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How to Survive the Holidays

There is only one goal: hunker down and avoid a deadly infection.

Dorothy Woodend 23 Dec

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

[Editor’s note: When culture editor Dorothy Woodend shared her guide to surviving a pandemic holiday season last December, we hoped that all would be well by this year. We were wrong. And so we're sharing Woodend's valuable and badly needed guidance once again.]

“How to survive the holidays.” If you think this sounds like the title of a 1980s movie, you’re not wrong.

If this coming holiday season was, in fact, a dystopic ’80s film, it would involve a bunch of people hunkered down, trying to avoid a deadly infection and slowly turning on each other. Hey! This is just like a John Carpenter film.

So, let’s a take a page from The Thing and other cinematic survival manuals like Die Hard and Black Christmas — the holidays are about making it through in one piece. (Or if you’re the Thing, as a bunch of pieces glommed together.)

It’s going to be a festive season unlike any other, and this might actually be good news. No travel nightmares, no forced jollity or interminable X-mas parties. The joy from cancelling plans is a peculiarly exquisite sensation, and this is the Big Kahuna of cancelling. Even if you didn’t make any plans initially, make some now and then cancel those suckers!

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Get crafty

If you want to avoid shopping in stores and have no interest in further enriching Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, it’s time to get crafty.

Crafting has the double benefit of being cheap, as well as providing hours of exasperation. I mean entertainment. If you can manage to avoid gluing yourself to the table, you can fashion all kinds of innovative gift ideas from toilet paper rolls, glitter and pipe cleaners. When your back is against the wall, because you’re glued to that too, there’s no telling what kinds of abominations you can create.

Get a big package of googly eyes and simply attach them to random objects in your house. Anything can be instantly rendered into a charming idiosyncratic objet d’art by the careful application of a pair of eyeballs. A shovel, a frying pan, a can of soup — the only limit is your imagination. For that special person in your life, attach a googly eye to each buttock and prepare for some freaky holiday frolics.

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Start an old-timey feud

If you need a break from staring at screens, take a page from pioneering times when things like taffy pulls and popcorn balls were considered big time fun. When they ran out of taffy to pummel or popcorn to ball, pioneering folk were forced to head outdoors to shoot some poor creature for more celebratory feasting.

To create a genuine pioneering experience, consider heading to a nearby park to hunt for food. If you end up eating your neighbour’s cat and they swear revenge, you’ll release a whole new form of entertainment. A good old-fashioned feud rivalling the Hatfield and McCoy epic throwdown.

Feuds are an excellent way to take your mind off your own troubles and refocus it on creating problems for others. A good feud may keep you occupied until the spring, by which time you’ve grown a full hillbilly beard and taken to wearing raggedy overalls. Presto, a new look for the changing season.

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Get bright and kitschy

Nothing says holiday times like the excessive waste of electricity, so fire up the generator, locate every outlet and get to staging a Busby Berkeley style extravaganza in your front yard. Nothing is too much — light-up reindeer, topiary, snowmen, oversized candy canes and a 40-foot blow-up Santa, looming ominously over the sidewalk. Let your inner kitsch-meister guide you.

Don’t worry about going over the top. This year, people are starting early and going hard, ditching tasteful displays for gargantuan lighting arrangements and more seasonal paraphernalia than the human eye can register. The more cuckoo rococo, the better! Think of it as a form of generosity for friends, neighbours and random strangers to gaze upon, while speculating on the size of your hydro bill.

If you need additional inspiration, look to the Pope of Trash, filmmaker John Waters of Female Trouble infamy for expert guidance.

Waters’s obsession with Christmas expands far beyond blow-up Santas and twinkly lights. His essay “Why I Love Christmas” is an impassioned ode to X-Mas excess, taking on the world’s worst toys as well one-hit wonders from days gone by. Tunes like “Sleigh Ride” from Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas album and “Fatty Claus” might convince you that there is nothing that can’t be made worse by the addition of Christmas music.

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Get in the tub, stay there

“Smellies,” as British people call them, are the annual gift of fragrant stuff. It’s a tradition as old as Christmas itself when three dudes showed up bearing gifts for baby Jesus. Lord knows babies can make a stink, and the modern equivalent for frankincense and myrrh is stuff for the bath. Bombs, oils, beads, salts, whatever makes one slippery as a seal and smelling like vanilla cream pistachio brulée is good. Make yourself into a human smoothie. Just don’t drink the bath water.

Bath time can offer other forms of escapism from endless days and nights. Bring a box of wine in the tub and re-enact glorious nautical battles of old. Construct your own wine box armada, paddle out to meet the Spanish warships and let the splooshy fun begin. I floatilla, you floatilla, we all floatilla now.

Cook ambitiously

Although a home-cooked meal doesn’t have quite the same specialness as it once did, there are ways to make things more festive. All you need is some elbow grease and a bit of unhinged creativity. Although grease and creativity can make for combustible results: just ask all those folks who tried to deep fry a turkey and ended up burning down the house. But with a modicum of good sense and a few flame-retardant panels, you can still enjoy some merry making.

You can’t go wrong with plenty of chocolate, mandarin oranges, and alcohol. If ever there was a recipe that you’ve been afraid to try, now is the time. Re-stage a Versailles-style feast with spun sugar sculptures, meringue swans and gold foil. Make like the world’s meanest head chef and scream “I need MORE GOLD FOIL” in apoplectic purple rage until you incite a family feud. Hide the knives and the meat cleaver, and let the feudal games begin.

Think wardrobe

A caftan is the only and most obvious choice, as long as it’s the size of a small Bedouin tent. Set sail from room to room, like a galleon at full mast. Pretend you’re Elizabeth Taylor or Suzanne Pleshette, smoke menthol cigarettes and grouch about your latest divorce to anyone who will listen.

Watch (or re-enact) the classics

This year, in all likelihood, no one is going anywhere, so Shawshank Redemption it. Carve a hole in the side of your bedroom wall and escape into the kitchen. You didn’t get very far, but at least there’s food. There are a few lessons to be taken from Christmas movies. No one can be trusted, not even the family dog. Especially the family dog. Your parents will abandon you. Socialism is still verboten, despite what It’s a Wonderful Life tells you, and Scrooge McDuck is an a-hole who should pay his damn taxes.

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Tell that conspiracy-loving cousin what’s what (COVID-style)

If all else fails and you’re facing the gloomy prospective of a sad and isolated holiday, now is the time to let your imagination run truly wild. Build life-size cardboard cut-outs of your family members, especially the ones who drive you nuts, and stage an encounter session. Tell your evangelical uncle what you really think about religion, and your conspiracy-spouting cousin that Pizza-gate is the dumbest thing on God’s flat earth.

Get it all out, leave nothing unsaid, and after you’ve exhausted yourself, take your paper relatives outside and light them on fire. As the flames leap higher, take all your clothes off, smear your naked body with ash, and dance around the inferno. You are reborn! Risen, like a loaf of sourdough bread! Joy to the world and happy holidays one and all. Except for Scrooge McDuck, he’s going straight into the oven. Eat the rich!  [Tyee]

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