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The Morning Dispatch: Our Favorite Holiday Traditions
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The Morning Dispatch: Our Favorite Holiday Traditions

Plus: Readers share their own favorite traditions.

Happy Friday! We hope all our readers who are celebrating have a wonderful and very merry Christmas! 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • One day after authorizing Pfizer’s Paxlovid COVID-19 antiviral pill, the Food and Drug Administration announced it had issued an emergency use authorization for Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral, molnupiravir, for adults at “high risk” for severe COVID-19 and “for whom alternative COVID-19 treatment options authorized by the FDA are not accessible or clinically appropriate.” Molnupiravir was found in clinical trials to be significantly less effective than other therapeutics, but will be available in early January.

  • Another measure of inflation—the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index—hit a 39-year high in November, with the Bureau of Economic Analysis announcing yesterday it increased 5.7 percent year-over-year in November, and 4.7 percent year-over-year when excluding food and energy prices.

  • President Joe Biden formally signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—which bans imports of products made with forced labor from China’s Xinjiang region—into law on Thursday. 

  • A Minneapolis jury on Thursday convicted Kim Potter, former Brooklyn Center police officer, on two counts of manslaughter. Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April after, she claimed, she accidentally grabbed her gun instead of her Taser.

  • Initial jobless claims held steady at 205,000 last week, according to the Labor Department, keeping the measure’s four-week moving average near all-time lows.

  • Author and essayist Joan Didion died yesterday at the age of 87.

Morning Dispatch Holiday Traditions

(Photo from Getty Images.)

Thankfully, Vladimir Putin did not decide to invade Ukraine yesterday, so we can go ahead with our more 🎄 festive ❄️ holiday 🕎 newsletter 🎅 plans! Here are some of your Morning Dispatchers favorite traditions from this time of the year.

Harvest Prude: One of my most potent Christmas memories, each year—and henceforth also a de facto tradition—is my dad insisting to us kids that he “doesn’t want anything for Christmas.” Blessed with the virtue of non-materialism, he seems to really mean it, too. But the thought of not getting anything for Christmas being too terrible to contemplate every year, my siblings and I, like the five Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice, “attacked him in various ways—with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises;” but my dad, like the wily Mr. Bennet, “eluded the skill of [us] all, and [we] were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence,” of our mother. She knew best what sweater was particularly worn out and needed replacing. When we were kids, we’d resort to buying him his favorite candy—licorice. Or perhaps, if we could stomach it, something very boring, like athletic socks. Now that we’re older and have a few more resources at our disposal, we either go sentimental, practical, or some combination of both. While I still hope each year that my dad—and dads in general, I mean, really—will become easier to shop for—I appreciate the reminder that Christmas is not really about gifts or material possessions, but about the birth of Jesus, and the wonder and joy that He brings. And I’ve started to adopt a similar attitude toward the season—that it is really about celebrating that fact together with family. 

Charlotte Lawson: As I reflect on my family’s various holiday traditions while three days into a 10-day self-isolation (Thanks, Omicron), I’m grateful for the one I can enjoy from the comfort of my quarantine. Every year, my family gets together to screen Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story. While I can’t join the group in person, watching Ralphie’s many misadventures—from the infamous leg lamp and “triple dog dares” to the Red Ryder B.B. Gun—always gets me into the holiday spirit. Honorable mention goes out to Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, who in his many mobility-limiting layers looks a lot like me on any given D.C. day between November and March.

Andrew Egger: When my parents were first married, in December 30 years ago, they gave one another angel ornaments for their first Christmas tree, which quickly became an annual recurrence. When they started having kids a couple years later, we’d get angel ornaments for Christmas, too. Eventually, this became a logistical problem: Two parents and six kids at home meant for eight new ornaments a year, necessitating the purchase of ever-burlier trees and putting a premium on small, light, and abstracted angels rather than the more baroque cherubim of the past. Now, however, we kids have started marrying off and taking our accumulated angels (and the annual tradition) off to our own families and trees, to the relief of the annual parental tannenbaum. My wife and I got our first daughter, two months old, her first ornament this year. Hopeful for and mindful of the accumulation of years to come, we started her off light.

Audrey Fahlberg: The Fahlberg family Christmas always revolves around food! On Christmas Eve, we usually eat a big steak dinner, and on Christmas morning, we eat a southern style brunch with grits, eggs Benedict and mimosas. My family typically attends the National Cathedral’s caroling service and Mount Vernon’s candlelit tour a few days before Christmas, although unfortunately COVID has derailed those traditions this year, as two of my siblings caught the Omicron variant. This year I’ll undoubtedly spend Christmas Eve forcing my siblings and cousins to watch their least favorite Christmas movie: The Polar Express!

Ryan Brown: In my family, Christmas doesn’t start on December 25th. Rather, on Christmas Eve (usually immediately following midnight mass) my immediate family all gather around the tree to reveal who had whom for our family Secret Santa exchange. Before we swap gifts, though, we always read a short story by Susan Wojciechowski called The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. As kids, I think my siblings and I just liked it because of its beautiful illustrations. But now as we’ve grown older, we recognize it’s a story about how simple gestures and thoughtful gifts can mean a lot to people, and even maybe change a person’s heart. After that reminder, we then all open up what we got each other. With Jonathan Toomey in mind, I think we are all a bit more appreciative of each other and the many gifts life brings us.

Declan Garvey: If my name hasn’t given it away already, I’m Irish and Catholic—and yes, that means there are 16 aunts and uncles and 26 first cousins, just on the Garvey side. For as long as I can remember, that whole clan would gather at a different family’s house for an annual—and when us kids were younger, chaotic—Christmas Eve party. In my mind—and I’m sure the mind of many of my brothers and cousins—that party is synonymous with Christmas. We’d usually arrive straight from Mass, and be greeted by my Grandpa playing “Christmas in Killarney” on his harmonica or my Grandma setting out her world-famous Chex Mix. (I never understood why it tasted so much better than the store-bought kind, but have since learned it was about a cup of melted butter that did it.) A different aunt or uncle was anointed King or Queen of Christmas every year, and he or she would be responsible for choosing the theme of the Secret Santa gift exchange. One year, everyone’s gifts had something to do with music. Another year, we could only give experiences. It’s harder to get everyone together now that the grandkids—many now with families of their own—have fanned out from Los Angeles to Thailand, but those of us in Chicago for the holidays still do our best to see each other on December 24.

Oh, and my immediate family and I always make it a point to watch the best Christmas movie of all time: Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.

And Now Some of Your Holiday Traditions!

A big thanks to the many of you who shared how your families celebrate the holidays. Here were some of our favorites:

Robert Chase: CHRISTMAS FORCE FIELD! Here is how it got started. Years ago, my wife and I were in a church choir that was required to sing a midnight mass for Christmas and one the next morning at 10. The one at midnight tended to go long, and since we had to show up early for warm-ups the next morning, there was not time for sleep. We had little ones who wanted to be up early the next morning to get at presents. In a desperation move, I taped ribbons across the stairway to prevent them going downstairs. When they asked what this was, I, a reader and writer of science fiction, explained that it was Christmas Force Field which would not come down until after morning Mass. Each year, my wife made it increasingly elaborate. The best probably was strings of lights which could be operated remotely. I told them all the presents would collapse into a black hole if they went in early. From my hiding place, I spooked them successfully by turning on the lights when they got too close. The children are grown now, but they still demand the tradition.

Bel: One of our traditions occurs Thanksgiving weekend when we trek to a tree farm to cut down a Christmas tree. This often involves a hilarious minor calamity, like the tree that was longer than my car, or almost running out of gas because we failed to consider how carrying a tree on the roof impacts gas mileage, or my son who only wears shorts insisting he isn’t cold while shivering in 20 degree weather. There is always something. This year both kids spilled hot chocolate on themselves, which I would have expected at ages 5 and 8, but not 15 and 18!

George Skinner: We’ll be hosting my wife’s parents and her sister’s family for their traditional Christmas Eve cheese fondue. Later, we’ll all open gifts with brand-new pajamas before heading off to bed. In the morning, we’ll get up and unwrap gifts with the kids, read from the Bible, and enjoy eggs Benedict for breakfast (with mimosas.) Today we’ll be working on gingerbread houses. Dough is made and chilling in the fridge, and I’ll guide the kids through making patterns for their houses, rolling out the dough, cutting pieces, and baking.

Merrijane: My husband’s favorite tradition is to make a big breakfast on Christmas morning—eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and orange juice. It isn’t fancy stuff, but his own dad used to do this when he was young, and he kept on doing it himself since we’ve been married. Traditions aren’t about the substance of what you do; they’re about the family memories connected with them.

Scott Stewart: Christmas stockings, hand-knit by my mom with your name in the top cuff and a sleigh bell tied to the toe. She lined them so they didn’t stretch when you filled them with stuff. And always with an orange in the toe. Everyone got one the year they were born, spouses got their own and when some of us had kids she made them one, too. Our holiday soundtrack is split between any and all of Robert Shaw’s Christmas albums on steady repeat and holiday albums from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Dad, who taught vocal music for 27 years, sang with the “amateur” choir when Shaw was with the Cleveland Symphony. On New Year’s I’ll play the Dona Nobis Pacem from Bach’s Mass in B Minor and try not to tear up as I toast my father’s memory. That movement will always and forever define my one wish/resolution as we start another lap of the sun. Happy Holidays All!

Lucas: My dear, sweet father plays the two Home Alone movies (there were never any more, quiet you) on loop for the entirety of Christmas week, occasionally broken up by the stray Christmas Story or Elf at my mother’s insistence. It is mind-boggling to me how he can watch those for days straight and still laugh at the same jokes over and over. Score is excellent though, makes for great background noise when talking to my visiting cousins.

Chris Jenkins: I grew up outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and every New Year’s Eve we would go out to the desert with friends of the family and have a cookout, ride ATVs, and let the younger ones run around in the desert and get dirty. The weather was usually perfect and the food was great. At the end of the night (usually around 9 or 10 p.m.) we would pop open some sparkling cider and all throw our Christmas trees on the fire (the flames would reach 30 or 40 feet into the air). I moved to Utah a few years ago, and due to work, it’s hard to break away at the end of the year to go home, but this is the family tradition I miss the most.

Worth Your Time

  • Earlier this week, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the American population grew at its slowest rate ever in 2021. For Bloomberg, economist Tyler Cowen explains why this is troubling not just for our economic prospects, but for our national mood. “America’s population is not declining right now, but it is not doing much better than holding steady,” he writes. “That brings its own mood of stasis and complacency. And let me be so bold as to suggest that, more than most countries, America is highly dependent on its own sense of optimism and growth. Otherwise, how is it to remain a top innovator? How will it pay off all its debts? The most common argument against a growing population is that it harms the environment. But any potential solutions to environmental problems involve innovation, and more people means more potential innovators. It is the growing, dynamic societies that are most likely to improve green energy. Yes, America is in a funk, and low population growth is both a cause and symptom. But this crisis need not be permanent—and one way to solve it is simply to make and bring in more happy people.”

  • One more hilarious Matt Labash Slack Tide post before the holidays (though, because he’s recovering from COVID-19, it’s a republished piece about Christmas from 2015). “As the years tick by, Christmas has come to mean different things during various phases of my life,” he writes. “But when I consider the real connective tissue that binds most Christmases in the mind’s eye, for me it’s all about foibles and eccentricities, dysfunction, and passive aggression, with an outside chance of violence. In other words, it’s about the people we spend Christmas with: family, both near and extended.  Or as Alexander Pope called them, ‘the commonwealth of malignants.’ When I think of these people—my tribe—which doubled in number after marriage, I think of everything that is both wrong and righteous about this highest of holidays. The two poles sometimes being indistinguishable. Which leads me to my dear, saintly mother, and the time she tried to decapitate Uncle Carl with a King James Bible, in the name of the One whose birth we were celebrating.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • For a special episode of Advisory Opinions released yesterday, Sarah takes listeners behind the scenes of the 2021 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., interviewing a dozen judges from all levels of the judiciary. Plus: Some important advice for law students.

Let Us Know

Nothing! Go enjoy the holidays with your loved ones. We’ll see you on Monday.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).