Three Tips for an Unmemorable Christmas

Avoid making memories for all the wrong reasons.

Illustration by Mariusz Stawarski

Great christmas stories never seem to involve the years that everything goes right. Do you remember the year everyone got their shopping done early, arrived on time for dinner, and looked great in the photos? Me neither. On the other hand, awkward family photos have become a meme, and my sons won’t let me forget the year—well, years—I gave my wife a vacuum. To help you avoid making memories for all the wrong reasons, I’ve collected a few of my best holiday tips. I’ve learned these the hard way so you don’t have to.

First, if you’re having trouble shopping, relax—you live in Virginia. Buying Christmas presents has been a breeze since we moved here three years ago.

Tip #1: Go to the winery next door and buy stuff.

There are more than 300 wineries in Virginia, so the chances are very, very good that you’ll find one by driving a few miles in any direction. Simply walk in and choose a bottle—possibly the one labeled “Rudolph Red” or “Wintery White.” Personally, I buy the cheapest bottle available and explain to the recipient that Virginia wine is better fresh than aged. Easy peasy grapes-a-squeezey. 

The second tip is more complicated. It involves personal growth and learning how to show your love during the holidays, rather than demonstrating situational tone-deafness so profound it could be mistaken for sociopathy.

Tip #2: Don’t buy your wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.

I’m a caring, competent, sexy, honey-do-compliant husband and, according to one coffee mug I received, the best dad in the world. I’m not Homer Simpson. But, I also don’t read women’s magazines, where, I was told recently by a wise female friend, men would learn that “you should never buy your wife a Christmas present that has a cord.”

But six years ago, our beloved vacuum cleaner broke. It was strong and agile, but, alas, its mighty heart gave out. My wife spent weeks mourning the loss and cursing our backup vacuum (which my mom had given us because she hated it). So when Costco had a sale on nearly the same model but in a cooler color, I bought the vacuum. She was sad about the loss of a close friend, I believed. I figured I would make her happy for Christmas. 

Uh, no. In the following years, we would gather around the hearth and tree, and my wife and three sons would recount the story of the time dad bought mom a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.

Last fall, that vacuum cleaner broke. Amazingly, Costco had an even better sale on a better vacuum cleaner. I bought it and wrapped it up, figuring that she would like it so much that she’d miss the fact that I was giving her a vacuum for Christmas. She was very gracious and complimentary—because, I believe, she knew my sons would take more pleasure in hurling the insults they all believed I deserved.

This time, though, I was ready to mitigate the blowback from a practical non-gift with something that I spent many hours making specifically for her. The gift was a semi-hit, and ever since, it has become the preferred method by which each member of our family shows their love on special occasions. 

Tip #3: Make an idiotic action film. 

In “The Battle for Christmas,” Christmas cheer has been stolen by a group of rogue elves (played by storm trooper action figures). Santa and a band of commando reindeer have 24 hours to raid the elves’ mountain hideaway before all is lost. Spoiler alert: It gets really bloody.

Later, in “Battle for Mother’s Day,” directed by the boys, the Love for Mom crystal is stolen by a giant fish from the Great Crystal Orb of Love, or some such thing, and then there’s a chase, and the fish and his minions get blown up, and boys everywhere get back their love for their mothers. Spoiler alert: There’s a lot of blood.

“Battle for Dad’s 50th Birthday” involves a cutout of Rob Schneider’s face on a carrot, and then a black balloon that represents my birthday is stolen, and there’s a car chase and the Rob Schneider carrot gets flattened by a car that runs into a tower built of wood building blocks, thus collapsing it. Spoiler alert: Blood abounds.  

I hate to be that guy who says Christmas gift giving is more about the thought than the actual gift. (Please, thoughtlessly buy me a McLaren; I’ll get over the fact you should know I’m a Kia guy.) But, at least in our house of low expectations, no-budget nonsense movies have begun to make my family forget about vacuum cleaners. Most of the time.

And, if you’re a little uneasy putting all your gifting eggs in one basket that costs nothing, you can try another kind of basket: a lovely gift basket full of wine-related stuff from the Virginia winery in your backyard.


This article originally appeared in our December 2018 issue.

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