Dear Uptight Seattleite, I know I'm not supposed to, but I really like celebrating Christmas. How can I still be inclusive and appropriate in my observance?Jangled Bells
Dear Jangled, The holidays offer an opportunity to rest, play with your kids, and leisurely drink alcohol. But the holidays are also infested, like slippery, slithering snakes in the tall green grass of your dazed good mood, with opportunities to think or behave in an insensitive fashion. You seem to be commendably aware of these dangers, Jangled, but it would still be worth going over a few things real quick. First of all, if you see a Jewish person and Hanukkah is already over, the proper greeting is "Happy holiday," since only one holiday—New Year's—would apply to them at that point. If you don't know whether it's over or not, cover your bases by saying "Happy holiday(s)." Pronounce the parenthetical "s" by pausing a beat after "holiday" and then hissing one octave lower than your normal speaking voice. Also, as for how to spell Heanukkah, this is a bit of a moving target. Just remember that there are many ways to spell it, and whichever one you're using is probably wrong, or soon will be. And please note that some Jews celebrate their own (and equally valid) New Year's in the fall. In January, you should therefore say to them, "Happy First New Year," or, "Happy Christocentric New Year." As you've correctly noted, worrying about all those other holidays is an essential part of the Christmas magic. Hanukkah, Kwanza, and that Muslim one, whatever it's called—when are they, anyway? They seem to slip disconcertingly around the solid rock that is Dec. 25, falling before Christmas one year, after it the next. They might end as late as January or begin as soon as November. They last for a week or so. A little more in some cases, a little less in others. Or is it alternate weekends? These holidays may involve candles, presents, and feasts (fasts?). Books and television shows for kids will often offer helpful clues (though they may be a little vague on specifics). The Wiggles sing Muslim lullabies, and Barney always has at least one black child in his supporting cast who will be pressed into service as a Kwanza spokesperson. Mostly, these shows want to make sure kids know that the holidays of other faiths are every bit as good as Christmas. Of course, I don't mean to say they aren't equal to Christmas. Or even that Christmas should be the gold standard for holidays that occur around Christmastime. Another source I've found useful is the Joseph Campbell Follow Your Bliss 2008 Calendar (Amber Lotus, $13.99), which lays it all out for you. Not just how we're all climbing the same mountain on different paths, but when. After you've memorized the dates of the minority holidays, slip references to them into daily conversation for the benefit of your friends. "Well, of course, the traffic is bad," you can say, "what with this being the third day of Kwanza and all." There's another holiday challenge, Jangled, which you don't mention but which everything about your letter makes me confident you have struggled with in the past: How to deal with the differently advantaged. Perhaps your bus driver is a divorce survivor from White Center trying to keep her three kids out of trouble. Or your office intern is from an at-risk youth program. Does that mean that you can't be generous for fear they'll feel awkward in their inability to reciprocate? Not at all, if you choose a gift artfully. Such as: Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime (Aperture, $40). This handsome volume will both call out the crass materialism of Christmas and show your sensitivity to the recipient's less-advantaged economic position. The more astute among your recipients may also discern the invisible second part of this gift: the chance to gain greater appreciation of their own background. "These folks sure do have a sense of quiet dignity, don't they?" you can say while looking over the gift-givee's shoulder. "Their eyes—just haunting! This is certainly suggestive to me of how I might deal with poverty in a more spiritual way. Perhaps you'll have occasion to ponder this as well this weekend instead of watching a football game?" True, it can be a burden to contend with the great buzzing cloud of unmindful giving this time of year. I've been accosted by a hostess presenting a Harry and David All-Occasion Fruit and Gift Basket (harryanddavid.com, $59.95), for instance, even after I've made my "no gifts, please" policy clear. A little humor can get the message across in these cases. "Well, at least it's only the basket that will end up as landfill, dear," I'll say, a kindly twinkle in my eye taking the sting out of this little barb of truth. Of course, when all the relatives have gone back to Butte and you've totally stopped thinking about the holidays at all, the Chinese New Year bursts into view like a comet, its tail fizzing with firecrackers and dragons on King Street. Now there's a cheerful occasion, one that comes and goes in a flash, and doesn't require you to do anything at all. Gong xi fa cai! Dear Uptight Seattleite, When my friend from D.C. visited in the summer, I was telling him about my participation in the "100-mile diet." That's where, for the good of the environment, you eat only things grown within a hundred miles of Seattle. Not only did he decline to join me, he thought the whole thing was laughable. In fact, he thought our city was full of hilarity. How we march earnestly around Green Lake clutching bottles of water. The way we always dress like we're going camping. The way we get so comically worked up about transportation issues. Now he's coming to visit for Christmas, and I'm worried that he'll think we're laughable in a whole new way: the way we suck all the fun out of the holidays with our superserious "sensitivity." What can I do to show him that we know how to have a good time?Take this Stick From My Ass
Dear Stick From My Ass, Is it really so restrictive and dreary to live here? If you really think so, you should take a holiday of an entirely different kind. You know how Amish young people are allowed, for a set period of time, to drink, smoke, and otherwise break the rules of their community? Well, you, too, should take your own little rumspringa from Seattle ways. Show your friend you can "loosen up" with the best of them. Stop recycling. Drink macrobrews and watch NASCAR. Drive everywhere. Don't wave when someone lets you change lanes. Kill spiders in your house rather than trapping and freeing them in a silently improvised ceremony of karmic self-blessing. Do all your holiday shopping at Wal-Mart and have them double-bag everything. Go to Sea-Tac and innocently ask where the Christmas tree is. Say, "There is no Christmas tree? Why ever not?" Walk around with a cell phone pressed to your ear at all times, even if no one's on the line, and say things like, "Yeah, that's one sales forecast I'd like to see, let me tell you what, you crazy bastard! You still in for tonight, you miserable cocksucker? Shooters at Hooters, my friend, shooters at Hooters!" Do this at every farmers market in town. Put down your phone only long enough to tell the Vietnamese farmer that his organic tomatoes are lumpy and not as red as the ones at Safeway. Ask Grease Monkey for all their used oil and pour it into the gutter in front of your house while glaring defiantly at your neighbors. Rent a Hummer and tailgate Vespas. Lean on the horn as you call out, "Get a car, Fancy Man!" Finally, go downtown and, in your loudest, heartiest voice, wish every stranger you see a merry Christmas. If you find that that kind of thing makes you feel good, I suggest you take yourself to Houston for a permanent rumspringa. Have a question for the Uptight Seattleite? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.