Archive for December, 2022

Here Home for the Holidays

By Thanksgiving, I had said it probably 25 times, in almost exactly the same sentence structure, with the same subordinate additions.

‘Nah, I’m staying here for Christmas this year, you know, it’s great to get home – Langhorne home – for Christmas, but yeah my parents and I basically agreed that I’d come home every other year. Last year was a pain, cancelled flights, COVID tests, all that, it’ll be nice to have a nice relaxing Christmas.’

I sounded like someone rationalizing a failing, a lost job, a recent breakup in which they had not been the victor. I sounded like someone doling out big portions of overcompensation. But it’s true, I was looking forward to a nice quiet Christmas at home. Here home.

Since we were both staying in Prague, Burke and I decided to make our here home Christmas a big happy event. We decided on a big tree, in her words ‘taller than me’, which I pointed out wasn’t the achievement it might sound like. We came up a menu of American side dishes – mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, pineapple souffle, stuffing – to cozy up to a main dish to be named later. Since it was just us for Christmas, we would get lots of gifts for each other and the pets (though I didn’t wrap the pets’ gifts too well, the dog has trouble pulling strings and the cat just doesn’t appreciate the effort). Here home Christmas was on!

I hauled the taller than me tree for a mile and half through the season’s only snowstorm. I carried it on my shoulders and in front of me in two arms as if it was a wrapped bundle. Each week I pitched a new main dish: ham, turkey, a roast chicken, lasagna. Every one of which was met with a half-hearted ‘okay’ which meant ‘no’. At least once a day I’d say to someone, ‘I can’t tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to fly across the world in December.’ They’d look at me in wonder and I’d continue. ‘Going to be a relaxed, chilled out Christmas.’

‘Good for you sir, now would you like to pay for that sweater?’

‘Oh sure.’

There were other signs that I was making a good choice. The grim promise of airport madness, threatened strikes, and in December bad weather reports that forecast snow and ice and delays and stranded people. All while I sat in my pjs on my couch, drank a beer and ate mashed potatoes along with something. My dad had decided (as he does now and then) that he would skip Christmas. In his mental mechanics of this plan, he doesn’t get anyone a gift and they do the like. He enacts this plan by telling my mom and a few others, but doesn’t mention it to his many friends and other relatives, instead hoping that his broad circle of friends and family can read his mind. Thus he ends up getting gifts and not reciprocating. This goes in tandem with a promise to only do one of our family’s holiday parties (‘Let me tell you something, this year I’m doing Christmas Eve and not Christmas. I’m staying home. I’ll order Chinese food.’) I don’t mind not getting or giving a gift, I just don’t want to hear about it while watching football.

On Christmas Eve, we spend the day watching Christmas movies and cooking. Our main dish is fried chicken cutlets, following the trend of our adoptive country. Later in the day I see pictures of my Langhorne home family Christmas. There are colorful hors d’oeuvres and salads and meatballs and happy Galeones in flannel shirts and elastic-waist pants. The tree is beautiful. In one of these pictures, my father actually looks happy, dare I say, teetering towards festive. Though he is holding a plate of pasta and it’s hard to be unhappy while you’re doing that. Though I am happy with my decision to stay here home for the holidays, I do feel some twinges of sadness and longing. There is nothing like home for the holidays. Even if home is far away, across a sea of discomforts and inconveniences.

On Christmas we have a wonderful day. I get and give gifts, finding in my old age that giving is more satisfying than getting and wondering why the world doesn’t get that yet. We listen to Christmas tunes, walk the dog, watch movies, and eat chocolate. In the evening, we tidy up and eat eggrolls and jalapeno chicken poppers, the traditional Christmas dish of an American in Prague in 2022. Six hours behind us to the west, my family is settling in for another day of eating and pushing the boundaries of their elastic waistbands. I talk to a friend in the evening.

‘Nah, I stayed here for Christmas this year, you know, it’s great to get home – Langhorne home – for Christmas, but my parents and I basically agreed that I’d come home every other year. I’ll be there next year, though, don’t you worry. Next year it’ll be nice to have a big crazy family Christmas again.’

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December 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party

To all Americans, the Boston Tea Party conjures images and stories we’re all familiar with. A bunch of colonists angry about taxes and dressed as Mohawks dumping $1.7 million of tea into Boston Harbor in a dark December night. It upped the ante in America’s War for Independence. It led to thousands of artists’ renditions. But the Boston Tea Party also helped a mood shift in American tavern culture and a change in American drinking habits. And it was planned in a tavern.       

In our uber-connected times, I can get up in the morning and call a complete stranger a Nazi before I even get off the toilet. And this is awesome. However, this sort of chummy comraderie wasn’t possible 250 years ago from afar unless you wanted to send a letter and that sort of defeated the purpose of zinging someone. So, people had to meet. Where? The pub. The tavern was the place to be in Colonial America when people lived in a relatively unconnected way or further apart. There weren’t massive offices like there are now. The tavern was the place to meet, drink, eat, engage, read, and socialize in colonial America.

Not only was the tavern where people met and engaged, but it was where the sought and found entertainment. And boy did people in 1770 need entertainment. The lack of Gameboys and basketballs meant that children had to horrifically rely on themselves for entertainment. This led to games such as jumping. Adults at the time were ingenious and found ways to trick kids into doing work by calling it games. This metastasized in quilting bees and wood-carrying contests. When the kids found their way home, the adults had to get away from them and for this they went to the tavern.

Taverns had the benefits of being a. child free and b. full of booze. It also had entertainment, usually dictated by who the tavern catered to. This is because the adults’ station in society usually dictated their hobbies and free time activities. Upper crust men played chess, read books, engaged in political and social debate, and wished for the rest of humanity to disappear off the face of the planet. The lower classes enjoyed simpler games and physical activities like horseback riding and killing native peoples who lived near their house. The colonial tavern provided both. And booze. Lots and lots of booze.

Taverns that catered to elites were filled with books, pamphlets, and broadsheets; intellectually-geared clubs allowed men an opportunity to discuss interesting subjects. Benjamin Franklin had a club at the Green Tavern which demanded each potential member write an essay on a topic of his choice. Long scrolls or tapestries about famous battles or scripture stories were unravelled and lecturers told stories and answered questions. In direct contrast to our current state of informational blitz, the news in the mid-18th century came slowly and when it did people were eager to hear it and talk about it.  

But not everyone. For the lower or working classes, taverns had games like whist, backgammon, and checkers. But it was the physical games that here most popular. Shuffleboard, cock fighting, dice, ninepins, and quoits were played. Quoits involved heaving a piece of metal, rope, or a rubber ring to land on a spike. About 150 years later this game was renamed to ‘horseshoes’ to better collocate with ‘hand grenades’ to idiomatically convey the importance of goal fulfillment. Ninepins was the precursor to bowling, no word if you had to rent shoes.

Otherwise, taverns hosted theater and traveling shows. Punch and Judy shows, magicians (who were often considered the lowest form of entertainment), ventriloquists, jugglers, and circus acts drew people to taverns. Though this depended on location as New England had stricter laws regarding drinking, entertainment, or anything that took them away from work and agony. Deformities were a draw (and still are, but they’re on Reddit and not at a tavern). People with three legs, Siamese twins, ‘a cat with eight legs and two tails’ once drew a crowd to the Green Dragon in Boston. And, these being the times they were, African people, Native American chiefs in full war dress, or little people. It must have been an extraordinary experience, made more so by the fact that everyone was drunk on rum. Things must have been good for a while.

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Drink Like an Egyptian

Despite the reputation that Sunday has garnered of a relaxing day in which to become closer to god and your favorite NFL team, I find it a relatively unpleasant day. Unless there’s a holiday on Monday, the weekend is ending. The absolute joy of Friday and the quietude of Saturday are gone and what is left is a day in which the whole week is looking you in the face and saying: ‘well?”

Some people can fully appreciate a Sunday. They can drain every drop from it, going out on day trips and coming back late in the evening, maybe even after midnight. But I don’t understand these people, as they are either psychopaths or Czechs, and are the same people who have a whole national sport revolving around locating mushrooms in the woods, bringing them into their homes, cooking them, and then eating them. Psychopaths.

So I spend most of my day working. If for no other reason than to make Monday somewhat tolerable and Tuesday manageable. As I veer towards a conclusion of my work, the perennial question is called forth: to drink or not to drink. Oh, it’s so tempting. Just a beer to end the weekend. As I have the willpower of a shoe, I know that one will lead to two and two will lead to me shouting at the football (gridiron, not the sissy kicky game going on in Qatar) game on TV. Alas, for this, I go to history.  

I find that history not only allows a glimpse into the life of people in the past, but that their lives often included alcohol. The Romans feasted at the drop of a laurel wreath, the Celts drank mead and beer for community fun and to stave off the anxiety of a dark forest. Winston Churchill started out his day with brandy and moved on to gin, champagne, whiskey, and beer throughout…and he won World War II. If you want a drink and you’re on the fence about it, read about the past and keep a bottle opener nearby.  

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Christmas Movie Reviews

Tis the season to watch movies. Christmas movies come in all shapes, sizes, and genres. Here are some to keep your eye on.

The Christmas Mystery

This is about the disappearance of a bell, which, as you might guessed, possesses an inordinate amount of magical Christmas cheer. So much so, that if it remains in its disappeared state, Christmas will be ruined. Friendly, affable, mildly chubby struggling dad-cum-security guard is accused of the heinous crime. Thus it’s up to his children to find the bell and its real thief, thereby saving Christmas. No spoiler alerts, but there were tears at the end and they were accompanied by frenzied holiday bell tolling.

A Harold and Kumar Christmas

When a missent package for Harold arrives at Kumar’s messy house, he is forced to float over to Harold’s house on a cloud of marijuana smoke. They then embark upon a series of wild adventures, involving many drugs, Russian gangsters, Neil Patrick Harris, Claymation monsters, and somewhere along the way they discover the true meaning of Christmas. Very, very highly.


An absent father buys his kid an over-the-top guilt-gift in the form of an ancient cryptid – because that usually works out. Along with the creepy big-eyed cryptid (with Howie Mandel’s voice) he gets vague instructions involving feeding time (time zone, please!) and hygiene requirements (no water!). Things go awry on Christmas Eve and the only two police officers in town literally run away from the monsters. The creepiest part is the stunning lack of human activity on Christmas Eve. I feel it was social commentary on the evaporation of the in-person social structure. Very prescient.

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