Category: christmas

A Very COVID Christmas

I mentioned earlier this month that I usually do an annual newsletter that I called off this year. Part of that tradition is that I write a Christmas-themed short story and include it as the centerpiece of the newsletter. Well, while I might not have felt up to reflecting back on what happened in 2020, I did have an idea for a short story that I wanted to compose in honor of the year. And the good news for you is that, since I don’t have a newsletter to share it in, I’m just going to share it with you all, instead.

The core concept behind it is simple: all this pandemic stuff has affected our lives pretty drastically. What has it done to the North Pole over the course of the year? And with that kernel of an idea, this is what I came up with.

(And as a parting note, I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, and so I’m going to step away from the blog for the most part as well. It’s easier to feel like I’m really on vacation when I cut certain normal activities out of my life, and the blog is definitely one of those. If something comes up that I just can’t keep my mouth shut about, I’ll pop on to post, but if not, then I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy holidays. Catch you in 2021. I hear the sequel to 2020 is much better . . . )

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A Very COVID Christmas

JANUARY

Buddy was twenty minutes late when he finally rushed into the conference room. “Wipe that look off your muzzle, Dasher. Just because you call a meeting in January doesn’t mean I don’t have a thousand things more pressing than meeting with a quadruped.”

I scowled at him even more. “Please. One of us just finished pulling a billion-ton sled through the sky for more than two hundred thousand miles in one night. The other supervises some woodworkers. The fact that I called this meeting instead of taking another long nap should be all the notice you need that it’s important.”

He plopped his cocoa on the table, sat down, and cranked the hydraulics on his chair to whiz him up to my height. Having a reindeer and an elf meet in the same room wasn’t the easiest thing to maneuver, and not just because of the logistics. Reindeer and elves hadn’t gotten along since the Great Snowball Incident of 1894. All reindeer knew elves were fussy little busy bodies, and all elves were convinced reindeer were nothing more than thick-necked grunts. But why should we care what pointy-eared little helium huffers had to say about us? Buddy stayed silent, sipping his cocoa and thumbing through his phone as if I wasn’t even there. He was two feet tall, overweight, and always full of himself. A weak attempt at a beard, and half-moon glasses that made him look a century or two older than he really was.

I took a deep breath, held it, and then exhaled slowly. The less I had to do with elves, the better. “I think we can both agree there’s too much bad blood between our kind over the centuries to hope to have any real cooperation here.”

Buddy barked out a laugh, but still didn’t look up.

“You’ve been following the news?” I asked.

“What do you think I’m doing now?” he said. “Swiping right on Tinsel?”

“If you’d put that phone down for five minutes, we could be done with this meeting, and I could go back to my bed, and you can go back to . . . whatever the elf it is you all do in January.”

“See?” Buddy snapped, jabbing at me with his finger. “It’s exactly that kind of attitude that makes me want to—We’re making things, Dasher. All day. Every day. We don’t have time for dashing and dancing and prancing and that thing with her eyelashes Vixen does all day. You don’t hear anybody singing about elf games at Christmas, do you?”

“Please,” I said, unable to keep the derision out of my voice. “You’re making toys, Buddy. Toys. And most of them these days come preassembled from Asia. If you want to pretend you haven’t outsourced three quarters of your workload, then fine. But don’t think for a moment I haven’t been keeping an eye on your monthly reports.”

“Reindeer shouldn’t even have access to our monthly reports.”

“It’s the law, Buddy. You want to change it, take it up with the unions.”

He started to say something, then swallowed it. “What’s the use of arguing with a reindeer? Now what is it about the news that’s so important?”

“I’m worried about this thing in China. The virus thing.”

Buddy leaned back from the table and lolled his head around. “Suzy Snowflake! You mean this is just about that? It’s a regional outbreak of some coughing. We’ve had way worse over the years. If Ebola didn’t slow us down, I don’t think we need to spend more than three seconds worrying about one more flu strain.”

“But in 1918 when the—”

“1918! Can you hear yourself? The humans might be full of themselves, and they might be pretty dense, but even you and I can agree that their health care has improved quite a bit in 100 years. Paying for it might still be tricky for those Americans, I’ll grant you, but—”

“So you haven’t heard of anything that causes you any alarm?” I cut in. I had no time to debate politics with a candy cane addict.

“No, Dasher. I haven’t. Stop looking for excuses to get out of next year’s deliveries. Even if something ‘bad’ were to really happen, I’m 100% positive it would all blow over by next Christmas. Frosty in a frying pan, but you reindeer can be a pain to deal with sometimes.”

“Fine,” I said, then left the room. The less I had to interact with Buddy, the better. And he was right. I’d only called the meeting out of caution. Worrying in January about something like this was taking it way too seriously. If I’d been operating on something like a real rest, I wouldn’t have even blinked at the news. I needed at least two more weeks of sleep before I was really ready to face the world again.

That flu thing would all be done by the time I woke up.

MARCH

Buddy was waiting for me when I came to the conference room. The little elf had his elbows perched on the table, his eyes drilling holes into me as I took my time getting situated. I was just back from a two-hundred-mile jog with Comet, and I was in too good of a mood to let an elf bring me down.

“So you finally decided to make a meeting,” he said as I poured myself some oats.

“It’s the middle of March, Buddy, not October. Let’s keep the drama down to a bare minimum, shall we? Plenty of time between now and the Big Night for whatever has you elves all a twinkle.”

“Hey. This was your big concern before it was mine, okay? So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to brush this off as if—”

“What the elf? This is about that Cornea thing?” I asked, spraying some oats across the table as I spoke. Maybe I should have swallowed more first.

Buddy pressed his lips together and flicked the few flakes that had gotten close to him back at me. “Corona, not cornea, and things have gotten a fair bit worse since we last talked about it.”

“There’s like thousands of miles between us and the rest of humanity, Buzzy-bud. Are you worried the big bad disease is going to come in on a shipping container or something? We’re going to be fine.”

“That’s the problem with you reindeer. You’ve got no head for numbers. If this thing goes exponential, then all it’ll take is one little—”

“It’s March. Christmas is nine months away, as you yourself pointed out back in January. Sure, I might have been a bit worried at first, but that was just because it was so new. I took what you said to heart, and I’m good now. This will all be long gone by the time we really have to worry about it, and I’ve got more important things to worry about for now. Like my vacation to Canada to see relatives.”

Buddy about exploded off his seat. “Canada!? Relatives?! You can’t just go to Canada in the middle of a pandemic. What if you get sick while you’re away? What if you bring it back?”

“I’ll quarantine or whatever. But that’s not going to happen. No need to chit bricks about it. Or are you saying my family is diseased? That’s what it always comes down to with you elves, isn’t it? Just because we’ve got fur all over our body, we’re somehow magically dirtier than the rest of you. Well we happen to like our fur. It keeps us warm, and we’re never naked, as opposed to some creatures I can think of . . .”

“It isn’t safe, Dasher.”

“It’s a cold, Buddy. I think I can handle a few sniffles, even if I catch it. Which I won’t, because my family isn’t diseased.”

“You can’t go.”

“Watch me.”

END OF MARCH

“It wasn’t me,” I said to Buddy on the phone.

“I’m sure it wasn’t,” his tinny voice answered back. “But it doesn’t really matter at this point, does it?”

“It matters to me,” I said. “I never got COVID, and I certainly didn’t bring it back to the North Pole.”

“You could have though. You went to Canada.”

“I heard Link to a trip to some temple in Nepal. You don’t see me pointing any antlers at him.”

“And it doesn’t matter,” Buddy repeated. “The disease doesn’t care who brought it. It doesn’t think anything about anything. We just need to make sure it doesn’t spread. No more in-person meetings. We’ll do everything remotely.”

“Right,” I said. “That doesn’t sound too hard. And it’ll just take a few weeks, right? We can handle that.”

“Right. Though we’d better lock down the stores as well. Limit how many of us can be in there at the same time. That kind of thing.”

“Easy peasy,” I said. “We’ll be done with this in no time.”

“Let’s hope so. We elves can’t afford to get behind on our quotas.”

“And we reindeer need our regular exercise.”

“So let’s follow these rules to the letter,” Buddy said. “We don’t want this to get out of hand.”

“Definitely not,” I said, then hung up.

APRIL

I cleared my throat. “Thanks everyone for coming to the—”

“SO I SAID TO MY DOCTOR, WHAT DO I DO IF THE DIARRHEA DOESN’T STOP?”

The entire Zoom room was shocked into silence for a full second.

“Uh, Blitzen?” I said. “We can hear you.”

A few members of the elf council chortled. They always loved seeing a reindeer make a false step.

“I KNOW,” Blitzen kept going. His screen showed a close up of his name tag, though it was somewhat blurry. “AND THIS WHILE I WAS TOTALLY OUT OF TOILET PAPER. I FINALLY FOUND SOME OF THE STUFFED BEARS THEY KEEP DOWN IN—”

“Blitzen!” I shouted.

He kept talking, going into detail about things no stuffed bear should have ever had to experience. Several of the elves in manufacturing looked visibly green, and one of them turned off her camera.

“He can’t hear you,” Buddy said. “You’re going to have to mute him.”

“Mute him?”

“You’re the one who insisted on being the host.”

I squinted at the screen, trying to navigate the tiny menus and wishing I hadn’t made such a stink about being the host in the first place. It had been a two-hour debate. The elves were always insisting they were better equipped for running new technology, but the union had been pressing me to stay strong and start pushing back against losing ground to the pointy ears. This pandemic is going to put the whole world into a tailspin, Donner had said. That’s going to mess up the supply chain, and we might fall behind quotas. We’ve been struggling with the belief index for decades. Imagine what’ll happen if hundreds of thousands of children wake up to a weak Christmas morning. It might push us over the edge. The Big Man will have to start looking for corners to cut, and the elves have been pushing for an electric sleigh for the past decade. We need to show we’re providing more value than just one night of sleigh pulling.

Easy to say when you weren’t the one hosting the Zoom meeting where one of your own was talking about just what condition he’d left the toilet in for the last week.

At last I found the mute option just as Blitzen was going into bowel movements that I never wanted to hear about, let alone experience. The room went blessedly silent, even though Blitzen’s camera kept showing him talking. Who was he even calling at this hour? Probably his uncle, Schwitzen.

“Now,” I said, clearing my throat again. “The next few months are likely to be challenging, but we’re confident we can make it through with some minor adjustments to our workflow. We’ll be meeting remotely on this platform once a week with department heads, just like we’re meeting now. Remember, we’re not sure just what this disease is capable of, but—”

“I heard it doesn’t even affect elves.” That was Legolas from security. Typical elf manners.

“Our scientists are still looking into that,” I said, proud I was able to keep my voice so level. “For now, it would be best if we all just stayed remote. Wash your hands, and don’t forget to sanitize everything anyone else might have touched.”

“What about masks?” someone asked. I wasn’t sure if it was an elf or a reindeer. How were you supposed to know when everyone was so small?

“Masks?” Buddy asked, incredulous. “This is the North Pole, not Asia. Masks don’t do a snowball-throwing thing against this. It’ll just keep all the Corona right around your face, and then you’ll touch it and get it anyway. Leave the masks to the doctors, and just wash your hands.”

“Buddy and I will be checking in with each other,” I said, not wanting the elf to take control. Perceptions mattered still, even in a pandemic. “So if you’ve got questions in between meetings, run them by us, and we’ll iron it out.”

“That’s right,” Buddy piped up. “We’ve got to come together and make sure we get through this. Our biggest concern is keeping the supply chains moving forward and positioning ourselves so that once this is past us in a few months, we can go back to normal as quickly as possible. We’ll just be shut down for a few weeks.”

“Hang in there, everybody,” I said.

JUNE

I stared at the wall of my stall. To think, there had been a time when I looked forward to lowkey days in the office. Days when I didn’t have to worry about any business trips or long range runs. I would personally wash a snow yak with my tongue right this instant if it let me go on a business trip. Even a business trip to the Southern North Pole would have been better than this.

Day after day after day of the same thing. The same place for breakfast. The same place for dinner. The same 43 knots on one stall wall, 38.5 on the second, 13 on the third, and 72 on the fourth. The same wondering why there were so many more on the fourth than the third. The same debate about whether I should just have facilities come in and paint the walls so I stopped counting the knots. The same worry that I might miss the knots after they were painted over.

I didn’t eat out. I didn’t go to the gym. The cutting-edge treadmill had seemed so cool when I first got to try it out, but now using it just reminded me of all the places I couldn’t be running. Couldn’t be exploring.

The days blended together. I spent my hours poring over webpages, trying to make sense of the science behind this disease. I went back and forth debating whether it would be better to just get it and be done with it or do my best to avoid it. Both options seemed terrible, though there were more than enough people online arguing each side.

And that was the other thing: the arguments. Over and over and over around the same thing. Even the scientists seemed unable to make up their minds. Masks good or masks bad? Drugs good or drugs bad? Airborne or droplets?

I needed a hug. A good run through the forest with the rest of the team around me. The last time I saw Vixen in a Zoom meeting, I could have sworn she’d put on a hundred pounds, even if she said it was just the camera angle. I hadn’t gotten on a scale in weeks. I probably had done the same thing.

Stress eating my way through the alpacalypse.

Wondering if there would ever be an end to it. When the debates start focusing onto “Number of Acceptable Deaths,” you know you’re living in one of the worst timelines.

But the not knowing . . . that was maybe the hardest thing about all of it.

Would we ever be able to go back to normal? And what did “normal” even look like?

It had been so long, I was worried I had forgotten.

JULY

“You have to put that swab where?” I asked, the statement not quite lining up.

The elf sighed and put her hands on her waist. She was dressed in a full body suit with candy cane striping and a little slit for her to see out of. Every time she moved, it sounded like squeaky sneakers. “It goes in your nose. Don’t be such a baby.”

“If it’s just going in my nose, then why is it a meter long?”

“We have to go deep enough to get a good sample size.”

“Of what? My brain?”

She practically growled at me, and I flinched back. Elves could be vicious when they didn’t get their way. All I needed was to have to get rabies shots on top of COVID tests. “You’re the thirtieth reindeer I’ve had to test. None of the rest of them took this long to get it done.”

“I’m just saying, with a swab that long, you need to be using a whole different preposition. It’s not going to go in my nose. It’s going to go up it. Waaaay up.”

“Just close your eyes and think happy thoughts, and it’ll all be over before you know it.”

“That’s supposed to calm me down?” I asked. “That’s what the vet told my great aunt before she was put down when she went all Rankin and Bass on us. Where’s Buddy? I want to talk to him.”

“Buddy’s dealing with union issues, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. Now get that nose down here before I call for the tranq gun.”

AUGUST

I got to the conference room fifteen minutes early, taking my time to make sure everything in it was wiped down with disinfectant. The table. The chairs. The door knobs. If we were going to have a hope of getting back to normal, then we had to be sure every single surface was spotless.

The floor was lined with candy cane stickers marking off 6 foot increments. Sugar glass panels had been erected all over the place to keep everyone in their little compartment. Everything we could do to keep everyone safe.

Buddy came in right on time, though he hesitated when he opened the door. “Are we sure this is safe?” he asked.

I stared at him for a moment. It was so strange to see anyone in person again, even for a little. He was still the same elf. Not even two feet tall, pointy hat and pointy ears, and the same green and white and red striped suit he always wore. The mask was new, though. He had one decorated with a mistletoe pattern.

Mine had a series of crossed antlers printed on it. It was also big enough that Buddy could have used it for a blanket if he needed to.

“It’s as safe as we can make it,” I said. My mask had a tendency to ride down when I opened and closed my mouth, and it was a struggle to keep it in place. Not for the first time, I envied Buddy his opposable thumbs.

After some hesitation back and forth, we were both sitting at the conference table. It felt like I was breaking the law. Like I was going to get put on the Naughty List any moment.

“This is silly,” Buddy said. “How can we expect the rest of the North Pole to get back on track if the two of us can’t even sit here and have a simple meeting together?”

“You’re right,” I said. “I know you’re right. Still, it’s strange.”

He grimaced. “These masks are going to be the bane of elven existence.”

“They seem to be staying on your face okay.”

“Sure they are, but over half of us need glasses to see what we’re working on. It takes all of four seconds for your glasses to start fogging up when you’re wearing a mask. What are we going to do about that?”

I grunted. That was certainly something I hadn’t thought of. Magical reindeer didn’t get bad vision. “Do you think we’ll need to wear them when we’re out for a run?”

“Write the question down,” Buddy said. “There’s a Return to North Pole Safety Committee that’s tackling all of those. A bunch of scientists advising them what they can and can’t do.”

“I should have invested in Red Tape Company before all this kicked off.”

Buddy laughed at the joke, which showed just how desperate we were for anything even resembling humor.

“Let’s get down to business,” I said. “We’re through with the worst of this pandemic, and good riddance.”

“No kidding,” Buddy said.

OCTOBER

“No,” I said as soon as Buddy walked in the room. His mask was dangling from one ear, not even making the effort to cover his mouth at least, let alone his nose.

He rolled his eyes and looped the mask back over his other ear. “Jingly Jehoshaphat! Happy now?”

“Happy? No, I’m not happy. What happened to the Buddy I knew who was so worried about me heading off to Canada?”

“He caught wise to the fact that this virus was overblown to begin with. All those statistics are just a lie they’re using to control us. And what happened to the Dasher who was fine going on that trip, anyway?”

“He spent two months in the same room and got his head on right,” I said. “If we’re going to have half a hope of staying open and avoiding another shut down, then you elves are going to have to wear your masks. All. The. Time.”

“What do you mean ‘You elves’?” Buddy asked, his face clouding over in anger. “Do you know I almost got trampled by a reindeer on my way to this meeting? You all stomp around like you own the entire North Pole. Well we’re sick of it, and next month, we’re going to let you know just how we feel once we’re in the election booth.”

“The elections? You’ve been watching too much news from down south. These are union elections, Buddy. They’re aren’t going to change a thing.”

“Well—well—well—that’s what you think! You reindeer are just using this COVID thing as a way to grab more power for yourselves. Masks? Please. Scientists have gone back and forth on masking so much over this ‘pandemic’, I’m half tempted to start wrapping them and giving them to kids who asked for yo-yo’s.”

“They’re trying their best,” I said, “the same as any other sane being. But when you anti-maskers go around ignoring the advice, it just means this disease gets a bigger foothold. It makes it harder for everyone. So why don’t you stop just thinking about yourself and start thinking about everyone else for once?”

“Why did you even call this coal-blasted meeting?” Buddy asked, literally getting on top of the table and marching over to look me straight in the eyes.

I backed up a few feet. Had to keep the social distancing. “It’s October, Buddy. Or did you forget? We’ve got the entire North Pole complex resting on us keeping things going, and we have to—”

“Isn’t it amazing that whenever there’s work to be done, suddenly it’s ‘us’ and ‘we,’ but whenever decisions are going to be made, it’s all about ‘I’ and ‘you.’”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He folded his arms and lifted his chin. “It means the preparations for Christmas can wait until we elves have a bigger seat at the planning table. Until the elections are over and you reindeer are put back in your place. And until that happens, I’m not wasting my breath talking to you for one more minute.”

True to his word, he stormed out and didn’t look back.

DECEMBER

“How are you holding up?” Buddy asked. He’d changed the last month. The fight was out of him, and his suit hung on him like a he was a turtle in a shell two sizes too big.

I gave him a half shrug, all I was really able to muster at this point.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s about where I am too. You remember the Keebler family down in baked goods? One of the youngest went to a Thanksgiving party with a few of her friends and brought it back. Now five hundred twelve of them are down with a fever and more. The numbers just don’t look great, and Dobby in accounting said we don’t have enough vaccines ordered to cover even our first responders. But even with all that, I still have half the union complaining about the other half, either thinking they’re not wearing their masks enough or whining about having to wear the masks at all.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “The reindeer games were canceled for this year and next, and half the herd is protesting it, saying this whole thing is just made up.”

We sat in silence for a full minute, neither one of us really having the desire to do anything other than exist.

“So why’d you call this meeting?” I asked.

“Oh,” Buddy said. “Right. It’s about the Big Man.”

“What about him?”

“What do you mean, what about him?” Buddy snapped, a little of the old edge back in his voice. “He’s a two hundred and fifty-year-old senior citizen who started watching 24-hour news stations from around the world to keep up to date during the pandemic. He liked the BBC for a while, but it was too gloomy, so he settled on Fox News, instead. I’ll give you two guesses what I’m worried about.”

My jaw dropped, though Buddy wouldn’t be able to see that behind my mask. “He’s not a—a—”

“COVID denier? You bet your twinkle toes he is. Here the entire North Pole has been bending over backwards the whole year to make sure he and the Mrs. keep safe from all of this, and now he’s insisting on going out for the Big Night. Says he wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

I scrambled to wrap my head around it. “But we developed all those backup plans. The elves and the reindeer were going to go in shifts, and . . . He doesn’t care, does he?”

Buddy shook his head slowly.

“And so he’s going to go out anyway.”

Now Buddy nodded, his elf face grim. “We’ve got as much chance of stopping him as the Keebler family has of getting better by tomorrow.”

I shoved back from the table, kicking over a potted candy cane plant and ramming my antlers into the wall three times in quick succession. I roared in frustration. “I’m so sick of this year. Every time I think it’s gotten as bad as it can get, something else comes along and proves me wrong. It’s torn my family apart, it’s ruined my job, it’s taken over my life, and now it’s even threatening the Big Man. If he goes out there, there’s no way he’s not going to get it. All that time in everyone’s actual house?”

Buddy got up and came to stand next to me, putting his hand on my forelock, though he couldn’t even reach past the first joint. He didn’t say anything. Just patted me a little and waited.

And somehow, that was enough. Maybe it was the physical contact after being apart from everyone for so long. Maybe it was the way the pandemic had worn me down. But for the first time, I looked at Buddy not as an elf, but as a person. Someone who was like me. Facing the same figgy pudding and dealing with it as best as I could. Buddy wasn’t my enemy. Why would I want to find another enemy when I had so many to deal with already, from COVID 19 to phony stories posted on Glitter and more? My breathing slowed and I got myself more under control. I stepped back to the conference table. “Sorry about the damage to the wall.”

Buddy got back in his chair and came back up to table level. “It was getting old anyway. We’ll have it patched back up and better than ever by tomorrow. You know us. We’re elves.”

“Thanks, Buddy.”

“No,” he said. “I need to thank you too. This year has been hard on all of us, and I guess there’s some things I’ve said and done that I’m not too proud of. I know I shared some things online that weren’t very nice, and I don’t think I’ve been doing much to solve the problems.”

The two of us stood in silence for a while, both of us lost in our thoughts. But when the meeting resumed, somehow it was different this time than any of the thousands of meetings I’d had with Buddy over the years. Not just in a pandemicky sort of way, either. The two of us were talking and actually coming up with ideas for solutions. The Big Man couldn’t deliver presents if he wasn’t conscious, for example, and between the two of us, we could arrange for his eggnog to be a little “special” this year. Once he was passed out in his sled, the reindeer could take care of the driving, and the elves could handle the delivering.

We weren’t enough to get the job done on our own, but together, we’d be able to manage it all. Was the meeting perfect from start to finish? Did we never argue once? No, but the best sort of meetings aren’t about agreeing on everything. They’re about spreading your thoughts out for the group to pick them over, so that the end result is stronger than what you could have come up with on your own. It wasn’t about one side winning or one side losing. It was realizing we were all on the same side, and we’d win or lose together.

Did Buddy and I become lifelong friends after that meeting? No. A simple pat on my leg wasn’t enough to change centuries of bickering. But we were able to see each other in a different light. Able to recognize that we’d always been on the same team, and we always would be. And when we disagreed and traded barbs just for the sake of seeing the other embarrassed or lessened, it hurt the whole process.

In the end, we survived that Christmas. I’m not going to say we flourished, because nothing that came out of 2020 could be said to do that, other than COVID19. But the presents got delivered, and Christmas morning came with most of the happiness and squeals of delight it usually did.

Of course, it also came with a very grumpy Santa Claus who had to be reassured he delivered all the presents the night before without remembering any of it. Did we feel good about gaslighting Santa? Not entirely, but at least he was still around to be gaslit.

And while the whole process hadn’t been perfect, looking back I could definitely see a difference in what life was like before COVID and what it was like after. We had all been changed by that year. Some of it was from all the time we spent alone. Some of it was due to all the changes we’d had to make at the North Pole and elsewhere. The pandemic didn’t finish as soon as Christmas was over, of course. It took much more time than that. But once we’d made the shift in mindset from us vs. them to just plain us, it became so much easier to deal with.

The elves might have still been shifty eyed little tricksters, but they were my shifty eyed little tricksters, and that made all the difference.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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What Makes an Ugly Sweater?

In discussion last night, the topic of ugly sweaters came up, and there was a bit of debate over what, exactly, an ugly sweater consists of and (more importantly) if it’s possible to ruin an ugly sweater. In other words, is there some sort of ideal, platonic form of ugliness in regards to sweaters, and anything more or less than that is veering from that ideal?

Now this is a topic I think we can really sink our teeth into. Something that can help us come together and bring us up out of the endless squabbling of the past. So, friends: what makes an ugly sweater?

On the surface, I realize this seems like a pretty straightforward question. After all, you can go to Amazon this second and buy any number of ugly sweaters. You’ve got pop culture references to Christmas Vacation or Home Alone. You’ve got Christmas llamas and Christmas tree substitutes. But I would argue that these aren’t really ugly Christmas sweaters, mainly because they’re ugly on purpose. Tacky Christmas sweaters? You betcha. But to me, I think ugliness has to be something that’s more an accidental byproduct than the point itself.

In many ways, my approach is probably influenced by my experience with ugly ties on my mission. Any novice can go and buy a tacky tie. Something with an idiotic picture on it, or something that was made to be ridiculed. But it took a real connoisseur to go through thrift stores and find a tie that was made to be stylish, but which had either gone horribly wrong, or long since fallen out of favor and into ugly-dom.

So to find a truly ugly sweater (by my definition), you’d have to find one that’s made to be stylish, but is most definitely not. I believe the Ursprung of the ugly Christmas sweater can be traced back to the Norwegian sweaters. The ones with the snowflake-esque patterns on them. I happen to like a lot of them, and you can look through Dale of Norway as a sort of sampler of what’s available. It is here, amidst the sweaters with aspirations to greatness, that you might have hope of finding nominees for the truly ugly. The models have to look like they mean business, rather than that they’re kidding around. Ideally, an ugly sweater would be so bad that you can almost tell the model is reconsidering their career choice, just for putting the thing on. And yet they wear it anyway, because this is fashion.

With a bit of browsing on their site, I think I’ve come across a potential candidate. The Snohetta Unisex sweater.

It’s either a decapitated reindeer head, stylish bleeding snowflake patterns, or . . . some sort of post modern statement on the commercialization of Christmas? I’m not really sure, to be honest. But I do know that it will set you back a cool $420 to buy a new one. You have to admire a person who, when faced with the decision of buying a new iPad or a Godfather-Meets-Christmas olive green monstrosity, goes with the Godfather. This is no gag gift. This is a sweater that wants to be the real deal.

(As a side note, I have to also observe that for a sweater to really be ugly, it has to be potentially beautiful to some people. Otherwise, you’re just boxing with kid gloves on.)

So taking this sweater as our exemplar, is there anything that could be added to it to make it uglier, without going too far? I mean, you could add a red nose to the reindeer, but I think at that point it would veer off into “subtly comic” territory, ruining its pure ugliness. Likewise, picking a different color palette might also ruin it.

The more I think about it, the more this sweater persuades me that somewhere out there, there truly is the world’s ugliest sweater. One that would make all those pretenders on Amazon weep in shame. It’s probably resting at the bottom of some donation bin, or maybe at the back of someone’s closet. But it would be perfect.

Anyone got any real nominees?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

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A Post-Christmas Thought

I know I said I was taking a break from the blog, but I’m breaking that rule today to pop in and share a thought. I was sitting here catching up with my journal for the last few days. Christmas is fun, but very busy, and so it’s easy to let some things slip past me in the big build up. I was about five days behind, but I like writing my journal. A good way to take stock of what I’ve been up to. Sometimes it seems it’s very same-thing-every-day, but other times huge things will happen out of nowhere.

But as I was writing about everything we’ve been up to (Canadian Brass Christmas concert, quartet in church, presents, fun, and a crushed front bumper of the Prius in a parking mishap), it just occurred to me how much I like the little things. Spending time with the kids. Going on walks. Working on projects. Playing games. Watching movies. Just spending time together as a family.

You want to have things mixed up now and then. Excitement. Vacations. But so much of life is just the day in day out act of living it. Just as you only notice how wonderful it is to be healthy once you’re actually sick, it can be hard to identify how much fun it is to be with your family until they’re not there anymore.

This isn’t intended to be a sad post. Just a chance for me to try and get down the feeling I was having while journaling. I won’t have another Christmas with Tomas at 14, DC at 10, and MC at 5, and that’s okay. Life moves on, and there will be Christmases to come, and this one to look back on. How to put this . . . ?

When we were in Krakow this past summer, we took the kids out at night late one evening. Our hotel was 25 feet from the main square of the city, so Denisa and I thought it was a perfect chance to do something with the kids we don’t usually get to do. We had a great time wandering the streets and showing them how different a city looks at night compared to the day. And after we were mostly done (just finishing one of our many ice creams that trip), I pulled everyone off to the side of the main square. I told the kids to stop and take some time to *be* there. To really notice what it was like. To listen to the sounds. Feel the air. Smell it. Focus on what it’s like. It’s kind of like taking a mental snapshot of a moment. It’s something I’ve done off and on over the years, and I love being able to think back on all those times and remember them, because when I focus like that, the memories do seem much clearer and crisper.

The main square in Krakow. I had everyone stand just to the left of this picture (though it was much later when we did that walk).

That’s the same sort of feeling I had while journaling. That just living life with my family is a lot of fun, and I want to Remember this. I know there will be Christmases when things are much different. That’s okay. This was a lovely one, and it’s been a hectic end of the year to this point. I was very grateful for the chance to catch my breath, clear my head, and just enjoy the moment for while again.

I hope this Christmas found you and yours in good health and spirits as well. Maybe it wasn’t a great time for you (there have been some Christmases that were . . . much less than optimal for me). If so, I hope you have good times ahead. And when they come (or if they’re already here), take some time to soak them all in.

And now I’m going to eat some more fudge, before I turn into a walking Hallmark card.

Merry Christmas!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Baby It’s Cold Outside Isn’t Worth It

I understand. There has been a huge cultural movement over the last few years. Call it the PC movement, Social Justice Warriors, or something else, but it’s been a general drift away from certain “traditional” mindsets that might have been broadly accepted in the past, but which have fallen out of favor with many today.

And some people find that threatening.

We could dive into the details about what motivates people and what makes them feel insecure, but I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t feel like going there today. Suffice it to say that there’s a backlash movement against the PC movement. There are people who feel there should be no need to sacrifice things that have been popular for decades just because they might be perceived as insensitive or disparaging to whole groups of people. (Quick aside: read that last sentence again. Then, if that describes you, question your life choices.)

Perhaps I’m being dismissive. Perhaps I truly don’t understand what motivates people who seem (to me) to hear about the fact that they’re doing something that’s upsetting or hurtful to others, and then they decide to continue doing it, just because they don’t feel like they should have to stop.

I deal with this kind of behavior pretty regularly, as a parent. One of my kids will be on the couch, It’s a big couch. Plenty of room. And another one will come sit down on the couch. Sooner or later, one of the kids makes a move. Typically, they try to sprawl out as much as possible. Inevitably, this sprawl infringes on the space of the other kid. That’s when the arguing starts. The couch is big enough for everyone, but one kid feels like they should be able to set up shop on the whole thing, or right next to the other kid.

Another example: we’ll be in the car, and one kid decides to start listening to their video game music without using their headphones. It’s annoying to everyone else in the car, but they don’t want to stop, because they like it more without headphones.

Folks, if your behavior is regularly mirrored by a five-year-old, maybe going around calling other people misguided or wrong is a tad off base.

The thing is, if these debates were about truly important things, I’d be much more sympathetic. If something really matters to a person, I try to be able to help that person get that thing. But so many of these “Anti-PC Movement” movements have been about things that . . . just don’t seem to amount to much. And no example of this is easier to see than “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

To judge from my current Facebook feed, you would think “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is the Mona Lisa of Christmas music. That it’s the epitome of all that is good and right with the world when it comes to holiday classics. Here’s how I summed it up in one Facebook response I wrote:

Of all the possibilities, I get a kick out of the number of people willing to go to battle for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” As if this is the Bridge of Khazad Dum, and PC Culture is the Balrog, the song is Frodo, and they’re Gandalf, bravely standing there shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!”

It’s a song that if it were done today, would come across as creepy. And it’s still being covered today. It’s a light Christmas song, and people are treating it like it’s Holy Writ.

If people don’t like it, don’t play it. If people like to listen to it, fine. But to go full nerd and explain the history of the song, American culture, and dating mores just to justify why you feel you should be able to listen to the song and it should be in regular rotation on the radio . . . seems excessive.

The debate is generating a fair bit of buzz, with some radio stations yanking the song from their rotation (OH NOES!!), and videos being made that poke fun at the song and the debate.

Pretty amusing, though I kind of cringe at the cavalier way it’s poking fun at the #metoo movement
This one I take more umbrage at, mainly because it strongly implies anyone who has an issue with the song is represented by this sort of behavior, which I think totally misses the point.

When I first read the linguistic, historical defense of the song a few years ago (such as some of the thoughts expressed in this article), I thought it was interesting, and I agreed with it. The song didn’t mean what it sounds like it means today. What’s the big deal?

But #metoo has happened since then, and the song really comes across as flat footed now. And yes, that’s not what it meant back then, but so what? Will I take this song out of my own Christmas playlist? No. It’s a catchy song, it won an Academy Award, and I don’t mind it. Do I care if I don’t hear it on the radio ever again? No. If I like it, I can buy any version I want and play it until my ears bleed.

(As another side note, I get another kick out of the fact that some of the people who are arguing we keep the song playing are conservative, and their argument “It doesn’t mean what you think it means” ends up being “Actually, it means this unmarried woman wants to have sex with a man.” And that somehow . . . makes it a song we should gather the kids around to enjoy together? How does “Baby It’s Cold Outside” end up being the hill some conservatives want to go to war over? Just because it’s something the PC movement wants? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?)

Anyway. That’s about 1,000 words more than I’d ever thought I’d be writing about this subject, but it’s been bugging me more and more as I see the debate sprawl across social media. Sooner or later, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. Thanks for reading.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Celebrating Christmas 25 Ways

The holidays are a busy time of year for me. I’ve written posts about that in the past, and this year will be no different. We have a whole slew of traditions to follow through on, decorations to put up, and lifelong memories to make. (No pressure, right?) So I would have to be really imbalanced to want to add a monthlong routine to the mix.

And yet that’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.

The Mormon church did something like this last year, and they’re bringing it back this year. A campaign for Christmas, where they’re encouraging people to take time each day (from today until the 25th) to think about giving and doing service for others. It’s called the #LightTheWorld campaign, and they’ve got handy calendars that help you get ideas for each day.

Up today? “Freely ye have received, freely give.”

To act as a hook for the concept, the church did a bit of a social experiment last year, setting up two vending machines outside its temple in Manhattan. One was your typical “buy stuff from a vending machine” rig. The other allowed you to buy stuff for other people. Donate clean drinking water to a village, or a goat to someone on another continent. And the one that let you donate to others became way more popular than the standard setup. Here’s the video, which I really enjoyed:

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to stay on top of it. I like the program in theory, but I know how easy it is for me to get swamped with things that have to get done this time of year. So I’m committing to do at least this much: have a conversation about the topic each day with my kids. Discuss it over dinner. Maybe read the scripture that inspired the theme, and talk about how we do as a family living up to that principle. If I can incorporate an activity into the mix, so much the better.

Why do I want to do this? Because I think it’s important to get outside myself. Because when I take the time to do things for other people, I’m a happier person myself. And because as much as I love the season of Christmas, I know I have a tendency to get bogged down in the commercial side of it. I would love to do a better job avoiding this, and I hope this idea helps.

Wish me luck.

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