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How to Have a Pleasant Christmas

Avoid Certain Subjects While People Are Slicing Ham


SILENT DAY: There are certain things we don’t talk about when my family gets together for Christmas.

POLITICS: Christmas Day should not be Political Psychodrama 101. Look, hashing over job layoffs, relationship issues, pregnancies, divorces, surgery decisions, high-fat diets, mother-daughter tensions, credit card crises-fine. But if, for instance, someone thinks Barack Obama’s a liberal creep ready to plunge the nation into chaos on January 20, I’d rather not debate that while enjoying spiked eggnog. I don’t care to have a food fight break out over abortion. The exact date of our departure from Iraq, if ever, is not a topic I want someone to raise while slicing the ham with a sharp knife. The only shoes I want everyone to raise their voices about are the ones on my feet, not whether that Iraqi did the right thing in tossing his size-10 brogans at President Bush.

On the Beat

RELIGION: On the day we celebrate a baby being born over two centuries ago, let’s not get into what born-again Christians do or don’t do and why they shouldn’t or should. The same with probing the various myths surrounding various religions. This kind of needling is not a good idea when there are pies at hand to be hurled by the outraged. (Not that we’ve ever done that, but why take a chance?)

SPORTS: I can only take so much ribbing over the Chicago Cubs. I divorced them over four decades ago, wedded myself to the Dodgers, but I don’t care to get elbows in the ribs about the Cubbies not having won a World Series since 1908. It’s not my fault. If I could have hit a curve ball maybe I could have added a little speed to center field, but why stir up youthful disappointments? No, I am not a White Sox fan, even though I lived on the South Side, so I don’t want someone bugging me about that, either. The Cubs were good enough for my father so they were good enough for me, even though they weren’t good enough to win a Series in 100 years.

PROPOSITION 8: Yes, I’m worked up over same-sex marriage, too, but for one priceless day could we forgo a living room seminar where toys might get squashed underfoot, babies scream in fright, and feelings get bruised and take a year to heal? Not that I know anyone in the family’s attitude on the recent election where the voters took away marriage rights the California Supreme Court approved last spring. It’s just not worth a trip to the emergency room to combat high blood pressure.

THE NEWS-PRESS: If I wanted to dissect the rise and fall of my career on De la Guerra Plaza I’d show the Citizen McCaw documentary after dinner instead of the lovely classic A Christmas Story. (No, not the Charles Dickens movie, Scrooge and all that, but the 1983 film by Bob Clark, the funny, nostalgic tale about an eight-year-old boy in the 1940s, based on Jean Shepherd’s short story, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.)

THEIR CHILDHOODS: Look, we did the best we could on News-Press wages but it is absolutely not true that we served the kids Wonder bread and Velveeta. Even if we did, I was raised on Wonder bread, our Chicago home not being convenient to the kind of wonderful-smelling bakeries that Santa Barbara is now blessed with. I remember taking a slice and rolling it into a ball and chewing on it. (Look, I was a kid.) What makes me blow my stack is when one of the children accuses me of drinking instant coffee. It’s true, of course. But what did I know? It was the dark ages of java. Back in the 1960s I wasn’t aware of Jamaican Blue Mountain beans, now at about $40 a pound, or savory imports from Africa, Costa Rica, the East Indies, or Brazil. Restaurants had pots boiling away on hotplates, producing the foulest swill imaginable. But I can tell you that it was a memorable day when the newsroom plugged in its first hot plate and boiled a cup. Even then, I’d spoon instant coffee into a giant thermos, pour in the hot water and sip, sip, sip all day. Instant coffee was convenient and a super-size pre-Costco jar would last a long time. Latte was undiscovered. People would not spend $4 on a cup of coffee. Or even lunch.

MOVIES: Get two or more people in a room and eventually they’re sure to start debating films they hate or love. It can get ugly. Someone I know gets seriously outraged when a friend can’t stand movies she cherishes. She’s also sent into spasms of disbelief upon encountering someone who fails to appreciate the wit of Woody Allen.

TV FOOD SHOWS: I’ve heard the relative merits of Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Mario Batali, and Paula Deen argued ad nauseum. Give everyone a break. Cook your mother’s favorite meal and gather in the kitchen for laughter and love.

Merry Christmas, all.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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