All you need in the world is love and laughter. That’s all anybody needs. To have love in one hand and laughter in the other. – August Wilson
Don’t all families have a tendency to go crazy and implode midway through the holidays? It’s something to do with the combo of happy expectation and unexpected short circuits with so much togetherness (especially with out-of-town guests).
My family deals with tension by dressing up in buck teeth, fake ears, wigs, and hats. We perform skits for each other. Picture my 89-year-old grandmother, Mama Lane, in dreadlocks and a biker cap doing a monologue on her need for a more supportive bra. My sister, Marisa, doing a dead-on imitation of Simon Cowell from American Idol. Adriano as a distinguished Brit with abnormally big ears and an incomprehensible accent.
We all have our monologues – a spoof on everything and everyone – and for a short time, we all get to be somebody else. It feels great. That’s our icebreaker.
Then there is my husband’s family. Christmas dinner at Adriano’s parents in London consists of more forks and fine crystal than you know what to do with. Nobility, ambassadors and the social who’s who are in attendance, and you’re being served by a formal staff wearing white gloves.
Adriano recalls one mortifying family tradition that lasted until he hit puberty, when his voice changed. After Christmas dinner, he would be summoned to come downstairs before bed to do his imitation of Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of England – a boyish recap of all he had overheard from his parents’ conversations. In high-pitched Queen’s English, Adriano commented on everything from toys and desserts, to his dog Connie, to the sad state of affairs of British politics. He moved like a tank across the room, shaking his head. “Won’t someone stand up and do what’s right for our country?” was his final battle cry. For some reason unknown to poor Adriano, everyone was in a fit of hysterics.
Our families, so radically different, had one thing in common: we love to laugh. It’s the only way to get through the inevitable tensions of the holidays.
Besides, how can you take anything too seriously when your father is standing there in giant ears and Billy Bob teeth?
Another great cheap way to have fun is to host a Tacky Party. A tried-and-true tradition on the Texas side of my family. The key to a Tacky Party is to dress in the ugliest, most outrageous outfit possible.
This is a story I’ve never told anyone – outside our family. The first time Adriano met my Texas clan, we were about to be married. My father’s family – cousins, great aunts, uncles and all – celebrated with a tacky party around a bonfire. Adriano was startled, to say the least. My grandmother in a leprechaun outfit. My grandfather dressed with a woman’s bonnet and apron. Cousin Theresa wearing a dry cleaning bag, with the ticket still attached. What a way to meet your new in-laws!
The only rule for a Tacky Party is that everyone must dress up. I was an orange-haired homecoming queen in a lopsided wig. Reluctant at first, Adriano put on a drooping hillbilly farmer’s hat. But by the end of the night, I was riding him piggyback around the bonfire and he was singing, Giddeyap little darling.
Being ridiculous brings you closer. It helps you see each other in a new way – a radically new way, I admit. But hey, sometimes it helps wearing those rose-colored glasses (and an orange wig).
Try hosting a Tacky Party of your own! Here’s to laughter and love in all your celebrations. Have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!
Illustration by Rima Hawkes Graphic Design