Danny Tyree’s column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.
When writing advertising copy, I sometimes find myself desperately searching for a zinger of a tag line — and settling for trite admonitions, such as “Make this the best hunting season ever” or “Make this the best summer vacation ever.”
I despise such capitulations to deadlines because listeners with terminal illnesses, maxed-out credit cards or fruitless marriage counseling sessions may perceive the sentiments as glib or clueless.
Never is the situation more danger-fraught than at Christmas. A melancholy Judy Garland yuletide favorite notwithstanding, an ill-timed “Have the merriest Christmas ever” can hit people the wrong way.
Assuming you don’t relish being hit the wrong way, take the reindeer by the horns (er, antlers) and accept responsibility for your own merry Christmas. Clement C. Moore wrote about a visit from St. Nicholas; he never promised that life was going to climb down your chimney with goodies galore. So, like Ms. Garland, you may have to brainstorm ways to “muddle through somehow.”
Cherished memories can be both a blessing and a curse around the holidays. Sideline your rose-colored glasses and apply some perspective to those much-ballyhooed “simpler times.” Not everything is perfect for everyone all the time. In those halcyon days of visiting your grandparents and playing with an inexhaustible supply of cousins, it’s very likely that your “carefree” grandparents had already lost their own grandparents.
It’s likely that someone in the crowd struggled with polio or tuberculosis or lost sleep worrying about loved ones facing enemy fire. Unless you grew up in a prolonged economic sweet spot, your stoic mom and dad probably had to make genuine sacrifices to see that you had that bike or that dolly.
On these cold, gray winter days, some people spend less time stoking the fireplace than fanning the embers of old grudges. Be the better person and try reaching out to friends and relatives who are no longer in your social circle. Practice deflecting touchy topics. Santa’s elves have a corner on building toys — try building some bridges to replace those that you’ve burned behind you.
Accentuate the positive. Instead of counting the empty seats at the table, count the freckles on that step-grandchild you’re meeting for the first time. Count the job offers heaped upon that nephew who lives on the far side of the country. Count the extra hours of family time that modern conveniences afford you (if everyone will forego the modernly convenient smartphone for a few hours).
Bad habits can steal all the happiness of Christmas. Don’t feel obligated to wait until the ball has dropped in Times Square to unleash your resolutions — get a head start.
If you’ve worn out a pair of scissors clipping obituaries from the newspaper, it’s time to be proactive and make some new friends. Depending on your budget and your mobility, do your best to get to know your neighbors, strike up a conversation while standing in line, volunteer to feed the less fortunate or send a card of encouragement to a young stranger who exhibits good citizenship.
Even with all my coaching, this may not be your best Christmas ever. Or even in the top 5. But loneliness and regret don’t have to be inevitable parts of anyone’s Christmas. (Reasonable) happiness is yours for the taking.
I say the following with the least glibness and cluelessness possible: Have yourself a merry Christmas.