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An Incomplete and Growing List of Things I Do Each December

By Zach Straus

Google when Hanukkah starts.
Read the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Calculate how much I spent on coffee in the past year.
Secretly judge friends for using Evite.
Research flights to Mongolia I will not buy.
Delete a VERY secret file name Journal.doc from my desktop then pull it out of the Trash a day later.
Sleep through at least three holiday parties.
Make a 15-song playlist based on the music that that soundtracked my life, month by month, with a Song of the Year and two bonus tracks.
Avoid all Christmas concerts.
Feel more alone than I probably am.

Advent 2017: The Guessening

Submitted by Scott Snowman

When we were growing up, we often had an Advent calendar to open every day for a piece of chocolate. Now that I’ve grown up, I’ve put my own spin on the tradition.

Thanks to the wonderfully uniting powers of social media, I can host a world-wide daily unveiling of Advent calendar chocolate for friends and family. Each day, I post a picture of what’s behind the newly-opened door. Everyone scrambles to identify what the item could be, with guesses ranging from the plainly obvious, to the psychologically enlightening (Rorschachocolate, anyone?), to the downright creepy.

This year, I splurged and got a $2 calendar with arguably poorly-cut molds and a chocolate artist who may or may not have been sexually repressed. It’s a win/win: everyone else gets a daily taste of intrigue and mystery, while I get to embrace in the warm rush of endorphins that accompany Facebook notifications on my smartphone. (Oh also I get to eat chocolate every day in the morning. The things I do for my adoring public.)

Shitty Gifts and the Feast of Seven-ish Fishes

Submitted by Erin Vail

The Vail fam has a couple of choice Christmas traditions, on both sides. The first is my cousins’ and my gift exchange. It’s Secret Santa style, and you give the person you chose a normal gift and/or charity donation, and then a “shitty gift.” The shitty gift is 1,000 times more important than the genuine one. It has a $5 limit, and makes us use every ounce of creativity in our brains. In the past, I have received a framed photo of Carrie Underwood as Maria in the NBC Sound of Music Live! and a box of Lucky Charms with no marshmallows, and I have given a junior novelization of Suicide Squad and a box of 500 pennies. Nothing says “I love you” more than giving a gift you know the other person will hate immensely. What better way to celebrate Christmas than by being the best asshole you can be to your family?

Another, slightly less dick-ish tradition we have comes on Christmas Eve. We usually have a bunch of family over for dinner—the Feast of Seven-ish Fishes (very Italian, but we only have like 5 or 6 fishes, and 4 are in my mom’s amazing fish stew alone, and the last one is the baccala which is dried cod, and it’s gross) and dessert and wine and The Godfather playing in the background. Once everyone leaves and we start cleaning up, my mom puts on her favorite Christmas song: “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. We dance around, clean up, and continue to drink, and it’s embarrassing and silly, but it’s tradition and we all secretly love it.

My own personal tradition is that I am super OCD about our nativity scene. I have to arrange it to be Biblically accurate, even though I’m not very religious and go to church like, twice a year. My mom FaceTimed me last week, and I could tell it was not set up the right way. When I get home Monday, fixing the nativity scene will be the first thing I will do.

Caroling with the Polish Home Club

Submitted by Meg Kearns

As an only child with a large extended family but a small immediate one, most of my familial Christmas traditions are on the low-key side. So one of my favorite Christmas activities is actually a friend’s tradition that I have happily been invited to enough times that it feels like one of my own.

One of my best friends from high school, Cassie, comes from a very large, very Polish family, most of whom live in and around Baltimore, which historically has a pretty big Polish population (see: season two of The Wire). Every Christmas season, on December 23rd, members of this community gather at the Polish Home Club in East Baltimore to go Christmas Caroling.

Programs are handed out with various carols in both Polish and in English, a pickup truck rigged with speakers and a microphone leads the procession, and a live band and a massive crowd of carolers follow behind, weaving our way through the streets of Fells Point. We sing classics like “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bells,” as well as Polish carols I’ve learned to successfully mumble my way through over the years. Along the way we stop at some of the many Polish Catholic churches to warm up with a prayer (or grab a Christmas cookie and wait outside), and pass by some Polish delis who provide mini shots of Vodka. Sometimes it’s freezing, sometimes it’s unseasonably warm. It’s always fun to walk through the streets, singing loudly and badly, and wave at the delighted and confused residents of Fells Point who come to their doors and windows.

The night ends back at the Polish Home Club with hot dogs, pierogi, and polka dancing, to such classics as “In Heaven There Is No Beer.” The lyrics continue: “so that’s why we drink it here!” It is the absolute most fun tradition, so if you ever find yourself in Baltimore on December 23rd, try being Polish for a night and check it out for yourself.

Dinner and 2 Movies (with a Catch!)

Submitted by Josh Bard

On Christmas every year, my Jewish family embraced stereotype and went out for movies and Chinese food… but we didn’t always play by the rules (dun dun DUNNNN).

We wouldn’t go to just one movie, we’d go to two! My dad would buy the tickets for whatever first movie the family picked, but that was where his charity would end. Once we were old enough to understand the rules, we were now complicit players in the game. The game, of course, was getting into the second movie  BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. For most, that meant sneaking back into the next theater, and avoiding the $10 ticket.

There were lots of ways to sneak back. The bathroom gambit. The concessions, hands too full rouse. But everyone knew the easiest way to get back in was to walk with Nana. Who would ever question a lovely, gentle, cardigan-clad old lady? Walking next to Nana was like wearing an invisibility cloak.

Sure enough, my parents, brother, aunt, uncle, and Nana would all file in and find each other in the second movie, and later at dinner, we would regale the stories of how we fooled the 20-something ushers who probably never cared anyways.

Family Charades

Submitted by Monica McNutt

My mom apparently got tired of stuffing our faces and doling out cash—which may or may not end up materializing as a real gift—so about 5 years ago, she said “game on.” Lo and behold, the timeline coincides with when all the “grown ups” in the family decided Christmas is for kids, since 5 out of the 6 of us that make up our Christmas crew were in our 20s. (Shoutout to Grandma for our jars of coins still, and $5 with a handwritten note in an envelope; seriously, she’s a treasure.)

So now instead of gifts, we have started a new tradition of playing games right after brunch. The go-to has become Family Charades. Yours truly usually makes up the cards. They’re loaded with family jokes, nicknames, oddities that make Aunt Debbie uniquely her, and we laugh and laugh. The best is my 81 year old grandmother coming in for the silent kill when everybody else is befuddled by the clues or gestures.

The 101st Noël

Submitted by Jillian Conochan

The year: 1999. A college student with decent metabolism, I was deep down a McDonald’s hole. To complement the DVD release of 101 Dalmatians, Mickey D’s was giving out darling little spotted puppies inside every Happy Meal.

It happened by accident. “Don’t these look like wise men bearing gifts?” I asked my mom, snatching Kelaine’s bone-clutching puppy and placing it beside mine, which carried a pail of what I assume was dog food. A star appeared in the night sky.

On our next visit, my Happy Meal contained a pious looking pup, with a strange hat and a rosary around her neck. “Mary, is that you?” I whispered.

A week later, we had our Joseph, a third wise man, and a dalm-angel.

It was Christmas Eve. I placed my palms together, looked up to the heavens, and ordered my cheeseburger Happy Meal. When the associate slid my tray across the counter, I knew my prayers had been answered. A sweet dalmatian slumbered serenely on his back. My nontraditional nativity was complete, and not a day too late.

Victorious, we sat down. A pigtailed girl of about 7 was fussing in a nearby booth. “Mommy, I already got this dalmatian!” she pouted. My own mother met my gaze.

“Well?” she muttered. “Are you gonna give the little girl your prize?”

In the spirit of Christmas, I pondered the question.

“Hellllllllll no, Mom! This is baby Jesus!”

And so goes the tradition of the 101st noel.

Christmas Adam and Bad Movie Night

You may not know this, but the biggest tragedy of your life is if you’ve never met Bradley Bennett, who started the greatest holiday tradition of all time—Bad Movie Night. It all started one summer, when Blockbuster video rental was still all the rage. A few friends gathered in our friend’s basement to watch Jeepers Creepers, in which an insatiable demonbatperson torments a town. Guys. This movie was SO BAD. Impossibly bad.

That winter, when Brad returned from his freshman year of college, we all got together to see our buddy Bradley, who had a surprise for us. Wouldn’t you know it? Jeepers Creepers 2 went straight to DVD. We watched it, laughing at every failed plot point, every unnecessary boob shot, every gruesome murder. And a tradition was born.

Every year since, we gather on December 23rd to watch a TRULY wretched “horror” movie. Something so stupid and terrible and poorly acted that you sincerely cannot believe anyone paid money to make the damn thing. It has become a sacred tradition for all the celebrants of Christmas Adam (named thus because it comes before Christmas Eve).

Some titles include: Monsturd, Birdemic, The Gingerdead Man, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Devil’s Rain, and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Guys. SO BAD. SO SO BAD.

Fifteen years after our first Bad Movie Night, the crowd has grown, and the stakes have risen. We now take bets on the total number of deaths, awarding a belt to the KILL COUNT WINNER. And after The Gingerdead Man, we began setting an over-under on the number of stupid puns that lazy dialogue writers slip into scenes for levity. And every year, we are more and more disappointed at how astoundingly BAD these movies are.

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