There is no holiday as steeped in tradition as Christmas. Every denomination, ethnicity, country, even individual sections of the United States, has specific traditions that infuse their celebrations with something rich and unique. Of course, there are also the more mainstream, universal traditions that often seem to transcend diversity, to the point that they become trademarks of the holiday. Some are good, some not so good. Some have even circumvented all conventional wisdom and good taste to become iconic symbols of Christmas gone wrong (if only tongue-in-cheek). We’re going to focus, for the moment, on the not-so-good ones that makes us all – well, most of us – cringe just a little.
The Ten Worst Christmas Traditions In No Particular Order
1. The Christmas sweater. Why does anyone think a bulky knit top with garish Christmas designs and neon-bright colors is ever a good sartorial statement? When Rudolph’s red nose pokes conspicuously at Grandma’s bosom and Santa’s beard stretches over Uncle Bob’s burgeoning belly in that way that makes the little kids laugh and point, it’s time to take a second look at this notorious holiday fashion. Regardless of well-meaning knitters, Christmas sweaters are simply not flattering on anyone – truly, no one. EvenAngelina Jolie would look hideous wrapped in red elves with bells. Also, and not to be dismissed lightly, they make even the slimmest person look as if they’ve already packed on the Holiday Ten. Truly, the only way to wear one is ironically, and really, how often is that the case?
Suggestion: Since there is no way to make a Christmas sweater look good, follow the advice of wiser fashionistas and avoid them like room-temperature eggnog.
2. The Christmas family newsletter. We get it: it’s the year-end wrap-up, the summation of twelve months of familial accomplishment; the list of achievements of children and grandchildren far and wide, blah blah blah. The problem is, family newsletters are sent out generically, to the entire Christmas list, with no particular accommodation made for individual relationships. Which means we’re all regaled with “Austin’s Scout troop went to Springfield for the Lincoln fest …” or “Minerva did her very best but only placed second in the McHenry County step-class competition” when most of us have no idea who Austin and Minerva are.
Suggestion: Send them only to people who actually know all the cast members and trust that the rest in the family/friends circle either already know or will find the updates on Facebook.
3. The Christmas photo card. I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure Christmas photo card companies are run and staffed by Satan. There can be no other explanation for the stunningly and consistently HORRIBLE photographs that emanate from their environs; hideous concoctions sent on cheap, glossy card stock accompanied by a generic message and the name of the family. I’m not talking about the cool art cards created from professional shots you send in to a design card company; I’m talking about the ones that are shot in a cheesy mini-mall studios with the worst possible lighting, backdrop rejects from the local high school theater department, and stylists who pose humans – and too often, animals – in ways that suggest nobody involved has a clue about composition or creativity. In fact, I’ve observed that even attractive people can be made significantly less so by bad photo processors who makes normal people look strange colors and all people look like deer in the headlights.
Suggestion: Don’t do it! Or make the investment to hire a professional photographer and get it done right. These will likely be on refrigerator doors for months to come; have some pride in your legacy.
4. The Christmas Video or CD. The digital revolution has brought much good to the world. It has also lowered the bar on every form of creativity and entertainment ever dreamed of by man. Due to the ease and affordability of creating almost anything – books, movies, records, photographs, videos, etc. – everyone with even a modicum of computer skill can crank out something that resembles a creative accomplishment. For people with talent who, heretofore, had no funds to get this done, this is a boon. For the rest of the much larger crowd of marginally-if-not-at-all talented folks, it has resulted in a sea of self-created, self-produced and self-published product that is akin to the photo card discussed in #3. More regularly now, families are creating Christmas videos and CDs to send out with their Christmas card (and, God help us, newsletter). While certainly a delightful bonus to the non-judgmental immediate family, the less forgiving friends and colleagues on the Christmas list are less amused or entertained by a four-minute rendition of a badly-performed version of Jingle Bells, with lyrics specific to your family and sung by grade schoolers who, though charming in their squirmy grade-school way, will not be winning any awards at “America’s Got Talent.”
Suggestion: Again, don’t do it. Don’t send it out. Or, like the suggestion for the newsletter, reserve this stocking stuffer only for a very select few in the closest possible family circle. They’re always an amenable bunch.
5. Fruitcake. You wouldn’t think at this point we’d need to have this conversation. It has been made abundantly clear that nobody on this great green Earth actually likes this stuff. The Food Channel can show as many “how do they make these?” shows about the dubious confection, and Claxton, GA can unashamedly claim the title of “Fruitcake Capital of the World,” but I’m going to go on record, here and now, and say this has got to be the biggest waste of calories in the entire food pyramid.
Suggestion: Don’t send me any. Please.
6. Carolers in Restaurants. I know, I know; they’re charming, they’re in pretty costumes (apparently all carolers are from the Victorian era), they sing well (usually … ometimes … not always.) and they bring musical merriment to any restaurant festive enough to hire them for the Christmas season. And they won’t get away from your table no matter, how reticent you were about “what song would you like?” And could they get any louder with that jingling bell and the four-part harmony on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas?” I was at a restaurant recently where we got hit up once – fine, they sang one, two songs, we all tipped, they moved on – then a second batch came by later and despite our alerting them that we’d already been serenaded, like a wolf pack of aggressive carol-harassers, they insisted on another round. Pressing as close to the table (and my head) as they could get, they sang too loud, too long and made us feel like captive audience … literally. I would’ve tipped them to go away, which they ultimately did … but not before my prime rib got cold.
Suggestion: Bring the volume down, one song per table (unless otherwise requested), don’t hover for tips and if people don’t want the racket, move along.
7. Green Bean Casserole: What is this dish … really? Canned soup, canned fried onions and beans. In a casserole dish, piping hot and … seriously strange. This is a culinary holiday tradition? Why? A holdover from the Depression? Campbell’s Soup propaganda? Brainwashing from the ‘50’s when canned products were actually served without irony? Whatever the reason, please stop. We’ve moved on. Fresh fruit and vegetable are easily accessible. Get a little creative. Vintage is nice with old clothes and furniture, not so much with food.
Suggestion: Anything else of a vegetable variety that doesn’t come in a can.
8. Charity solicitors. There’s no secret to the timing; organizations that raise money for any kind of charity, religious group, foundation, etc., choose Christmas time – the “time of giving” – to hit up generous (aka: guilty) people who feel moved at the holidays to dig deep. However, in more current times, most of us do our giving via the web or mail: making donations, giving to Kickstarter campaigns, gifting charitably, etc., and door-to-door solicitors only seek to interrupt dinner, disturb the evening activities, get the dog barking like a hound and cause us to stand too long in our doorway listening to a badly memorized script about “unwed mothers,” “children looking for a way up,” or something to do with a church. I get it; they’re doing what they gotta do. But giving is done in many ways; for most, it’s safer, easier and more credible to give via the web versus giving to a teenager with a clipboard. The other night I had three episodes of doorbell ringing, dog howling, and long speeches about giving. It broke my heart to repeat my “I give via the Internet” (I do!), but it had to be done.
Suggestion: Groups that send children door-to-door need to rethink the strategy. I feel for the kids pounding the pavement, but it’s not a particularly workable paradigm. It ends up creating a sense of disruption – like calls at dinner or email spam – that works against the goal. I give online. Thank you for thinking of me but please don’t roll your eyes when I tell you I’m not going to donate to your cause, Christmas or no Christmas.
9. Animated Christmas e-cards: At first these were cute, particularly Jacquie Lawson cards, or JibJab silliness. But after you’ve received about twenty of these from well-meaning friends, they all, seriously, all, start to look the same. Cute graphics, warm messages, silly messages, you click, you watch, “oh, cute!” … you get the picture. Actually, you do get the picture, but it’s kind of lost its cachet. It’s like Krispy Kremes or Tickle-Me Elmo; after awhile, the novelty wears off.
Suggestion: If you’re so moved, send them out once to somebody, then never again. I know, that sounds Scroogian, but that’s just the way it is.
10. And lastly, Mistletoe. Seriously, while this may have descended from a delightful Norse tradition, in today’s culture this poisonous, if picturesque, little plant is an invitation to your creepy uncle leaning in the dining room doorway, the skeezy loser at the office party who slips in a little tongue if you happen to be found under said plant, or for any number of people you don’t want kissing you to feel they have permission to do so by virtue of this age-old holiday tradition. It’s like a flora gone wild.
Suggestion: Use mistletoe sparingly for colorful table displays, embellish Christmas packages with it, delight in holding it over the head of your willing loved one, but keep it off ceilings and doorways where unsuspecting recipients of unwanted kisses are too often found.
So there you go; that’s the list of the Top Ten Worst Christmas Traditions. You likely have some of your own. Feel free to share in comments. We’ll keep track and just make the list bigger next year!
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