Uncle Jim’s Guide to Surviving Xmas

Image courtesy Jim Washburn and Leslie Smith

It’s that season again, when your time is rapidly draining into a pool of desperation as you realize you can’t do everything. What’s with the carolers and Christmas-tree lots? Didn’t the fireworks stands just come down? Isn’t there enough year-end stuff to worry about—such as wondering what brand aspirin to get instead of Obamacare in 2019, or whether the U.S. has an extradition treaty with Mar-a-Lago—without having to remember how many Y’s your druid niece Jocelyyyyn troweled into her name while you’re addressing the Christmas card you probably haven’t bought yet? Not to mention all those thoughtful gifts you’ve yet to find for your family, friends, co-workers and that delivery guy who’s always throwing your Times into the oleander bushes.

Let me assist you. I had Christmas wired for decades: I’d spend months prowling antique swap meets, rare record stores and curio shops to find unique, personal gifts for every friend and making my own labor-intensive Christmas cards in an attempt to help everyone feel special.

Those efforts helped me to arrive at the most helpful tip I can give you: DON’T DO ANY OF THAT CRAP. All it does is up the game for everyone else, and even if they like you, they hope you die soon so they can go back to their normal levels of holiday anxiety.

Less is better. Do you remember any of the Three Wise Men’s names? Of course not, but they probably fretted for weeks before deciding babies love frankincense. Everyone remembers Jesus, and all he ever did (aside from handing out laminates to the afterlife) was bring some loaves to a potluck.

So take a tip from Jesus and me and take it easy this year. Just follow this simple guide:

Photo courtesy Jim Washburn and Leslie Smith

We made this image for a card one year, and it was pretty easy. We just took found objects from the garage and removed one of the house’s medicine cabinets to create a suitably dreary background. But you know what’s even easier? Just modify those sample Christmas cards you get sent every year, the ones you thought were useless because they’re embossed with “YOUR NAME HERE.” Just incorporate that in your message, as in, “We speak YOUR NAME HERE with fondness at this time of year.” Voila!

They’re for children. Cross everyone older than 12 off your list, and for the remaining names, just get each one the latest, most costly iteration of the iPhone. Anything less will disappoint, and you only have to look at the world today to see what generations of disappointed children grew up to be. I wanted my own Sherman tank when I was a kid. But those who got the kid version soon realized they were only sitting in a chintzy cardboard box while the world passed them by.

Image courtesy Jim Washburn and Leslie Smith

To avoid disappointment, if anyone asks what you’d like, make sure your request is clearly understood. “Framus? We said FAMOUS, you old fuck!”

Image courtesy Jim Washburn and Leslie Smith

I was born in Hawaii, and my first two Christmas records were by Alfred Apaka, “the Hawaiian Bing Crosby,” and Lucky Luck, the first radio and TV personality to talk in the once-banned island patois of Pidgin English. His record of “Da Very First Christmas” went like this: “A angel tell Mele she gonna give one keki, so dey go hela hela to Betelahema an she name this little keki Jesu.” Mr. Luck was also one of my godfathers, so I learned and still spoke a fair amount of Pidgen after the family moved to California, causing my early teachers to wonder if I was all right in the head.

Apaka sang in the King’s English, but growing up in Los Angeles, I didn’t know what the hell he was singing about with all that “In the winter, we will build a snowman; we’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown.” We didn’t have any snow, snowmen or parsons around, so I assumed that must all be some ritual Hawaiian stuff. It was years before I learned that Honolulu got about as much snow as LA and “Betelahema” did.

Over time, I learned that the one essential Christmas record is Jerry Butler’s 45 of “O Holy Night.” By the time I was in my teens, my notion of Christmas music shifted to being the records I bought with my Christmas cash, the best by far of which was The Who Sell Out. I bought it at the Buena Park Mall in December 1967, and it still fills me with holiday cheer.

Did you read the recent news about the Bay Area guy who was stuck for days in a Chinese restaurant’s grease-caked kitchen vent while trying to sneak into the place from the roof? What they didn’t tell you is that’s the Jewish Santa.

Having married a Jew, I’m now fully invested in her people’s traditions. Every Christmas, to honor Mary and Joseph’s search for a good nativity scene, we search for an open Chinese restaurant, having first taken in an uplifting movie. I’m told our uplifting choice this year is Aquamensch.

Image courtesy Jim Washburn and Leslie Smith

No matter how the rest of your holidays went, you can always count on wrapping things up on New Year’s Eve with “America’s oldest teenager,” Dick Clark. How he does it year after year I just don’t know.

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