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50 Ways to Say No to Chirstmas.
And New Year's too!

illustration

A Survival Guide for Heathens
and Other Seasonal Misanthropes

By Michelle Goldberg
Illustrations by Alex Nowik

SKYROCKETING SUICIDE RATES during the holiday season are just an urban legend. Actually, according to Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, they dip in November and December, then rise in January and peak in April. "That doesn't mean everyone is happy," she says. "It means people are putting an unusual amount of effort into coping. There is a lot of pain associated with the holidays. In fact, calls to our crisis hotline go up dramatically the first week in January."

And even though surging Yuletide suicides are just a myth, it's no wonder it's such an oft-repeated one during the winter months, given the way the holidays magnify loneliness, money problems, religious differences and familial dysfunction. All year long, one's low-grade neurosis and mild misanthropy can be shoved to the back of the mind. Then suddenly, come November, every viciously grinning elf and department-store-window shrine to consumption magnifies our social failings, our emotional estrangements and the woeful inadequacy of our shitty paychecks. And Christmas is just a trial run for New Year's, when party invitations (or lack thereof) serve as a cold, empirical ranking of one's entire persona.

Happily, there are as many ways to survive the holidays as there are peculiar December miseries. "One thing we recommend is to make a pact with one other person, to get them through the holidays," Meyer says. "Then find someone to take care of you. It could be that person or someone else. That way, you have a safety net among friends."

Of course some people enjoy the holidays. "There are people who have had happy childhoods. I find it hard to believe, but once in a while I'll meet one of them," Meyer said. But for those of us who moved to San Francisco to obliterate the memories of where we come from, the winter season can range from numbing to excruciating.

Depending on one's situation, the solution can range from a tofu turkey to blowing off your miserable family and hanging with your friends instead. The answer may lie in gifts bought for pennies at thrift stores or in a ticket out of town. Two years ago, in a fit of holiday-inspired panic, my boyfriend and I called a travel agent and said, "What's the cheapest ticket to a hot country?" On Dec. 31, we were on a plane to Venezuela. We were alone on the beach when it became 1996, but since neither of us had watches, we didn't know when midnight struck.

Maybe travel's an option. Maybe it isn't. And while most of our wintry woes won't reach crisis proportions, the ever-sensitive Metropolitan staff figured you might need a little help working through that Christmas-New Year's angst. So we've cobbled together 50 more ways to help you live through the holiday hell. Have a pen handy--you just might want to take notes.


  1. Protest it. Instead of shopping at Macy's, organize a rally against them. Instead of decorating the homestead with Rudolph tchotchkes and Christmas lights, use those blinking lights to send a message to the entire neighborhood. Perhaps something simple and direct like "FUCK XMAS." Consider printing up T-shirts with the same message to stuff those stockings.

  2. Make eggnog. And we're not talking mocktails. Fill a flask or thermos (preferably the kind with an attachable strap so you can sling it around your back) and swig till numb. Keep a fresh supply of this potent potable handy.
      Recipe:
    • Beat until stiff 12 egg whites.
    • Beat in 1/2 cup sugar.
    • Beat until very light 12 egg yokes, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt.
    • Combine the egg mixtures and stir until thoroughly blended.
    • Add 1 quart heavy, beaten cream, 1 quart milk, 1 quart bourbon whiskey.
    • Beat well.
    • Add 1 cup rum (or 2 ... what the hell).
    • Pour into a gallon jug (put extra in a quart jar).
    • Store in a cool place.
    • Shake or stir thoroughly before serving.
    • Sprinkle with nutmeg.
    • Serves 30 (or less).
      Editor's Note: Prepare at least a week before serving so that it will mellow.

  3. Ignore it. Every time you see green and/or red, avert your eyes. Don't watch TV, turn on the radio, read the newspaper or get the mail. Don't go to the supermarket, talk to the neighbors or speak with anyone you haven't had contact with in the last week and a half. It's difficult, but if you put your mind to it, you too can avoid this holiday season.

  4. Play strip-dreidel. Why not?

  5. Discover a new religion. Become a Buddhist; go on a silent retreat, hum "Silent Night" quietly to yourself. Dip into the kabala--apparently that Jewish mysticism thing is all the rage with supermodels.

  6. Wear red crotchless underwear throughout the month of December. If you don't catch a cold, you will at the very least end up in bed in some way, shape or form.

  7. Get honest. A confession to your most tawdry relative helps clear stifled pretensions at holiday family functions. Tell your Aunt Trudy once and for all that you never did like her blue Christmas tree and while you're at it, tell her that you cringe at the thought of eating her annual candied-marshmallow-sweet-potato-casserole for the 15th year in a row. Ahhh ... now doesn't that feel better?

  8. Get naughty. At Naughty Santa's Bizarre Bazaar, a crafts fair for the people who hate Christmas. Presented by Space Cowgirls/Sounds Good! and featuring 50 fringe artisans. At SOMAR Gallery (934 Brannan), Dec. 7, 3-11 pm, $5-$15.

    illustration

  9. Enjoy a psychotic break. Properly executed, this maneuver will result either in your being safely locked away or in your becoming insensate to the Christmas propaganda that surrounds you. This method can be triggered volitionally, but often a day or two of shopping downtown will do the trick.

  10. Drug yourself. Give yourself an organic psychogenic fugue for Christmas! And wake up afterward blissfully unaware of what happened. Consider Thorazine. Consult a licensed physician for dosage information and contraindications.

  11. Knit a long muffler. Read Mason & Dixon. Embark on some long project that will keep you healthily busy until it's safe to go out again.

  12. Dress up and go to church (or temple). You swore you'd never go back and you're still paying off therapy bills from the last time. But it's time to break that promise to yourself. Rediscover religion, your way. C'mon, it'll be fun because we're not talking Laura Ashley or Gunny Sack. Think Versace. Think Armani. And if you really want to make a splash, consider period costume.

  13. Tropical escape. Trad'r Sam's tiki bar may not be on an island paradise, but it is pretty far out on Geary. Have a few mai tais and you'll be infused with warm and cozy feelings of a distinctly un-Christmas flavor. Travel tip: This place is like one of those power spots the New Age people always talk about. Be safe--bring along a designated driver or take the 38 line. 6150 Geary. Insufficient alternative: Tonga Room at the Fairmont.

  14. Keep centered. The San Francisco Zen Center has zazen meditations open to the public seven days a week. Beginners are warmly encouraged to join the 8:45am Saturday meditation, which provides instructions for flrst-time participants. 300 Page St.

  15. Coffee on Christmas. Not as easy a prospect as one would think. But The Metropolitan has received conflrmation that the Royal Grounds (2060 Fillmore) will be open all day on Dec. 25. Free refills? One can only hope.

  16. Late-night shopping. If you've just gotta buy gifts for that special or unspecial someone, do it on your own timetable. Do it in the wee hours--no lines, better selection. Hell, you can even turn the chore into an outing by teaming up with friends for a post-partying cool-down shopping spree. Open 24-7: Safeway (2020 Market at Church) and Walgreen's (498 Castro at 18th Street). Most corner store have some choice items as well.

  17. Patronize the arts. If, God forbid, someone wants you to meet them at Union Square, all should not be lost. Make the best of a bad situation by insisting that they meet you in an art gallery. A good number of the city's art galleries are located right next to all the pandemonium on the flrst block of Geary Street.

  18. Private showings. Instead of suffering through mind-numbing seasonal TV specials and their excruciating Kodak commercials, rent movies having nothing to do with Christmas. Suggested genres: war films, Japanese anime, monster movies.

  19. OK, watch those TV specials. Granted, It's a Wonderful Life loses some of its charm after the sixth viewing, but you simply can't miss Charlie Brown, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or Rudolph and still call yourself an American.

  20. Back to the basics. Get spiritual on Mount Tam, at Point Reyes or the like. Take a hike. A long car ride. There's tons of good stuff less than an hour away. And the commute should have you driving against the traffic.

  21. It doesn't have to be a "White Christmas". Someone's bound to try to torture you with Xmas music. Minimize the pain by giving them music you want to listen to.

  22. Wear earplugs. Drone out the "Little Drummer Boy" and other noxious holiday rants that accompany food shopping, burrito eating and, of course, gift shopping. And if you are buying gifts this year, just add yourself and ear plugs to the list. Foam is fine, but the silicon version is superior. You shouldn't pay more than a buck at most drugstores.

  23. Bubble baths. Hit the holiday sales and soak your way through the season of stress. Note: Avoid pine-scented bubble bath.

  24. Create a sanctuary. Designate at least one room which will remain decoration and festivity free (works both at home and at work).

  25. Pace yourself. No more than two encounters with relatives and one holiday party per week. Encounters with relatives at holiday parties should be avoided at all costs.

  26. Don't draw out the torture. The day after Christmas, chuck everything back into the basement/attic/garage where it belongs. Start planning for Valentine's Day.

  27. Buy a tree. It's a $30 fire hazard that will inevitably be a part of your living room until spring, but the smell alone is worth it. Bonus tip: decorate with celebrity cutouts from People magazine as ornaments!

    illustration

  28. Burn the tree, it's cathartic. Be sure to toss any fruitcakes still lying around into the flame (excluding Uncle Joe, of course).

  29. Give handcrafted gifts. Cheap, effective and nonreturnable. Maybe more effort than a selection of bath soaps, but nothing says love like macramé.

  30. Enjoy a second childhood. Return to your familial home, where stuff like careers and relationships sure seems petty when your brother took the station wagon again without asking. Travel back to a time when life was simple and hitting was OK.

  31. Enjoy an ego boost. While you're home, pay a visit to the good ol' 7-11 and catch up with the captain of your high school football team as he sells scratch tickets and Slurpees™. Take a moment to bask briefly in your inflated self-worth.

  32. Drink. Indulge your alcoholic tendencies this season. Start Thanksgiving Day (or earlier!) and don't let up until well into the New Year.

  33. Find God. Whoever your deity of choice may be, there's no better time to cleanse the previous months of sinning and blasphemy. One midnight service, and your soul's free and clear until Easter.

  34. While you're at it, there's no better time than Xmas to dust off that Bible. Rumor has it some of the writing ain't half bad.

  35. Make the most of the office holiday party. Make out with the mailroom guy, grind with your boss, buy Jagermeister shots for upper management--statistically, tolerance levels are never higher.

  36. Airport shopping. It's underrated and not just for last-minute slackers. Explore a vast world of Alcatraz shot glasses and Ghirardelli chocolate. To the kids back home, if it says San Francisco, it says class.

  37. Couch potato peeler. Buy all of your gifts while enjoying the comforts of the couch. Be the As-Seen-on-TV-Gift-Giver, the bearer of gadgets. A banana holder, motorized coin bank, personal paper shredder or Leatherman Tool Adapter are all surefire hits. And for that someone special with the problem hair--consider a Flo-Bee™.

  38. Embrace it. Maybe, just maybe, this Xmas, Chanukah, holiday hoohah isn't so bad. Maybe you've become a little hardened by reading all of those alternative publications. Why not give the wholesome holiday thing a whirl? Decorate. Bake. Sing. Louder. Give. Receive. Shop. Return. Donate. Smile. Smile. Smile. And if you hate it, the bah humbugs for years to come will feel all the more justified.

  39. Treat yourself. In the midst of all the gift-giving madness, don't forget to take care of No. 1. An aunt or cousin may have to go without, but it's been a damn hard year and ... hey, you don't need to justify yourself to anyone, dammit!

  40. Holiday scam No. 1: The marketers, churches, rabbis and other nonproflt organizations conspire to shove this season-of-giving guilt trip down our throats. They make out like bandits, why shouldn't you? Why not throw on some festive attire and head downtown? Crash those fat-cat corporate holiday shindigs. Chevron at the Sheraton. The Gap at SFMOMA. Some software start-up at Slim's. All-you-can-eat-drink-and-be-merry.

  41. Holiday scam No. 2: The office "Secret Santa" pool is ripe for a rip-off. Find something around the house that you've been too lazy to purge. Wrap it. Give it. And wait for the sweet receive. Foolproof, provided no one in your office is as twisted as yourself.

  42. Holiday Scam No. 3: Agree to return home for the holidays. Parents buy plane ticket. Spend a few obligatory hours around the ranch on Christmas Day. Then meet up with old friends who pulled a similar scam. Bonus if your family lives in or near a popular vacation spot (i.e. NY or Baja).

  43. "Cel-e-brate good times ... come on". Go out of your way to celebrate anything other than Christmas, Chanukah and New Year's. Birthdays, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries and baby showers are almost invariably neglected this time of year. You'll earn brownie points for remembering these events while allowing yourself to play up a party theme that doesn't involve red, green or eggnog.

  44. Enjoy some alone time. Sure, it's tempting to join someone else's family gathering. What looks like a warm familial bosom through frosted December windows can morph into a steamy purgatory of resentments and miscommunication once you're at the center of it. Relish your independence and estrangement. Appreciate the sweet pathos of being alone on the most family-oriented day of the year.

  45. Have a Jewish Christmas. Jewish Christmas, like the gentile version, is on Dec. 25. And even though it's not an official religious holiday, it seems to be more widely practiced than Yom Kippur or Passover. How to: While most of America rips open presents, you eat greasy Chinese food at one of the countless Chinese restaurants that stay open. Then stand in line at the multiplex with the Chosen People. Play hooky from the holiday and let the Christmas stress melt away into the joy of a double feature.

  46. Get thee to Manhattan, cheaply. The customer-unfriendly Tower Air flies once a day, direct to JFK, for under $300 round trip. And let's face it, nobody does the holidays better than Giuliani & Co.

  47. Free food. Sure, there are tons of parties you can go to and collect free edibles (see Survival tip No. 40), but why not sample the food at Crumbs (601 Dolores), rumored to be the finest of the city's more than 22 soup kitchens/free eateries. Enjoy a four-course vegetarian meal by candlelight any Friday, 6-8pm. It's one of the few places where seasonal candles and decorations are a welcome sight.

  48. New Year's. Either treat it like any other Friday night. Or expect the worse. Low expectations are the key to a truly Happy New Year's Eve.

  49. Avoid New Year's clichés. No noisemakers. No champagne. (Beer only--40 ouncers preferred.) And for God's sake, don't turn on the TV.

  50. Advil. Stock up on it now.

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From the December 1997 issue of the Metropolitan.

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