Jilly: Holiday Humbug

Holiday HumbugDo you embrace holiday hoopla, or do you count the days until it’s all over? I’m in the latter camp, and I’m planning ahead – looking for books, movies, ideas, anything to get me through the seasonal shenanigans with a smile on my face.

It’s that time of the year again, already. Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Diwali – check. Next up, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas. Kylie turned on the Oxford Street lights a couple of weeks ago, and every TV channel, magazine and billboard is saturated with images of happy, smiling, picture-perfect families celebrating together. No wonder people get stressed, crazy and broke trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal.

I’m a holiday humbug, have been for as long as I can remember. I’ve been trying to figure out why, since I love my family and my husband’s family, believe the world could use more kindness and generosity, and would never, ever turn down a good party. I think my problem is that I hate being told what to do, let alone when and how to do it. As soon as somebody hands me a set of rules – you must be with these people on this day, do this and feel that– the voice in my head says like hell I will, before I even consider whether it’s something I want to do or not.

Gaurishankar Mountain (via Wikimedia Commons)

Gaurishankar Mountain (via Wikimedia Commons)

In the past my husband and I had seasonal festivity avoidance down to a fine art. We spent our Christmases trekking in Nepal (sunrise over Gaurishankar, breathtaking, check out the photo to the right), on safari in Kenya (watching giraffes before breakfast followed by a dip in the river), cross-country ski-ing in Swedish Lapland, and one super-memorable year we visited Bhutan. That was amazing. Now things have changed. My mum is a widow and my brother lives several thousand miles away, so we stay home and embrace the Christmas spirit, but I have to work at it.

In the interests of my sanity and to help me approach the holidays in the right frame of mind, I’d love to find some fun books or movies to spoil myself with, stories that provide a nice balance to the whole relentless holiday machine. Still upbeat and seasonal, but with a little more oomph, kapow, snark or humor, and minimal saccharine.

The only thing I can think of is Jenny Crusie’s novella Hot Toy, which was originally part of an anthology but has been re-released this year as a stand-alone. Competitive children’s gift shopping, hi-tech spies, over-the top-action, disastrous cake-making, the beginnings of a romance and plenty of superbly snarky dialogue – I love this book. So did Jayne at Dear Author who gave it a ‘recommended’ and an ‘A’ grade. Read her review here.

I can’t spend a whole week reading and re-reading Hot Toy. Does anyone have any suggestions? I’d be eternally grateful.

Or if you’re a smiley seasonal sparklepants, please share your feelgood recommendations below. They probably won’t be my thing, but I’m sure there are other readers of this post who’ll appreciate them 😉 . Thanks!

11 thoughts on “Jilly: Holiday Humbug

  1. I do like Christmas, and all the seasonal stuff. It’s the dark of the year, and it’s a good reason to make the house cozy and smelling of spices. Nice chance to burn a candle or have a lit tree in the foyer. And with some of the Expected Craziness of the Japanese New Year (I watched a cartoon that scarred me for life — on New Year’s Eve, Sazae — the arche-housewife of Japan — and her family cleaned the whole house. Not just dusting the corners, but going through every file and box in the house and sorting through ALL of it, trashing what needed trashed, dusting the rest. I whimper in despair at such energy and efficiency and non-clutteredness.), um, where was I?

    Oh yes. A clean house on the New Year is one that has room for luck to enter. Luck apparently doesn’t like cobwebs and dust bunnies. So, there’s some psychological pressure to get the house in good shape.

    But the thing is, we don’t have live up to Sazae’s standards. Nor do we have to live up to Martha Stewart or even our mother’s standards of holiday living. Holidays really should be a time of wonder, and a time to celebrate with those we love best. (-: Sounds like you got that covered with your trips!

    What about a mini-trip on Christmas day? Go over to the next town, find a place serving Christmas dinner (maybe even volunteer at a church serving dinners), and call that Christmas?

    I don’t think there are enough Christmas stories out there. A Christmas Carol by Dickens is a classic, and it deserves to be read with fresh eyes. I like Hogfather, too.

    And let’s not forget, Christmas songs have some of the best stories embedded into their lyrics. I love the chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or people promising to be home for Christmas if only in their dreams, and even Grandma getting run over by a reindeer. Because sometimes Christmas needs a little bit of contrast.

    BTW, I found this list: http://americanliterature.com/christmas It’s not all American Literature by any means.

    And I remembered one of my favorite films: The Lemon Drop Kid. There’s a tiny bit of racism (but, do they get any points for including Asians in the first place?). A con man cons the wrong man, and escapes to New York over Christmas to raise the money his mark lost. He hits upon a scheme to start a nursing home — a Home for Old Dolls. And it just gets sillier and sillier from there. It’s got a little romance in it, and a lot of heart. Damon Runyon wrote the original and may have had something to do with the screenplay; I need to check. And the beautiful “Silver Bells” came from this movie. (disclaimer: Bob Hope was my first crush.)

    And to you, a good night!

    • How could I forget Hogfather? That’s doubled my holiday reading list, thanks, Micki! Have to confess I never heard of The Lemon Drop Kid and it sounds wonderful. My mum is in a Home for Old Dolls (with a few guys) so I’ll definitely check this out.

      Maybe I should try writing a Christmas story with just a pinch of Humbug, just to please myself. Perhaps that’s the way to spend the holidays. Hm. Food for thought there.

  2. Confession: I am not a smiley seasonal sparklepants. I loved Christmas as a kid and enjoyed it when my own son was younger, but as the years have gone and my family has shrunk to a much smaller size I’ve found the excitement has lessened. Part of it may be related to the fact that the retail sector keeps trying to make Christmas start earlier and earlier. Seeing Christmas things in the store before I’ve even bought the Halloween candy leaves me cranky and bah-humbugy.

    That said, I do like to have a Christmas tree in the house and some lights hung outside (though not until after our Thanksgiving). I don’t read many Christmas themed stories because they can be kind of sappy if not done well. Other than Hot Toy that you mentioned, the only title I could remember reading was The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry (he’s a humour writer). I do like to watch the movie Miracle on 34th Street around the holidays and I have friends who swear by It’s A Wonderful Life.

    I’ll be interested to see what books others recommend. I may,however, wind up picking out stories of warm sunny beaches or adventure to counter the holidays.

    • I just looked up The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog – described as “wacky, warm and fuzzy” by the New York Times so I’ll probably give it a try. Bonus, though – in the same article was a recommendation for David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries, a book of short stories about the time he spent one Christmas working as an Elf at Macy’s. That sounds like my cup of mulled wine 😉

  3. Oh, Jilly, you’ve opened a whole can of emotional worms with this post! At my current age/stage in life, I have very mixed emotions about the holidays. There are traditions I love, things I wouldn’t miss, and chances to see some of my relatives I rarely see during the rest of the year (which is on me – must get better about this year-round!). But there are also those relatives I could do without seeing, too many things to do/too little time, and absolute overload for this introvert.

    I don’t really go for holiday-themes stories. If I like a story with a Christmas theme, I don’t mind reading it any time of year. If I don’t like a story, its holiday theme won’t make me like it any better during ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. But I have pre-ordered a Christmas-themed box set this year (Mischief Under the Mistletoe – 19 stories (short to novella length) for a buck!) because I really enjoy the work of some of the authors in it. I’ll let you know if any of the stories have the snark and kapow you like!

  4. Sorry about pre-empting the seasonal overload, Nancy. I know you’re crazy busy at the best of times, so I’m getting cold sweats just imagining your holiday schedule 😉 . Glad there are parts of it you love as well as parts that are just too much.

    Mischief Under the Mistletoe. The title sounds promising, and 19 authors for a buck is a real bargain, especially if you know and enjoy some of them already. Fingers crossed for the snark-n-kapow factor. Look forward to the feedback!

  5. Ahoy, 8 Ladies Writing! I hope you are all well. Pam Regis here, about to reboot the McDaniel Romance Writing Program, and looking for “success stories, quotes and/or testimonials for the program” (this from our advertising guy) to, finally, advertise it again. We’ve been unable to for about a year. “Success” does not have to mean publication, btw. Send anything you’re willing to share–or questions!–to pregis AT mcdaniel DOT edu.

    • Hi, Pam! It’s great to hear that you’re able to advertise the McDaniel Romance Writing Certificate again. I’m sure the other Ladies will join me in wishing the rebooted Program every success. It was hard work, great fun, and deeply rewarding, well worth the investment in time and money. I’d strongly recommend it. I’ll give it some thought and send you an email.

      • The program was great. I really appreciated the chance to spend a year think deeply about writing romances. I came out of the program as a better reader, a better writer, and with more confidence about a whole slew of internet skills that I’d never tried before (blogging, making a website, using Twitter, etc). But the best thing was to be able to engage with smart people from all around the world who also wanted to learn more about writing romance. In my opinion, it was time and money well-spent.

        (-: And you can quote all that.

  6. So I actually love Christmas (probably because I have two little kids). I love decorating (not taking it down), I love getting the handmade and special ornaments out to hang on the Christmas tree (remember this one? From when we went to the beach! Or this one, when we went to the Georgia Aquarium!) I love seeing the lights outside, having an excuse to gorge on sweet treats, and I definitely love watching everyone open presents on Christmas day. (I don’t care about opening my own so much, but I totally go for it with everyone else.)

    That said, there are some Christmas staples in my (mostly movie) repository. First is “A Christmas Story.” It’s old (early 80s?) but absolutely hilarious and you’ll totally understand the references to Red Rider BB-Guns. It’s not a sappy Christmas movie at all and totally fun. My husband groans every time I drag this movie out, but even he ends up laughing, so it can’t be that bad.

    I also love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While it gets the typical Christmas-y treatment, it’s not really a Christmas movie per se other than the last scene (which is also the first scene — movie is flashback-styled) happens to take place at Christmas. But it makes my heart swell with love and sentiment (not holiday sentiment) and it makes me conscious and grateful for my place in the world, however big or small it may be.

    I also love “Love Actually.” It’s what I would consider an Americanized Brit Movie starring a slew of Brit faves like Hugh Grant and (yummy) Colin Firth (really, he’s Mr. Darcy to me). I am a sap for love stories and there’s a bunch in there. Again, it’s not a Christmas movie per se, but it takes place around the holidays.

    For books, the one I come back to, especially now that I have littles, is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” It’s a middle grade book that you could probably read in an hour, but I think it’s tremendously funny and human. A bit of a parody on the whole “isn’t Christmas perfect” kind of thing.

    And that’s all I’ve got! I’m interested to dive into the other suggestions here, because I can always use something new to watch during the holidays.

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