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Uncomfortable Truths 

by Michael Bowen

1. People take your homemade gifts and throw them in the garbage. No matter how long you spent knitting that fuchsia tea cozy, Dwayne will see it as a dust rag.

2. Once someone gives you a Christmas gift and you express appreciation for it, they will keep on giving you variants of that gift for the rest of your life.

My wife has some Swiss cousins. Every year we get a Christmas tree ornament from them. "Oh, look, honey, it's another silver geometric ... sparkly thing. Isn't that clever?" It's not clever. It's repetitive and predictable and dull. Where is the Swiss cheese, the Swiss chocolate, the calendar of Swissair flight attendants?

3. When you gulp down plenty of egg that's heavy on the nog and then start complaining about your boss and your girlfriend, you are not what people think of when they think of Christmas Cheer.

4. The more time you spend hand-enameling your napkin rings, the more you remind people of a certain convicted felon doing time right now in West Virginia. They never really liked that woman in the first place, and she was just on their TV screens. But if a guy asks for a ham sandwich, you're still making the mayonnaise from scratch. Why are you rushing around trying to prove to people that you're not rushed?

5. The apple doesn't fall far from the conspicuous consumerist tree. Jessie's had some work done; she drives a Lexus. For Christmas, her little Jessamyn receives every toy ever advertised in the history of television. She has more, and you have less; that's why she's a duchess and you're a pill bug.

6. In percentage terms, the chances of actually sticking to your New Year's resolutions is like the difference in the Rossi/Gregoire vote count.

7. When talking to relatives, time limits are not enforced.

Your brother-in-law, whose politics are to the right of Stalin's, is happiest when discussing a) transmissions, b) home brewing recipes, and c) how he brews his beer inside the housings of old transmissions. He's never met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like (and can't discuss in excruciating detail). He's always between jobs and girlfriends, yet feels comfortable providing unsolicited advice on a) how there's a new line of work you really should look into, and b) how to nail babes. He plans to talk to you until next Tuesday.

8. It is unAmerican to open gifts on Christmas Eve.

9. It is unAmerican to open gifts on Christmas morning. But you know what's really unAmerican? Overlooking the people who don't celebrate Christmas, and the ones who don't have any gifts to open at all.

10. There are Christmas albums by Andy Williams, 'N Sync and the Partridge Family. People buy them. People listen to them.

11. Uncle Marvin isn't asleep and he isn't drunk. He just doesn't want to talk to you.

12. The holidays are the time when our culture says, "Be happy!" But we're not happy.

And we know it. So we start brooding about how unhappy we are. It doesn't have to be this way. The uncomfortable truth is that it's easy to grouse like the Grinch; cynicism is, after all, our culture's default setting.

It's easy to point out the gap between our lives the way they are and the way we would like them to be. We all sense that difference; we're aware of it every moment.

But to pause a moment in appreciation, to measure the gap between our lives as they are and how much worse they might be -- well, that takes time and effort, and none of us has any time, and we sure do like it when things are convenient. Besides, "counting our blessings" requires the contemplation of realities worse than the one we're stuck in. And that's the most uncomfortable truth of all.

Publication date: 11/25/04

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