The Twelve Rules of Christmas

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The holiday season can be overwhelming and stressful. Nothing — not church or the TV specials or the holiday episodes of our favorite sitcoms — can solve everything that pops up and threatens our jolliness. But follow these rules and you might actually survive Christmas and make the season that much merrier.

12. Swear Off Lists
Want lists, that is. Unless you’re under the age of thirteen, Christmas lists lead to hoarding and support materialism, which we learned from the Whos down in Whoville just isn’t the way to go. Yes, it’s sort of nice to know which specific scent of lotion from Bath and Body Works your mom prefers. But seriously, in the end, you're just filling an order (and where's the Christmas spirit in that?).

11. Sing
December is the only month of the year when singing in front of your neighbor’s house without being invited is okay. (They might actually invite you in for egg nog.) But if you have the good sense not to go caroling — this isn't the eighteenth century, after all — there’s music everywhere, so sing in your car, whistle in public, hum as you shop. It’s almost impossible to be stressed while you’re humming “Up on the Rooftop.” Give it a shot, Ebeneezer.

10. Ham
I know most of the traditional Christmas dinners include goose, but we also used to put vegetables in jello, so "classic" does not necessarily mean "delicious." And leave the turkey for Thanksgiving: Not only is it tricky to get right (as National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation so successfully taught us), but great pumpkin, Charlie Brown, leave something for Thanksgiving that isn't overshadowed by the seasonal juggernaut that is Yule.

What should you eat? Ham, and cook it yourself (I prefer mine with a double-brown-sugar glaze, as do all rational people) or get it from one of the many holiday ham sources around town. Either way, it’s good the day of and for sandwiches the week after. After all, yumminess is why we invented pigs.

9. Send Cards
We’re in a weird era right now in America (and I’m not making a Trump comment here). We all love getting Christmas cards, and we’re a little bummed that no one seems to do it anymore. But most of us don’t bother sending any ourselves. Be the change you want to see in the world and start sending some Christmas cards. It doesn’t matter if they’re religious, secular, Santa- or Snoopy-themed — they make people happy, and that’s the reason for the season. Bonus: Getting back into this habit might help save the floundering U.S. Post Office. The Cliff Clavins of America will thank you.

8. Bill Murray Got It Right
Scrooged is a modern classic played both for laughs and for the tugged heartstrings. And the epiphany that Frank Cross has at the end of the movie — you know, the one that ends up breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience as the credits roll — is actually pretty right-on in terms of what this holiday season means, no matter your religious or philosophical persuasion. Christmas is the one time of year when “we are the people we always hoped we would be.” Put a little love in your heart.

7. Candles, Candles, Candles…Just Not on the Tree
There’s something soft and festive about actual fire. Not all of us have fireplaces, or firepits or the ability and/or recklessness to build a bonfire in our back forty. But we can light a candle, or a bunch of candles. They literally and figuratively can stave off the darkness, and they're beautiful. Just don’t put them on the tree like they did back in the early days of Christmas, when things were slightly more charming and 675 percent more dangerous.

Keep reading for six more Christmas rules.

6. Ronco Commercials Were the Best Christmas Ads
Back in the 1970s and ’80s, it wasn’t Christmas until you saw a Ronco ad with cheap twinkle lights, wrapped empty boxes, a tinny version of “Deck the Halls” playing, and the tag line “Makes a great Christmas gift!” uttered by none other than pitchman Ron Popeil himself. Luckily for those of us kids who were anxious for the Christmas season to hurry up and start, these usually started airing sometime in early October.

5. Yule Logs Don’t Have to Be Boring
Everyone has seen the traditional televised Yule Log, which began back in 1966 on New York City’s WPIX Channel 11. The idea was to allow New Yorkers who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces to still be able to enjoy the visuals of the season (and to give station employees time off from work for the holidays). But seriously: If you’re going to watch fire on a continuous loop, it might as well be the funereal pyre for Darth Vader on the forest moon of Endor, right? Because there’s nothing good in the world that can’t be made better with a Star Wars reference.

4. Everyone Needs a Stocking
Sometimes the tradition of filling someone’s stocking ends with their childhood. But it shouldn’t. Unlike the aforementioned wish lists, stockings are just plain fun, whether there’s an orange in the toe or a sock full of candies or an awesome conduit for tiny toys and gifts too small to bother wrapping separately. And seriously, without stockings, the market for Slinkys and Silly Putty and candy canes would plummet.

3. Gift Bags Suck
Let’s be frank: Gift bags have become popular because they’re easy and don’t eat up much of your precious holiday time. But can we not be lazy assholes at Christmastime? Not that gift bags make you an asshole. They just aren’t a good sign. Wrap something. One of the things you’re giving is your time; make it count, and make it beautiful.

2. Light the Night
Holiday lights aren’t just about being festive; they’re about forestalling, even denying, the darkness of the shortest days of the calendar year, a way to bring brightness to the gray of December (and into January). Yes, it’s a pain to get the ladder out of the garage and yes, the damn things are always tangled and/or burned out, and yes, the whole process sort of bites. But the results are more than lighting: they’re soul-satisfying. Consider it a gift you’re giving to every person who passes your house during the season. Give them a reason to smile, just for a moment.

1. All We Need Is a Little Love
As heartwarming and memorable as Linus’s biblical quote scene is, that’s not the central moral of the season’s most heartwarming TV special. The core of A Charlie Brown Christmas is, of course, the end, when they disassemble Snoopy’s award-winning decorated doghouse, and the little one-branch tree magically fills out and becomes a gorgeous little mini-tree. That’s all any of us need: a little love. Merry Christmas to all of us Charlie Browns.

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