There's something about family traditions that make the holidays better. My friend Josh was kind enough to tell me all about his family's Christmas traditions. Take it away, Josh:
We start each Christmas Day by sitting around the table, listening to Grandpa talk about how much he paid for his first car and how long he kept it.
"Two hundred and thirty dollars! I kept it until 1963!"
Then Uncle Joe will start talking about how many stents he's had put in. He's up to 29 -- just this year -- which doesn't stop him from eating four pieces of pie. Some cousin who's home from his first semester of college will jump in and volunteer stories about all the girls he's supposedly dating. For $50,000 a year in tuition, you'd think he'd be at least a little smarter than he was in September, but I can't see it. In the middle of dinner, one of the teens, Cabernet or Riesling, will start crying and lock herself in the bathroom.
Everyone wants to know when I'll get married. I hem and haw, trying to change the subject.
"Are you gay?" asks one of my sisters. "I mean, it's OK if you are." It is obviously not OK with her. All conversation stops around the table for this one.
"Thanks for asking, sis! And thanks for waiting until the middle of a big holiday dinner to ask. But no, I'm not. If I ever change my mind, I'll let you and the rest of the world know on Facebook. By the way, how are your ex-husbands? Are they still dating all your friends?"
At that point, someone, usually Uncle Joe, will spill the gravy or cranberry sauce all over the table and everyone will scurry to clean it up. Should he be eating gravy at all, with his heart? Well, if he doesn't care about his health, why should I?
By this point, the younger kids are all getting antsy: "Can we go to the mall now? We want to see 'The Last Jedi.'"
After all, what says "Christmas" more than going to see the latest Star Wars movie? If greasy, salty concession-stand popcorn and a 60-ounce soda in a souvenir cup don't remind you of Christmases past, what does? Sure, they could wait to see it when it comes to Netflix in a couple of months, but they also have to go to the mall to return all that junk the adults gave them for presents. Most of them would have preferred cash or bitcoins.
Giving cash would also save a lot of time for the gifters, as my nephew Todd explained to me: "There'd be nothing for you to wrap, and it'd save me all the time I have to spend waiting in line at the customer service desk to return that sweater you gave me. Just a heads-up, Uncle Josh."
"Yes," I said. "What was I thinking? How could I be so thoughtless?"
"Oh, don't blame yourself," said the child. "I should have told you last year."
After dinner and dessert, the real fighting begins. Aunt Shirley still wants to know why Aunt Helen ended up with Grandma's Hummel figurine collection when everyone knows they should be hers. Their husbands are in the kitchen, getting drunk on the homemade slivovitz somebody got as a Christmas gift. They'll end up holding each other up, pretending that they're sober, singing songs that were hits when they were in high school. Helen and Shirley will have stopped speaking to each other for another year.
Josh wraps up this story with a heavy sigh.
"Well, that sounds like fun," I tell him.
"Yeah," Josh says. "But I'm not sure it was worth the seven-hour plane trip to get there. I'm exhausted by the time I leave. It doesn't feel like a vacation, it feels like a job."
Contact Jim Mullen at email@example.com