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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays
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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

Dispatch writers share their favorite holiday traditions.

Happy Friday! We’d like to wish all our readers who are celebrating a very Merry Christmas, and safe travels if you’re heading home for the holidays. We’ll be back in your inboxes on Wednesday!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke on Thursday with his Chinese counterpart for the first time since taking up the post in October. The conversation revived high-level military-to-military communications between the two countries that had been on hiatus since August 2022, when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan prompted Beijing to cut off the channel. “Gen. Brown discussed the importance of working together to responsibly manage competition, avoid miscalculations, and maintain open and direct lines of communication,” according to an official readout of the conversation. “Gen. Brown reiterated the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.”
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet is expected to announce this morning that it will sell advanced air defense weapons to the U.S. The easing of weapons export rules, which have been in place since the end of World War II, is part of a more proactive Japanese defense policy. Japan plans to transfer several dozen Patriot missiles to the U.S.—a move that could further help the U.S. support Ukrainian war efforts. 
  • A gunman shot and killed at least 14 people and injured dozens more on Thursday evening in downtown Prague, when he opened fire in the philosophy building of Charles University. The 24-year-old shooter, who was a student at the Czech university, also died, though it was unclear whether he killed himself or was shot by authorities. Czech police said they believe the gunman—who purchased several weapons legally—killed his father earlier in the day in his hometown west of Prague, and may also be connected to the killing of a man and his infant daughter last week. Authorities didn’t share any motive for the school attack, but said there was no indication it was related to a terrorist organization affiliation. The shooting is the worst in modern Czech history.
  • On November 17, 2020, then-President Donald Trump personally called two members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers in Michigan and pressured them not to certify the 2020 election results, The Detroit News reported Thursday night. “We’ve got to fight for our country,” Trump said on the recordings. “We can’t let these people take our country away from us.” The recordings involve conversations between Trump, Monica Palmer, and William Hartmann—two Republican canvassers in Wayne County—as well as Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. The former president and RNC chair urged the two canvassers not to sign documents certifying the election. “If you can go home tonight, do not sign it,” McDaniel said during the call. “We will get you attorneys.” The recording echoes a similar call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, in which the former president pushed for the overturning of official presidential vote counts in the state.

A Very Dispatch Christmas

(via Getty Images)
(via Getty Images)

As we put a (festive) bow on the final newsletter before we take a quick break to spend quality time with loved ones, we wanted to share a few of our favorite holiday traditions—and we can’t wait to read about yours in the comments!

Mary Trimble, TMD Reporter: I’m incredibly blessed to be spending Christmas in Germany, where my parents live. After six months of being separated—across three cities on two continents—I’m more grateful than ever to be enjoying the holiday season with my family. Over the last few days, we’ve been braving the cold to do a full tour of the local Christmas markets, buying gifts for each other (and the occasional treat for ourselves) as we wandered through beautiful old town squares all decked out for the season. We’ve also been stuffing our faces with tasty German market fare: kartoffelpuffer (fried potato pancakes), bratwurst (needs no explanation), and kinderpunsch (a tasty mulled fruit cider meant for kids but good for adults, too). 

The best part of any Christmas, for me, is the time I get to spend with my favorite people. This weekend, we’ll be leaning into the “weather outside is frightful, let it snow, etc.” of it all, watching our favorite holiday classics (White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and, if I get my way, The Bishop’s Wife—Cary Grant plays an angel!), trying to finish an incredibly difficult, 1,000-piece puzzle taking up valuable real estate on the dining room table, and munching on all the treats stashed in various festive tins. For a few special days, our busy lives will slow and our world will quiet as we await the miracle of Christ’s birth. And what a gift that is.  

James Scimecca, Editor of TMD: Christmas in the Scimecca family house is a magical time—one that usually starts well before the Big Day. The house is full of the smell of cookies (this year my mom made outstanding old-fashioned Hermit cookies), and I make a large batch of eggnog (with whole eggs and a whole lotta booze, to kill the bacteria obviously). We make a big deal about watching the greatest Christmas movie of all time—A Muppets Christmas Carol—and take turns cycling through our favorite songs of the season. On Christmas Eve, the whole family heads to Midnight Mass, and when we return we open the first gift of Christmas: a new pair of pajamas. And then, on Christmas morning, the five of us—five adults, somehow magically transformed back into children—simply celebrate being together.

Sarah Isgur, Senior Editor: We’re starting a new family tradition this year of a Christmas Eve eve movie night. Going with Elf this year, and would love some recs for next year in the comments. Oldest will be 4-and-a-half years old!

Michael Warren, Senior Editor: There’s something about Christmas Eve and seafood that just feels right. Every year on the night before Christmas, our family eats one of two seafood dishes. Sometimes, in a nod to my Italian heritage, we’ll do a limited Feast of the Seven Fishes by making cioppino, a tomato-based stew that you can throw any number of different fish and shellfish in. But we’re also southerners, so in other years we’ll do a seafood gumbo, served over rice. Either one goes great for that weird in-between day that is Christmas Eve, when dinner is a little less formal than on Christmas Day but you’ve got the time to do something a little more special than normal.

You can start making these stews in the early afternoon, which gives you plenty of time to let it simmer while you play a game, watch a movie, or have a drink. Late December is also perfect stew weather. And while people can be particular about what ingredients belong in gumbo (filé is important, and so is okra if you can find it outside the South), it’s also easy to plug in whatever stuff you want. White fish, shrimp, crab, and oysters go great in both. I like mussels and clams in cioppino, and it’s really great if you can get fresh crawfish and some good andouille sausage for your gumbo.

This year, gumbo will be making its triumphant return to our Christmas Eve dinner after a too-long hiatus. I’ll probably pick up some Abita beers, or maybe some Peychaud’s bitters to make Sazeracs, in order to complete the Louisiana menu.

Victoria Holmes, Associate Audio/Video Editor: One of the hallmarks of the coming Christmas season were the footsteps I heard above me on the roof. No, it wasn’t Santa Claus, but rather my dad hanging the Christmas lights. I grew up in Texas, so we were lucky to have pretty warm days that allowed him to hang them up safely. Sometimes he would make a big show of it, standing on the roof to connect two plugs that lit up the entire house as me and my siblings watched. Other times, he would just call us outside after the sun was already set to see the house lit up. It was exciting as a little girl to pop up on the roof when he would let me, or to plug in the lights at the end of the day. I’m not sure why I treasure moments like that; maybe because it shows I’m lucky enough to have a dad who would take care to create Christmas traditions. Whatever the reason, hearing footsteps on the roof will always be the start of the season. 

Alex Demas, Fact Checker: Christmas morning traditions for the Demas family have unfortunately become regretfully mundane since we relocated from Colorado to North Carolina over a decade ago (being raised in Travel + Leisure’s top-ranked Christmas town in America had all but ruined the aesthetic of a Christmas morning spent anywhere else). Growing up, my twin sister and I would sit and open presents excitedly in the living room of our childhood home, the frosted windows of which overlooked a grove of snow-covered aspens and evergreens through which we’d ski as a family in the afternoon. This set an almost obnoxiously idyllic mood that has been difficult to match in adulthood. These days, we compensate for this lack of yuletide cheer by sitting on the couch and inhaling Pillsbury cinnamon rolls until we’re sick to our stomachs, often followed by a combination of long naps and deep regret.

Declan Garvey, Executive Editor: I’ve written in years past about my family’s traditions of watching Arthur’s Perfect Christmas and driving from Mass on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to the annual Garvey family Christmas party, where all 26 grandkids and 16 aunts and uncles would make it a priority to be together, eat my Grandma’s world-famous (butter-infused) Chex Mix, and hear my Grandpa’s harmonica rendition of “Christmas in Killarney.”

A new tradition has sprung up in recent years, since my three brothers and I have fanned out across the country. On a night leading up to Christmas itself, those of us who have made it home pile into the back of my parents’ car and head to a lights festival, either at the Chicago Botanic Garden or the Lincoln Park Zoo. There’s something magical about bundling up, grabbing some hot chocolate, and wandering around (usually in ~15°F weather) in awe of that year’s displays while Christmas music plays. This year, we’re hoping to make it to Wrigley Field’s new holiday pop-up, too (because of course we are).

Jonah Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief: Two of my favorite things about Christmastime—other than celebrating family and getting cool swag—are A Charlie Brown Christmas and actual, real Christmas trees. I was horrified to learn that most Americans now prefer fake Christmas trees. While I’m sure this is bad for climate change, that’s not my objection. Real Christmas trees are awesome. Smell is the most powerful trigger for memory, and nothing harkens me back to the Christmases of my youth (where we hung an ornament that proclaimed “Santa Knows We’re Jewish” on our tree) more than the smell of a real Christmas tree. The ritual of procuring, setting up, and decorating a real Christmas tree is central to the whole enterprise. Moreover, the real things make the whole house effulgent with the aroma of yuletide almost as much as the Christmas cookies my wife and daughter make every year. Complaints about pine needles or smuggled wildlife cannot and do not cancel out the vital importance of the real thing. 

Which is just one reason why it’s so important to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. The film is wonderful for more important reasons. It’s brilliant, lovely, and arguably one of the most profoundly and unapologetically Christian pieces of family-friendly popular culture ever produced. But it also staved off the rise of Terminator-esque fakery for more than a generation. Charlie Brown’s refusal to accept an aluminum tree—no doubt made by Skynet—virtually destroyed the then-burgeoning fad of fake trees in the United States. Within two years of A Charlie Brown Christmas’ debut on CBS in 1965, aluminum trees were no longer manufactured in the United States. Sadly, that’s no longer the case. So if you can do two things this Christmas, watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and take at least its second-most important message to heart.

Steve Hayes, CEO: When I think of Christmas traditions, I think first of holiday activities from my childhood that, in many cases, my wife and I carry on with our own family. Lighting luminaria. One present to open on Christmas Eve. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas read out loud. Coffee cake (now cinnamon buns) on Christmas morning. Ham-and-cheese potatoes that afternoon. And the endless wait on the stairs—ostensibly to take a photograph of the anticipation and annoyance on the kids’ faces before gift-opening could begin. A big part of what makes those things special is the intentionality of the acts, the sense that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

But one of my favorite traditions today started one afternoon a few years ago as an accident. It was a busy Christmas Eve day, with my wife watching the kids and making last-minute preparations at home while I was out … shopping. The first time I went shopping on Christmas Eve was out of necessity. I hadn’t gotten gifts for anyone so I needed to scramble. I braced myself for mall chaos, picturing something like the news coverage of Black Friday riots. But what to my wondering eyes did appear? Mostly empty hallways and sparsely filled stores, allowing hassle-free movement and maximum shopping efficiency. Glorious—and something I’ve repeated every Christmas Eve since. But that’s not the accidental tradition, at least not the one I most look forward to these days.

In an effort to keep the kids from messing up the house before we attended Christmas Eve church services, my wife and some other moms planned an impromptu meal out. They chose Maggiano’s—either because Maggiano’s has gluten free pasta or because they have tables big enough to accommodate groups of more than twenty, or maybe both. It probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the kids love to conquer the mountains of pasta and I’ve come to appreciate the all-you-can-eat chicken marsala. My brother usually comes with his family, and we’re joined by three or four other families we’ve all known for years, friends we mean to see more regularly but for hockey, dance, lacrosse, soccer, cross country, college searches, work travel, life. We give ourselves three full hours before 6 p.m. church services, extra time that helps us outlast our food comas and (usually) avoid falling asleep mid-carol.

I don’t think we intended that first visit to be the start of a tradition, but the following year the kids started asking in early December if we’d be doing it again. So we did, again and again and again. I’m not sure the other families look forward to it in quite the same way we do—maybe it’s just a nice break from the Christmas chaos that precedes it. But it’s become, quite unexpectedly, a favorite part of the season for our family (and the $6 take-home pasta special means we’ve got leftovers for days). 

Worth Your Time 

  • Heading into Christmas weekend, we’re sure we won’t be the only ones watching Frank Capra’s holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Clare Coffey’s take on Mary Bailey—and her fate in a George-less world—is from December 2022, but it’s worth reading if you missed it last year. “Aside from the dubious implication that the worst fate that could befall a woman is a single life as a small-town librarian, this scenario simply beggars belief,” Coffey wrote for The Bulwark. “The idea that Mary, played by a luminous Donna Reed, who has been lighting up the screen with her charisma and warmth for the last hour and a half, would be short of suitors in George’s absence—it’s ludicrous. That she needs George to be rescued from spinsterhood as his brother needs him to be rescued from death is insulting. It adds an ugly note to the pageant of significance Clarence puts on.” How can we reconcile this blemish on an otherwise excellent story? “From the beginning, it is Mary who chooses George, not the other way around. In a scene from their childhood, she sits on the counter and whispers in his bad ear, ‘George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die,’ while George, oblivious, drones on about coconuts. Reunited at the high school dance, her eyes fix on him with the loving, predatory gleam of a wifely panther. Mary could marry any man in town. She doesn’t want to. She wants George. She takes the measure of George, seeing something in him that he can’t see, and which is perhaps only partially visible to us. It is certainly pleasant but not unduly extraordinary to be a popular and beautiful woman who can marry a rich and popular man if she chooses. It is less ordinary to see, with Mary’s perfect clarity and uncanny certainty, the life and man you want, and to choose it in the teeth of discouragement with all its disadvantages apparent, to persist single-mindedly in the face of hardship. It’s a Wonderful Life is, in part, the story of someone becoming, kicking and screaming, against all intentions and desires, a big man. Mary sees the big man in George from the first, because she is a big woman.”

Presented Without Comment

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, asked about his biggest regret of his presidential campaign: 

“I would say if I could have one thing change, I wish Trump hadn’t been indicted on any of this stuff…it distorted the primary…it also just crowded out, I think so much other stuff. And it’s sucked out a lot of oxygen.”

Also Presented Without Comment 

CNBC: Former Trump Lawyer Rudy Giuliani Files for Bankruptcy Protection, Lists More Than $100 Million in Debts 

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Sarah and Mike break down the Colorado Supreme Court ruling in The Collision and Nick tracks (🔒) the (not-so) strange political progression of Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman.
  • On the podcasts: Steve, Jonah, and Sarah react to a certain Florida man being blocked from Colorado ballots on the latest Dispatch Podcast before turning to the latest GOP primary news, a rant about tap dancing, and much more.
  • On the site today: Drucker speaks to outgoing Rep. Kevin McCarthy about his tumultuous time in the House, while Kevin discusses the missed opportunity of George W. Bush’s “ownership society” model for economic reform.

Let Us Know

You’ve now read about some of our favorite holiday traditions, let’s hear yours!

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.