Christmas Cards Against Humanity

I am not sending Christmas cards this year.

This is not news. I did not mail any last year. Or the year before.

In fact, the only time I ever attempted December correspondence en masse was fifteen years ago, when we got puppies. I bought antlers and a Santa hat, and took photographs of our furry babies. I printed wallet-sized images on do-it-yourself photo paper – you know, in case my friends wanted to carry my dogs in their wallets – and made a list of forty-two folks whom I figured deserved a letter. In the end, I wrote, addressed, and mailed maybe six cards. I have not tried again since.

The holidays are busy and sending cards is a chore. I am flabbergasted anyone manages to do it. As a perpetual recipient and lackluster sender, I have developed a few theories about why these missives continue to crowd my December mailbox.

  1. Narcissism

Where there used to be images of shepherds or candles, cards are now adorned with portraits of perfect families. Archangel Gabriel is out. The Nguyen-Chestertons are in. When I rip open the envelopes, I am greeted by ruddy-cheeked children in gingham and plaid. There’s the family at Disney. And again at the seashore. Isn’t it neat how everyone is wearing khakis?

  1. Competitiveness

If you send someone a card this year, the rules state that they should reciprocate. If two years pass unrequited, you don’t need to waste any more stamps. They’ve moved on. And if at the neighbor’s eggnog soirée you notice a card on the mantle that should have gone to you, it is permissible to throw it in the fire. It is like a grown up game of Pokémon, or bad reality TV — The Real Holiday Cards of Somerset County.

  1. Duty

Every year, on December 8th, my grandmother used to set up a folding table in the downstairs bedroom, lock the door, and “do the cards.” She rolled up her sleeves and did the dirty business of communicating with family and friends. Who got married? Who dropped out of school? Who got pregnant with someone else’s baby, but we are all okay with it and the christening was Sunday. We send cards because we are supposed to. It’s what separates us from the goats.

  1. Love

Despite the fact that I see most of my friends on Facebook, and we exchange phone calls, emails, and Tweets, I still love receiving their preposterously darling cards. Especially the ones with actual writing – elementary school penmanship brought out once a year, just for me. And for those friends I haven’t seen in years, the ones off the grid — keeping bees in Cleveland, curing meats in Poughkeepsie — these cards are our only tether. I have watched hairlines recede and families grow and blossom. And I have watched my friends grow up happy. That is how I get to think of them year after year.

No matter where you come down on holiday cards — narcissist or Santa, baby Jesus or Grinch — I hope we can agree on one thing: they make for one hell of a drinking game. Some time this season, when you can’t face another ugly sweater party or white elephant exchange, just deal out the Christmas cards and pour the tequila. The rules are simple. One shot for fall foliage, two for matching cardigans, three for kids cuter than yours. And chug the whole bottle, worm and all, for anyone ridiculous enough to put antlers on a dog and send out wallet pics.


Originally published in the New York Observer.  Special thanks to my Aunt Kathy for the image of Grandma “doing the cards.”







Wallowing in a Winter Wonderland

So we stood in line to see Santa yesterday.

There were some problems.

For starters, the Santa-to-child ratio. I’m no mathematician, but my estimates put the number of kids ahead of us at just under 17 million. Number of Santas ministering to those children: one. Those were crap odds.

We know that Santa is clutch. He’s up against heftier numbers on game day, and he always comes through. But that must be due to his crackerjack support network — the elves, the Mrs., the deer. Our Santa… he had staffing problems.

From what I’ve researched, elves are of paramount importance to this whole seeing Santa business. These green-clad minions move folks along. They keep the action merry. But there were no polar aide-de-camps working our line. No one in or out of tights jingled a bell or cheerfully hinted we were getting any closer to the Big Dance. There were no elves staging photographs. Terrified children stood in awe of Santa and/or picked their noses, allowing precious seconds to pass. No elves hustled anyone off of Santa’s lap or hurried families through a candy cane exit.

Seeing Santa is not work you want left to parents. If we wait all that time, when it is finally our turn, we want the perfect shot. We have Facebook pages to update, and friends to Instagram with photos of our kids in complementary reds and greens. We want Santa to hear everyone’s complete list, even little Timmy’s. He is shy, but if you just give him a minute or two, he’ll open up and tell you everything for which he is quietly hoping. The choo choo train. The blocks.

In short, parents are Santa hogs.

Which is why, after an hour-and-a-half, my kids and I were still nowhere near the jolly man in red. I tried bribery. “How about some kettle corn?” And cajoling. “Wouldn’t it be way more fun to see Santa next week at the mall?” I even tried to dash hopes. “Seeing Santa isn’t that big a deal anyway. Who wants hot chocolate?”

My 9-year-old wavered when I mentioned a beverage, but sensing my desperation, insisted on a pizza, too.

My 2-year-old had already bumped into everyone in line near us, so he was eager to break out of the queue to knee-cap new victims.

But 5-year-old Lizzie would not budge. Her eyes were full of hope. She wanted to ask Santa for a Barbie doll. “I know we’ll make it, Mom. We just have to believe.” What could I say?

So for 93 minutes we believed.

But then Santa left for a smoke break.

And there was some sort of program involving hand bells, and carolers, and a speech about a Christmas tree. I tried to watch. But we were standing in a line that was no longer moving, waiting to see a fictional character who was no longer there.

I lifted the red velvet rope and gently tugged my children out into the darkness.

There was crying on the way home. Also an argument over burritos. I tried to engage them in conversation. “If you had been able to see Santa, what would you have asked for?”

“A new mother,” came the first response. It was fair. They could not be angry with Santa. They could only be angry with me.

dadvmom.com_wallowinginawinterwonderland_heartcandyanesAt home, after a dinner that was neither pizza nor burritos, we wrapped presents for a family whose name we’d pulled at church. A Barbie doll, a train, some matching jammies in red and green. For a little bit, anyway, we played at being their elves.

We drank cocoa and laughed when Dad tried to play “Jingle Bells” on his ukulele.

We told each other what we wanted for Christmas.

And as I snuggled with my children on the couch, once they had determined they no longer hated me, I decided that Santa Claus could kiss my ass.

Originally published on the Huffington Post.


Deck the Fridge

We went to church today and were surprised to learn that it was Advent. I don’t know what was more surprising: that today was Advent or that every year, we are perplexed by the start date, which comes, more often than not, fast on the heels of Thanksgiving. Put the turkey platter back in the high cupboard. Dust off the Advent wreath from the attic. Makes sense.

Except this year, we don’t have an Advent wreath. Whilst lighting our previous circle of holly branches and fir, the girls argued so vociferously over whose turn it was to light the pink candle that Lizzie’s hair caught on fire. So…ixnay on the eathwray this year.

Also absent from the Kelly-Harbaugh home this season is any kind of elf on any sort of shelf. It’s not because ours has gone missing or that the dog tore it in half — though if we did have one, both of those scenarios would have been quite likely. It’s simply because Mom thinks they are dumb. With apologies to all those clever elf-handlers, photographers and scenario-developers out there, we’re just not keen on doing much of anything for our children while they sleep. We have a hard enough time caring for them while they are awake. Plus, elf orchestration cuts into Mom’s TV time.

We do have stockings. Only four of them, though, since they were purchased during a Lowe’s after-Christmas sale many, many years before the children were born, and during a time when even the distant possibility of two children was two more than I could ever envision. Of course, our current home here in California does not have a fireplace. No mantel. No backyard fire pit. Nada. We are debating between hanging the stockings on the oven — at least it is a heat source, and thus in the fireplace genre — or on the freezer, which though it is the opposite of a fireplace, can serve as a daily reminder that if we continue to consume Trader Joe’s chocolate ice cream at our current pace, we will soon be able to fit our cankles into those large stockings.

We will be traveling for a few weeks over the holidays, so I’m not entirely sure we are going to put up a tree. We’ll have to weigh the hours of decoration and clean-up against the hours we will actually be in the room to stare at the tree and enjoy it. Any Math friends want to write us an equation for that? I’m thinking t=tree, x=ornaments, and w=the number of glasses of wine Mom will need to be bothered with any of it.

In terms of outward preparedness and holiday paraphernalia, we are clearly flunking Christmas this year. Luckily, according to the songs that have been playing in department stores since Halloween, Santa only grades children. And, as the candles indicated this morning, we still have a little time to get our act together. Game on. Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.