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Psychoanalyzing your Christmas Cards

8 Nov

 

 

Did you do the Christmas card thing this year or did you just e-mail “Happy Holidays” to everyone in your address book? Maybe it’s technology or just the times, but people don’t seem, to take Christmas card giving as seriously as in the past. Banishing someone from your Christmas card list was the ultimate in social rejection. Lists were carefully saved and even passed down from generation to generation. Ironically most of the cards I get now come from companies wanting my business.

Over the last several years, the number of Christmas cards sent by Americans has declined, probably due to communication technology and increased social isolation. Some of the personal touch remains, however, as a number of people include messages, or their annual Christmas letter, in their cards, bragging about their latest family triumphs in order to get one up you. Last night Diane wouldn’t open the card from her cousin before dinner because she said she did want to ruin her appetite.

Christmas cards began in London in 1843, the same year Charles Dickinson’s “Christmas Carol” was written. This current holiday season the Greeting Card Association estimates just over two billion greeting cards will be sent.

Christmas cards do have some appealing features. They connect us to others, help us put our emotions into words, and provide a tangible keepsake to preserve memories. Most of us feel inspired to reciprocate if we receive a card.

In one of the few scientific studies of holiday cards, Karen Fingerman and Patricia Griffiths from Pennsylvania State University found that people who received many cards believe that a large number of people are thinking about them and feel less lonely. Also people reported having a significant emotional reaction to about one-third of the cards they received, sort of like Diane. Younger adults view cards as a way to establish new social ties, while older adults see them as a link to their personal pasts.

Dr. David Holmes, a psychologist from England’s Manchester University says the choice of a specific Christmas card inevitably gives away an awful lot about the personality of the sender. Psychologists just love to interpret things-inkblots, dreams made up stories, drawings, and also any decision you make (or don’t make). It’s sort of an occupational hazard and analyzing your Christmas cards may be going a bit too far.

Anyway, Dr. Holmes says people who find it difficult to express their feelings often hide their timidity behind the humor of a comic card. Introverted people are drawn to cards that picture Christmas trees, especially those that are devoid of baubles or presents. Winterscapes are sure signs of loners, as are cool colors such as silver, white and blue. Holmes also suggests people who value tradition; tend to send the same sort of cards their parents sent. They often prefer Victorian or cozy fireplace scenes that evoke the past.

Snowman lovers tend to be very sincere softies with keen intellects, while penguin fanciers demonstrate taste, style, sophistication and a good sense of humor.

Even card shape may be meaningful. Square cards suggest practicality, while tall, slim cards suggest concern with style and an artistic flair. People who send round cards are the most unconventional, often in a chaotic sort of way.

I am not convinced about this, but below are some of my interpretative guidelines that I thought might help you this holiday season as you look at you cards.

• CANDLE: Suggests warms feelings, but a tall candle can be interpreted as being a show off.

• DOVES: Unconsciously thinking about chocolate when they bought the card.

• ELF: Suggests small but highly industrious features, sort of like Switzerland.

• FROSTY THE SNOWMAN: Drove by Wendy’s before choosing the card.

• GEESE: Possible goosaholic. Do their front steps have plaster geese dressed up in red capes?

• GINGERBREAD MAN: Suggest fear of being “consumed” by others, tendency to avoid situations by running away as fast as you can.

• GOLD: May have attention problem and is attracted by shiny objects.

• MUSICAL CARDS: This is the sort of person who would buy your kid a drum- significant latent hostility.

• NUTCRACKER: The scary teeth and military uniform add up to oral aggression in my book.

• CHRISTMAS PRESENTS: Generous, but maybe be a bit materialistic. The actual meaning may depend on the choice of wrapping paper, but let’s not get into that.

• SANTA: Jolly, but some possible paranoia (“He knows if you have been bad or good”). “Making a list and checking it twice” also suggests possible obsessive-compulsive issues.

• TOY SOLDIER: These are adorable, cute and smiley characters that are packing heat –denial of aggressive impulses.

• STARS: Stars are distant, aloof, impersonal, and grandiose- sort like our cat.

• STOCKING: Suggests some fetish possibilities that are best not discussed.

• TEDDY BEAR: The Teddy bear is the international symbol for cuteness. On the positive side, if some person sent you this card, maybe they think you are cute.

• WREATH: With no beginning or end, the wreath suggests a well-rounded personality.

How do your friends and family stack up? Is someone lonely or in need of cheering up? Do you want to cheer someone up? Maybe you should consider sending a last minute penguin.

(Based on an article  appearing originally  in the  the New Albany Tribune)

 

An Indiana Night Before Christmas: Hoosier Style

3 Nov

 

A Hoosier Night Before Christmas

 Twas the night before Christmas, and all across the state,
Nothing was improving, not even  the unemployment rate;
From the banks of the Ohio to the top of the  Knobs,
All they could talk about was the economy and jobs;
The residents were nestled all anxious in their beds,
While visions of toll-free bridges danced in their heads;
All the sidewalks were covered with ice and salt granules,
As they braced for more budget cuts from Governor Mitch Daniels;

Down at the New Albanian,  the people had drank a few brews,
But were now settled down for a long winter’s snooze;

Then out in my backyard I heard such a clatter,

 I expected to see some wild turkeys scatter;
The toys in the yard were all covered with  snow,
  In the moonlight I could barely see anything below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But an all terrain vehicle  and a bevy of deer;
With a chunky little driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment twas an Indiana St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles the four wheeler flew,
And he yelled, and  he shouted, at the domestic caribou;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Blitzen and Donder!
Let’s get this crate up into the wild blue yonder!
Like mobile homes before the wild tornado fly,
The ATV took off and mounted the sky;
So up to the roof-top the whitetails they flew,
With a bag full of goodies and Indiana   Nick too;
And then, in a twinkling, I heard overhead.
Prancing and pawing like a Kentucky thoroughbred;
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Indiana Nick came with a bound;
He was dressed all in camouflage, from his head to his toes,
 And the aroma of pork tenderloin permeated his clothes;
A bagful of presents he carried on his broad back,
He looked like a trader opening a gunny sack;
His eyes sorta glared! His smile kinda   scary!
His hair was disheveled, his nose like a strawberry!
On his belt hung a flashlight and a old hunting bow,    
And the hair on his chin was as grey as the snow;

A dip of Wintergreen tobacco, he held tight  in his cheek,
And the minty smell encircled him like a peppermint wreath;
He had a oval face and a big round belly,
He was  clearly well acquainted with the Kroger deli!
But he was  friendly  and honest– a typical  Hoosier,
  I  thought  to myself, “Could he be a  boozer?”;  
But a wink of his eye and flick of  his finger,
Said all was ok but I better not linger;

The miraculous gifts  were what we had hoped for,
  Lower taxes,  no tolls, and federal bailouts galore;
He brought money for schools and a ball team that was splendid,
Then with his work complete up the chimney he ascended;
He sprang to his vehicle to his team gave a whistle,
Onward to Muncie he flew like a missile;

And I heard him exclaim as he soared out of sight,
“Happy Christmas Indiana and to all a good night!”

 

(From a column in the New Albany Tribune)

The Christmas Meanies

3 Nov

 

 

Christmas is a time for generosity and charity. It’s when we renew ties with family and friends.   But there are those, for whom the holiday is nothing but “humbug”.      Since stories are the essence of the holiday, we have a long tradition of  Christmas villains. The nativity story itself has perhaps the vilest of them all, the baby killing King Herod.   

Contemporary Christmas celebrations owe  a large debt to Charles Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol and his immortal characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge. This  tale highlights the ever present possibility of  redemption and Scrooge  is the first  of a long series of villains, who are redeemed by the spirit of  the season. This plot has been repeated in numerous radio, film, and television adaptations.  

Some psychologists have compared Scrooge’s transformation to what happens in    successful psychotherapy, with insight triumphing over  childhood trauma and alienation.  The same could be argued for the film “A Wonderful Life”,  where being able to see one’s life in a broader context,  can even  overcome  suicidal depression.  Mr. Potter,  this movie’s villain, falls into the class of  unredeemed antagonists.  He refuses  change   and     is  eventually consigned  to being irrelevant, which may be his  perfect punishment, given the extent  of  his narcissism.

In Christmas media offerings we see a variety of familiar villains.  In the horror-action genre there is Billy, the  serial killer of Silent Night, Deadly Night, who goes  on a Yuletide killing spree,  wearing a Santa suit.  He is finally stopped by being artfully  skewered by a Christmas tree.  And  we  have Bruce Willis facing  down  Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) the smarmy Christmas  terrorist  in Die Hard.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is considered by many baby boomers to be  the definitive version of   Dicken’s classic. We of the Bugs Bunny-Huckleberry Hound  generation,  identify more with Jim Backus’ Scrooge than with Alistair Sim or George C. Scott.   

Of course Dr. Seussimaginative How the Grinch Stole Christmas  gives us a another villain who rivals Scrooge.   This fuzzy green misanthrope is, as the song puts it,  “a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce”.

Most Christmas villains  are larger than life,  with the possible exception of  Scut Farkas,  the coonskin  cap wearing bully, in Jean Shepherd’s  Christmas Story. With his sinister  yellow eyes and green teeth,  he  pushes little Ralphie too far and gets a well-deserved beating for his trouble.  As a child I had  my own Scut Farkas,  by the  name of Marlin. I’m withholding his last name, just in case  he is  still  around somewhere,  waiting for me. Whenever  I  rode my bicycle, Marlin would pop out of nowhere to torment me.  I would often go blocks out of my  way to avoid him. Marlin never got his just desserts, which is maybe  why I get such vicarious satisfaction watching Raphie beat the snot out of Farkus.  My real life Farkus just disappeared one day, probably recalled to the hellish nether regions from whence he came.            

In recent years we have been appalled by Willie T. Stokes as portrayed  by Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa. Stokes  is a degenerate  alcoholic safecracker, who in the guise of a department store Santa, specializes in Christmas Eve burglaries, with his elf-impersonating  accomplice.   Bad Santa is not everyone’s cup of tea, although I admit I loved the scene  in which Thorton, in a  drunken frenzy, eats all the chocolates  from  a kid’s advent calendar. Feeling guilty,  he Scotch tapes the calendar  back together,  filling it with anything he can find.  When the kid gets an aspirin tablet, instead of a chocolate,  the next day, Stokes  says, “They can’t all be  winners, kid”.   This movie’s  disturbing grittiness may have something to do with Thornton’s admission that he was drunk throughout the filming.  The Stokes’ character has sunk so low that  his redemption must, of necessity, be relatively modest.      

In a lighter vein, there are  Harry and Marv,  the comically inept “Wet Bandits,   violently abused by young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin)  in  Home Alone.     This movie must address some deep-seated psychological need  of children  to get back at adults.  Kids watched the original movie so many times that it became the  third highest grossing film ever.  Like Farkas, Kevin’s bullying brother– Buzz,  rings true to anyone who had to contend with an older sibling. My older brother Norman made  Buzz look like  a choirboy.    

Martin Short chews up the scenery as Jack Frost in  the undistinguished   Santa Claus  3: The Escape Clause. Speaking of this film and Tim Allen’s  performance as Santa, one critic  said “This Christmas we are treated to both a turkey (the film) and a ham (Allen).

Quirky, funny,  and scary Steven Spielberg’s intense 1984  Christmas  film,  Gremlins featured the demonic chainsaw-wielding gremlin, Stripe, who like  a vampire,  is finally destroyed by exposure to sunlight. The microwave scene in this movie still gives me nightmares.

            Animated television specials have also given us a wealth of  memorable villains. There is  crabby Lucy in a Charlie Brown Christmas, and in    Santa Claus is Coming to Town  there is  the grouchy   Burgermeister who bans all toys in Sombertown and the malevolent wizard Winter Warlock, who is redeemed by the gift of a toy train.    Professor Hinkle, the evil magician, mugs  in Frosty the Snowman,  and Bumble the abominable snowman, from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, turns from his evil ways,  only after Herbie the Elf pulls all of his teeth.

            I find Oogie Boogey  in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas especially frightening, but my favorite animated villain has to be  Heat Miser (“I’m Mr. 101”) from The Year Without a Santa Claus.   For some reason I never found his stepbrother, Snow Miser (Mr. Ten Below) very  appealing.  This year there is big news for all us unrepentant fans.  ABC Family plans to have  the  Miser Brothers  team up to  save Christmas in a long awaited sequel.

  All things considered however,  my vote  for  the best  Christmas villain goes to Granville Sawyer.  You may not recognized the name,  but he is the twitchy and pompous store  psychologist in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street. Sawyer is the one who gets Santa Claus committed to a mental institution. By maltreating the store’s naive teenage janitor, Alfred, the Grinchy Sawyer  so infuriates Mr. Kringle,  that he gets cracked on the head with Santa’s cane.  This movie  was remade several  times, but Sawyer doesn’t fair any better in any version.  The best line  is when store owner R.H.  Macy’s says in a voice dripping with contempt, “Psy-chol-o-gist! Where did you get your degree, correspondence school? You’re fired.”  Finally a CEO we can admire.   

 Based on a column originially published in the in the New Albany Tribune

Santa’s Christmas Cat?

24 Sep

Claus, our two year old cat seems to be on a rampage over the holidays.  He won’t stay away from the artificial tree and  when I went into the family room the other day  the real Christmas tree was   laying on the floor. The rug was soak with water from the tree stand and Claus was nestled in the branches, denying any knowledge of how it could have possibly have happened. Although a very attractive cat, Claus unfortunately is an inveterate liar.  
For example,  all winter he keeps insisting that he wants to go outside. He is a very vocal cat—  not a desirable trait in a feline. He sit by the door for hours,  whining about how he needs to see a man  about a rodent or something.  But no sooner than you let  him out than he is on the other side of the door complaining about how cold it is outside.  You would think he could at least go to the bathroom while he was out there, but noooo,  that might  be too uncomfortable for his majesty. He saves it up,  apparently preferring his litter box that I have to clean
The other day my wife Diane let him out the back door and then went down to the basement where she immediately met him again.  Evidently Claus has learned to dematerialize and  reappear in  our basement at will.
Diane and I constantly compare him to our previous cat, Hobbes.  Poor Claus is like   the second wife in Daphne du Maurier ‘s  novel Rebecca,  who must compete with the memory of  the beloved  first wife.  Hobbes was one in a million:  an elegant gentleman cat  and Claus, I am afraid to say, is no gentleman.  Unlike the noisy and disconcertingly human-sounding Claus,  Hobbes only meowed  his orders once and expected and usually received  total  obedience. If we didn’t rush to  open the door at his first command, Hobbes would simply  walk away and act totally indifferent, there was none of this pedestrian  squalling.  Also Hobbes always did his business outside, bless his cat soul.
Of course, we have a selective memory when it comes to  Hobbes. He wasn’t perfect either,  if the truth be told.  As a kitten he ran up our  Christmas  tree and batted at every ornament  he saw.  
There was even one Christmas when the  great Hobbes totally disgraced himself.    Against our better judgment and express wishes, our oldest  son   brought another cat into our  house. This new  cat, Clawdy, was a female who had shared an essentially feral existence with a bunch of  college boys.  Clawdy immediately took  possession  of Hobbes’ favorite   place  our bedroom. Hobbes was too much of a gentleman  to evict a lady and besides Clawdy had become  terribly ferocious,  competing  with   college boys for   pizza scraps and having to use a filthy litter box that was hardly ever changed— much like the boys’ apartment bathroom if I remember correctly. 
Thus having both gender and territoriality issues,  Hobbes apparently  wanted to make certain that everyone in the house  knew that the  shiny presents under the tree were his property, which caused Diane, an obsessive compulsive wrapper, to almost have a seizure.
Last winter Claus was outside during an  ice storm and managed to get severely injured. We don’t know  exactly wheat happened,  but he managed to drag himself up the porch steps and to lay next to the dog.  Fortunately our son-in-law, Jeff is an emergency veterinarian near Cincinnati  and managed to patch him back together. We are also  lucky that cats have great recuperative powers. Jeff says if you throw two pieces of cat  in a room,  they will grow together into a cat. Claus was in intensive care  at my daughter and Jeff’s  house for several months, while my granddaughters nursed him back to health. I am not sure Claus truly appreciated all the attention, wearing a baby bonnet,  or riding in the doll stroller. Except for the indignity of having several inches removed from the tip of his tail, he recovered  remarkably, given the extent of his injuries. And he can still catch a mouse, he would like  you to know.
Claus was  named by our middle son after friend of his from Germany, but we still think of him as a Christmas cat. At the restaurant at Holiday World there are several paintings of Santa’s workshop  and many of them contain a cat that   has the same unique markings as Claus. We told our granddaughters that the paintings  prove  that Claus is related to Santa’s cat. They just smile back at us skeptically and humor us,  as if we were completely insane, much the way our  children do.  

     
Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (http://newsandtribune.com/)