrival of armed Europeans who would steal their land, infect them with diseases, and try to murder them. They don’t feel this is something to celebrate. Or the struggling families who count on extra money from working holidays to help them survive.

Everyone doesn’t celebrate the same way. Or want to. Some folks prefer to work on holidays. They would rather earn some money than sit around their empty rooms feeling left out of America’s favorite dinner party — and maybe they need the extra pay.

Or they don’t like Thanksgiving, for whatever reason. It is their right to feel that way.

I understand the sentiment. To me, it’s one more example of how we try to force everyone to march in lockstep as if we are all the same or at the very least, we all should be the same. Above all, we should want to be identical.

I would appreciate it if the righteous folks would shut up already.

This is a diverse country. That’s not just something we say during an election year. It’s a real thing.

As a nation, we supposedly treasure diversity as much as any other freedom. So let’s leave a little room for people to express their differences as well as their similarities, shall we?

We do not all need (or want) to eat turkey, with or without gravy. I bet if you ask the turkey, they definitely would like to skip the holiday.

JEWISH AT CHRISTMAS – ELLIN CURLEY

Being Jewish during the Christmas season is like being a kid with your nose pressed up against the window of a candy store while all the other kids are inside eating candy. No matter how hard Jewish parents try to jazz up Hanukkah, eight candles can’t hold a candle to the sex appeal of corporate, commercial Christmas in America.

Every year, for two months (or more), everything you see and hear glamorizes the season of joy and giving. It’s all lights and glitter. Since Jesus was Jewish too, maybe we could come up with a holiday celebrating his Bar Mitzvah? Even Bar Mitzvahs are tame and dowdy compared to the hype and excess of Christmas.

Cowboy and Menorah

But then I married a gentile! I could finally — legitimately — participate in Christmas!

The first thing my daughter and I did — a week after my wedding, as soon and as the Thanksgiving dishes were put away — was buy a gigantic, live tree. Then we hit every Christmas tree store in the county. We bought enough ornaments to decorate the tree in Rockefeller Center! We made sure to buy several Dreidels, Jewish stars, and Chai ornaments to remind our tree it was also Jewish.

My husband suggested I might want to join a 12-step program for ornament addicts, but even he had to admit, the result was spectacular. Our sun room is round, with windows on three sides. At night, when the tree was lit, it reflected sparkling colored lights for 180 degrees. It was fairyland.

We kept the tree up until March that first year.

After several years of holiday decorating orgies, the novelty began to wear thin. The effort required to transform the house into (and out of) a winter wonderland felt unreasonable. Unnecessary.

christmas wrapping paper

I began to feel pressured and overwhelmed, like most of my Gentile friends. I decided to go back to my Jewish roots and leave the Christmas responsibilities to my Methodist husband. We now have a small, fake tree that comes up from the basement every year, fully decorated, for 6 weeks of daylight in the kitchen.

Ironically, Hanukkah, in its present incarnation, was also created by Madison Avenue to give Jewish kids their own schtick around Christmas, and to give Jewish adults something to spend money on during the “holiday” season.

These days, I happily light my Hanukkah candles and give, mostly small, gifts to my immediate family. I enjoy the festivities and fun of Christmas, but I’m at peace now with the simple, beautiful “Festival of Lights”.

Now that I’ve experienced how the other 90% live, I no longer covet my Christian neighbors’ holiday.

CHRISTMAS SONGS TO RETIRE – RICH PASCHALL

Are You Tired of Those Holiday Tunes Yet? – Rich Paschall


There are plenty of “Novelty” Christmas songs. As a matter of fact there are far too many. Some are amusing to the point of being endearing. Some are a bit weird or odd sounding. Some are just obnoxious and need to be removed from the Christmas playlist, permanently.

“Can you skip a few of those songs?”

Endearing novelty songs might include “The Chipmunks Song.” It certainly was a favorite when I was a kid. Alvin was my favorite chipmunk and it seemed perfectly OK to play the 45 (look it up) over and over, much to my mother’s chagrin. In later years, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” struck me as quite amusing. I guess it is funnier after a few spiked eggnog. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” may have many good versions, but the original recording from 1952 should remain locked in the vault. Also, radio stations will bring out the irritating “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas,” and the over-played “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” recorded originally by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, a novelty act if there ever was one.

The all-time most obnoxious novelty song, that ought to be put away forever by the way, is definitely “Dominick the Donkey.” What record executive thought that an Italian Christmas Donkey was amusing? To top it off the 1960 recording by Lou Monte sets new standards in displeasure. The song could have died a well deserved death, but the geniuses at Amazon decided in 2011 it should be rereleased, starting another round of annoyance:

Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It’s Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.

Some songs are just long and repetitious. Chief among these is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” After a while the litany of gifts is just too much. All versions of this song should be put away except, perhaps, the version by The Muppets. At least the popular Sesame Street characters find a joke and can carry it out to its funniest. That is much better than the many serious versions of the song that hit the airwaves at this time of year. The Muppets might even teach young ones the exceptional skill of counting backwards from twelve, something that is sure to be useful in their chosen professions later in life.

A song that is a classic but has clearly received too many variations is White Christmas. “The Drifters” version has been heard once too often on my radio. The 1954 recording was big for the Rhythm and Blues group, and it was the first of their songs to crack the Billboard 100 singles chart on mainstream radio stations. It would have thankfully been retired had it not been resurrected by holiday movies, including Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin in his greatest role. I can pass this one up:

Ooh, doop doop, doop doo doop
Ooh, doop doop, doop doo doop

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where those treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow, the snow

Then I, I, I am dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days, may your days, may your days be merry and bright
(Read more here: The Drifters – White Christmas Lyrics | MetroLyrics )

Actually, every version besides the Bing Crosby version should be put away. Admit it, whenever you hear “White Christmas” you think of Bing Crosby. Every version is automatically compared to the iconic version that has been washed into our brain cells from infancy, unless you were born before 1941. You can not help it, the sounds of Bing Crosby whistling his way to another season of white is all you can hear. Everyone will come up short by comparison, no matter how good they are.

Recently, we gave a bit of the history of the song here. The song was a hit from the time Crosby introduced it on his 1941 Christmas radio broadcast.  The movie Holiday Inn helped to make it even more popular. When Crosby entertained the troops during World War II, it became a bit of nostalgic relief when soldiers where thinking of their lives back home. Bing thought the song might be making the boys sad, and he felt he did not go to entertain the troops only to bring them down. He tried eliminating the song from his show, only to have the soldiers call out for it anyway.

The original master recording of “White Christmas” wore out from all the “pressings,” the process by which vinyl recordings were made. So in 1947 Crosby recorded the song again with the original orchestra, trying to duplicate the original sound. It is the 1947 version you hear today. The recordings of the songs for the movie “White Christmas” would likely have been remastered into a Christmas Album had they not been destroyed by fire. Crosby performed the iconic Christmas song in 3 movies and countless radio and television broadcasts. There just is not another version.


Bing sang this song right to the end, after actually. The above is from his 1977 Christmas television show. It was his last Christmas special. He died after it was taped and before it was aired.

UP THE CHRISTMAS TREE

This year, finally, I added lights to our tiny tree. I wanted them before, but they were always too expensive. This year, I bought 6 sets of tiny LED lights for about $4. I wrapped them around the tree … and now, the tree is just right. It needed some lights. I have only used 4 so far … two remaining in case the others punk out.

We put the two nutcrackers on top of the wood stove. If Duke got hold of one, it would be wood shards in minutes.

The blue lights are still up over the big window in the living room, same as last year and for the past 10 years. I will add the gifts when I wrap them. But with Duke, the Toothsome, I think I’ll put them out last, maybe on Christmas Eve.

How deliciously simple. The simplicity is a big improvement on my holiday spirits. When it’s too much like work, a lot of the fun disappears for me.

Merry Whatever-You-Celebrate! Even if you don’t celebrate any specific holiday? Enjoy the season. Be bright and cheerful and enjoy the bright nights and lights and happy greetings. After the holidays are over, it’s only winter.

It’s one of my goals in life to prove that it’s possible to have a lovely Christmas tree that is NOT 9-feet-tall, real, or weighing half a ton. I know the argument that “fake trees” are a hazard because they are plastic. I would believe that — except for a few details:

  1. No one buys a “fake tree” for a single year’s use. Each of mine has lasted five years or longer.
  2. They are much too expensive to buy annually and many of us leave the tree fully or partly decorated, then store it in a basement or attic for the following year. You cannot do that with a live tree.
  3. The ability of manufacturers to make a tree look very real has come a long, long way from when we were kids. A lot of people like to touch my tree to be sure if it’s real or not because it looks entirely real.

Given all this, buying a non-real tree is no more expensive or unfair to the environment than buying any other decorative object for your home. Nothing lasts forever. I’ve had to throw away burnt out ovens and lamps and carpets and who knows what else.

This little, fake, 4-foot tree has been with us — as of this year — for four years. I paid less than $30 including shipping. No, I didn’t get it on Amazon. These are specialized items and I wanted one that looked as much like a tree as possible … without the dry, falling needles and branches and the godawful mess a real tree makes. The falling needles alone can take a full year to finally get clear and I’m pretty sure I’ve still got some needles hiding in the wood and bricks from our only two trees “real” trees, 17 and 18 years ago.

Also note: we live on a street with a Christmas tree farm just up the road. We did the whole thing with the hayride and picking the tree and tying it to the car and then … figuring out where to put it because that was when we have five people living here and space was at a premium.

I do not believe that a dead, dry, real tree in some way screams “Birth of Our Lord” — well your lord, not mine but you get the idea — any more than no tree or a fake tree. The tree has nothing to do with religion. It predates modern religion by probably a thousand years and is more reminiscent of the ancient Norse and Celts than Christianity.

Decorate however it suits you. Do whatever makes you happy and enjoy it. It is a festive time of year and I think we need some festivities during this darkest part of our trip around the sun. At least when it is full dark by four o’clock, I can light up the tree. That helps. Truly, it does.

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN

They are at it again, the annual “lets make EVERYONE SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS.” Not that anyone was ever prevented from saying it, mind you … or that every celebrates it, either. The leaves have just changed and I don’t know what we’re eating for Thanksgiving this year, but it’s never to early to start whining about the holidays.

That’s right Bill O’Reilly, the sleazy sex-offender previously of Fox news, is sniveling about Christmas. If he snivels and whines about the holidays, maybe no one will remember that he’s a sex offender.

Did you know that folks are being forced — FORCED!!! — to not say “Merry Christmas?” I’m 71 and no one has ever prevented me from saying Merry Christmas. Or, for that matter, forced me to say anything at all about the holidays. It has always been a matter of good matters and personal whimsy.

That’s right, world. No one has ever cared what I said about any holiday. Other than responding with a smile and a returned greeting, I’ve never met a anyone who gave a rat’s ass whether I said Merry Christmas, happy holiday, or “have a great time whatever you happen to celebrate” — which I occasionally say when I don’t know what holiday you celebrate or even if you celebrate anything.

Basically, I’m a nice person and I want you to enjoy your holiday. So, I say Merry Christmas if I’m reasonably sure you celebrate Christmas. I would say something different if I thought you celebrated something else … or don’t celebrate anything for whatever reason. If I happen to say “happy holidays,” you’re going to spit in my eye? Because I greeted you with the wrong words and stepped on your self-righteousness?

The cops aren’t going to pick me up for my accidental failure to greet you the way you want to be greeted.


There are no “political correctness” police.


Anyone can say whatever he or she wants to say and that includes saying nothing. At all. So you can be friendly, or you can be a jerk. It’s not about religion or beliefs. It’s about being civil to other people who may or may not share your background. The whole little spiel about how I can leave if I don’t celebrate your customs? Since when did your customs become mine? Talk about offensive … you’ve got a lot of nerve!

I am tired of oppressed “Christians” whose idea of oppression is to not get everything exactly the way they want it — and who snivel about oppression because they have to move their crèche to the church around the corner.

You live in a country where you can have a church. You can have a dozen churches and attend all of them. Any time. That is freedom. What you want is spiritual tyranny.

The laws to which you refer do not exist. The police don’t care. Basically, neither do I. I’m just being polite. To you. For no special reason.

I’m going to make a suggestion: No matter what anyone says? Smile and say “thank you.” That’s a win-win for everyone involved.