The Christmas Curse

Ever since the Wise Men, there has been a “rule of three” associated with Christmas. Three ships a’sailing in on Christmas Day in the morning. Three ghosts to visit Ebenezer Scrooge. And in my family, the three disasters Christmas Curse.

The Curse isn’t in effect every year. Most Christmases for my family are filled with the normal holiday joys and mishaps that accompany large group gatherings. There are heirloom recipes that fail unexpectedly, or disastrous spills of red wine on something white. We forget to take family photos until the day after the big celebration, as people are leaving – exhausted and unshowered. You get the idea. Like most families, mine may be momentarily flummoxed by these occurrences, but we are able (eventually) to take them in stride with good will and humor.

Now and then, though, The Curse kicks in and all bets are off. My brother, for example, experienced the Curse as days before Christmas the furnace went out in his house, then a second furnace died in the apartment he rents to an older tenant, then his wife had an accident with the family car. Service and repairman sightings in Chicago the day before Christmas are more rare (and more precious) than sightings of Santa emerging from the fireplace with a bag of goodies. Boom. Best-laid plans for a relaxed family Christmas derailed.

I could regale you with stories of the various manifestations of The Christmas Curse over the last fifty years. But I won’t. Suffice it to say, despite these events, we’ve always somehow survived and lived to tell the tales. Usually, with enough distance, we are able to laugh about them. They become part of the cannon of family lore, told and retold as evidence of both the existence of The Curse and our family’s resilience.

This year turns out to be a Curse year. The three events happened to my parents, and all three were financially impactful. More heart-rending than the money (and this is saying a lot, because my folks are on a fixed income) was that the Curse necessitated moving the holiday celebration from their home to my sister’s. When you’ve planned every detail of the perfect Christmas, needing to renegotiate every one of those details can be overwhelming.

Yesterday, I woke in the guest room at my parents’ home and stumbled out to the kitchen for my first cup of coffee. My parents had been up for hours, making lists of things that needed to be done – people to be called, stuff to be packed for transport to my sister’s, items to be replaced as aftereffects of the three curse events. As I sat listening and huddling into the warmth of my cup of joe, I heard the following exchange:

Dad: Listen. The thing to remember is I love you and you love me.

Mom: Yes. Let’s cling to that.

Then they both erupted into gales of laughter.

And that, my friends, is the thing to remember whenever The Christmas Curse strikes: love and good will always carry the day. Fifty-plus years of experience should have taught us that The Curse has an answer in The Christmas Blessing – as the old carol says, “love came down at Christmas”.

Regardless of the cares and worries wearing on our hearts, let’s cling to that.

Merry Christmas.


The Post that Almost Wasn’t

In all the years since the inception of this blog , I have never come this close to NOT posting on a Thursday. The reasons for this are both simple and complicated.

On the simple end of the spectrum, it was Christmas week. A week that did not go according to plan, so was more rushed than intended, but was also wonderful in spite of a few set-backs. The busy week meant that I had not written a post in advance of this morning, so when I awoke at 3:20 a.m. nauseous and chilled, the next eight hours of physical illness and discomfort did not really lend themselves to sitting at a computer capturing my thoughts in words. When I felt well enough to sit up and log on, I also felt empty. Which leads to the complicated reasons for almost missing a Thursday post.

Had I found the time to write on Monday, I would have written about the incredible example of patience and acceptance provided by Mike. We got on the road at 6:45 a.m. Monday, intending for Mike to be at an important appointment for his son, leaving directly from there to head to Iowa for Christmas. We blew a tire less than four miles from home, during rush hour on I35W. Not only did he remain completely calm while maneuvering  out of traffic, he was remarkably sanguine about missing the appointment, despite the fact his son had made it clear he wanted Mike there. While I was starting to ratchet up toward hysteria, he refused to be flummoxed, reminding me there was no point to drama – there was nothing we could do but make the best of it. Through a long morning of waiting for the vehicle to be road-worthy, missing the appointment, and eventually getting on the road, his calm demeanor remained intact. Even though it meant missing dinner and an evening hanging out with his sisters, Mike entered fully into our stops in Cedar Rapids, visiting friends who had newborns to show off. Not once did he attempt to rush our time with friends in order to get back on the road, no matter how much he may have wished to. Yes, if I had found the time to write on Monday, I would have written about patience and gratitude, and the deep examples of each from that day.

If there had been time to write a post on Tuesday, I would have written about being cared for by family – even though the family was not my own. From the delicious home cooked breakfast, to a Christmas Eve celebration 27-people strong. Laughter ruled the night, dinner was direct from Pizza Hut, and love was expressed in hugs and words and hijinks. While I missed my own big family, there is something recognizable as “home” in spending a chaotic night with any loving, large family. Had I somehow, miraculously, found time to write on Tuesday, I’d have written about the spirit of love at Christmas, and how wonderful it is to bask in its glow.

Then there was Wednesday, Christmas itself. If I had found the time, between bouts of sitting and chatting in three different homes, between moments of sharing and silence, I would have written about kindness and generosity. I would have written about the happiness of watching someone you love relax completely and be at home. I would have written about a surprise Christmas gift that touched me deeply. I would have written about how little it mattered that we never showered – after all, there was a phone call which said, “Come over, I’m frying eggs”, but which meant, “Come over and I’ll show how much I love you by cooking for you.” A shower doesn’t rate next to that. If I had written yesterday, I definitely would have had plenty to say.

To say I feel empty today is only half true – physically, my body rebelled against and rejected all of the rich indulgences of the past few days and emptied itself in the early morning hours. Emotionally, I feel flat, not empty. The rich experiences of family and friendship over the past few days make today seem flat by contrast. But the reality is so much more complex. All of the amazing feelings and examples of the past few days – the love, kindness, laughter and generosity – were not fleeting. They are abiding and real. That we don’t taste, touch, see, feel them daily is our human failing.

So, when I finish writing today’s “post that almost wasn’t”, I am going to put on some Christmas music and sing along. I’m going to reconnect with the many feelings of the past few days, and I’m going to celebrate them all. Why waste a whole day feeling empty and flat when I can feel  filled with light and joy?!

And the Winner Is: Yukon Cornelius

Do you ever find yourself wondering about strange things? My mind leads me into flights of odd fancy with a regularity that might frighten others, if they could but spend a few hours eavesdropping on my internal monologue. As I sat to write today’s post, I was thinking about fictional Christmas figures, and began to wonder which character would best represent the Christmas message I need to hear this year. The truth is, I’ve been pretending the holiday isn’t happening. Not out of a bah-humbug spirit – more of a self-preservation instinct as I struggle with homesickness and anxiety about the future. I’m afraid that if I “keep Christmas” I’ll just sink like a stone in a sea of emotion.

I am well aware that avoidance and suppression are not healthy coping mechanisms. Luckily, I was raised a reader and a Catholic, so I believe in the power of story and metaphor to change perspectives and help me realign my mental and emotional states. Hence, the creation of a “Christmas Character of the Year” contest in my head.

The perennial favorites and the immediate frontrunners for my personal Christmas Character of the Year were, of course, George Bailey (from It’s a Wonderful Life) and Ebenezer Scrooge (from A Christmas Carol). After all, both of these characters, through divine and/or supernatural intervention, experience life-altering paradigm shifts from scarcity thinking to abundance. George, in realizing the wealth of intangibles, like love and respect, present in his well-lived life; Ebenezer in recognizing that his fortune is meaningless if hoarded rather than used for the common good. This year, in particular, I need to maintain mental vigilance to keep my thinking from devolving from scarcity to panic, so it seemed as if these guys would be duking it out in a fantasy cage-match for the title.

But. Then I thought of my old pals, Rudolph and Hermey, two misfits from the North Pole who set out to be independent together. Their quest to find a place where they “fit in” turns into a heroes’ journey on which they learn the worth of things like loyalty, courage, steadfastness. They also learn that, while their unique gifts and attributes may not be readily apparent to everyone or in every situation, there will always be a need or use for them eventually. Each of us should nurture and  appreciate what makes us US, if we hope to create lives of meaning and purpose. Perfect messages for me, as I struggle to create a new life and home here in the city.

The more I thought about it, the more characters presented themselves for consideration. There is Artaban, the 4th wiseman in Van Dyke’s classic The Other Wise Man. Semi-historical figures like St. Nicholas or Good King Wenceslaus. Santa, the jolly old elf, himself. A host of supporting characters: Clarence the Angel, Mary the loving and loyal wife, Bert and Ernie the odd couple of Bedford Falls; Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s nephew Fred; Clarice the doe, King Moonracer, Mama Claus, the Bumble. Many characters bearing messages of striving for right, faithfulness, loyalty, fortitude, love.

And then Yukon Cornelius walked through the doors of my memory.

He’s a strange figure providing comic relief at moments when the “Rudolph” claymation story became uncomfortably frightening for children. Yukon Cornelius, prospector on a quest for treasure, with his sled dogs and his trusty pick-axe. That strange licking sound he makes before declaring (over and over), “Nuthin’.” He doesn’t find any treasure, but it doesn’t bring him down. Instead, he keeps trying and he adapts. No gold? Ok, he changes his mind and looks for silver. He gets the importance of small things, as evidenced by the quote, “I’m off to get my life sustaining supplies… Corn Meal and Gunpowder and Ham Hocks and Guitar Strings”. He never lets fear get the best of him – he’s resourceful (as when he creates an iceberg in order to escape the Abominable Snowman); he’s brave when his friends need to be rescued; and he keeps his sense of humor (declaring with a chuckle the reason his fall into the ice crevasse was not a fatal one: “Bumbles bounce!”).

True, George Bailey is an “Everyman” to whom most of us can relate – the perfect advertisement for the quote “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Ebenezer Scrooge learns that we have a finite amount of time in which to become the person we are meant to be; and he learns that lesson so well as to serve as a cultural icon for personal transformation. But this year, I feel drawn to the humble figure of Yukon Cornelius. Trusty, dependable, even-keeled: there are much worse traits to cultivate in times of emotional upheaval and uncertainty. He fails, but tries again repeatedly. Not a single “Nuthin” causes him to waver. He just puts it out there, again and again, thrusting that pick-axe into the earth.

For these reasons, I declare Yukon Cornelius to be my Christmas Character of the Year, 2013. Who is yours?

Flashback Friday: Who are these little people?

kids at gwens

This photo is a perfect picture of four little personalities! It was taken at my sister Gwen’s wedding in Santa Cruz, California in the early 1990s (sorry, Gwen, I don’t remember the year!). From left to right, the kids are: Ben Finnegan, Nate Stanley, Myka Hanson and Tim Finnegan. Ben and Tim are my nephews, and Myka is my niece. (Nate is the son of dear friends who lived in community with my brother’s family, so was an honorary nephew back then, though its been more than a decade since I last saw him.)

Ben, looking sure of himself and copping an attitude; Nate hanging back a little; Myka smiling sweet as can be; and Timmy looking every inch the scrawny kid with the colt legs – a distance runner in the making.

They’re all grown up now. I remember thinking, when they were young, that I needed to cherish that time because they would grow up and lose that specialness that nieces and nephews have in the eyes of their aunts. What was I thinking?! I needed to cherish the time, as adults do with children, because childhood is fleeting. Not because anything would be lost – in either their specialness or my love for them – as they became adults. In fact, they may be some of the best adults I know. Definitely some of the people I most enjoy being with.

Which brings me to the reason I picked this picture for today’s flashback. In a little more than two weeks, every member of my family will be in the same place at the same time – something that has never happened before (considering that I’ve yet to meet little Adeline Bell, Ben’s daughter)! I cannot believe this amazing Christmas gift – and I plan to be as present in every moment of our time together as possible! (And don’t worry – Rachel, Hallie, Atalie, Zoe, Emma and Ada – you’ll likely show up here soon, too!)

Happy Holidays?!

Tis the week before Christmas, and all through my house,

not a present’s done wrapping, I feel like a louse!

The time is speeding by, it soon will be gone, 

with not much to show for it, at Christmas’ dawn.

When what to my wondering mind should occur?

With a to-do list to guide me, this week I’ll endure!


  • Update flash player on work computer in order to stream Christmas music 24/7
  • See Jen Tally to have my mustache removed  hair done
  • Call family members to wish them a Merry Christmas and assure them “pakages are in the mail”
  • Vacuum dining room multiple times to clean up glitter from holiday crafting “experiment” gone wrong; realize you now have a deep red area rug that permanently sparkles
  • Regale friends and co-workers with humorous – or do I mean scary? – stories of Christmases past (such as the time the house filled with toxic fumes and we began Christmas camped out at Perkins; we actually found the bottom of the “bottomless pot” of coffee)
  • Borrow Xanax Meditate on maintaining inner peace at the airport
  • Compare and contrast at least three film adaptations of the Dickens Christmas classic about Scrooge
  • Regale friends and co-workers with touching – or do I mean scary? – stories of Hanson Family Christmas Rituals (such as my mother’s traditional “Wait, I have to go to the bathroom!” exclamation just as we are about to go downstairs to see if Santa Claus came)
  • Schedule at least two more opportunities to listen to John Denver and The Muppets “A Christmas Together” – don’t forget to say out loud how angry you still are that they left Fozzie Bear’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” off the CD (it was on the original vinyl album circa 1979)
  • Buy another box of 50 Christmas cards because you are certain the first box of 50 won’t be enough cards NOT to send out this year.
  • Try not to shout at other drivers. Santa or his elves may be watching.
  • Remember to say “Thank You!” and “Merry Christmas” to your sales clerks, postal carrier, the housekeeping staff at the office, and God.
Note: My last couple of posts have been very serious, so I wanted to share something a bit more lighthearted as we head into the long Christmas weekend. Despite the list, above, I’m just about ready for the celebration and time with my family. I want to wish each of you a very, very, merry Christmas. May we all remember to cherish the moments of love and laughter that come our way and to take at least some time out of our hectic rush of celebrations to allow gratitude space to flourish in our hearts. Peace to you and yours, and to this wide, beautiful world we call home.