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Holiday Q and A

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Augusten Burroughs’ new book is filled with hilarious holiday horror stories. Some even manage to be strangely heartwarming. Let’s hear some other hipsters weigh in on their reasons to be festive during (or afraid of) the season.

Compiled by Steven Foster

SEE ALSO: David Brogan’s “White Christmas” Martini

Dale Carpenter
Legal Eagle, Former Parrot Owner
What’s your fondest holiday memory? My grandmother’s artificial silver Christmas tree. They used to be big in the ’60s and ’70s, with the kaleidoscope light that would turn around and shine on the tree and make it change colors. I think mostly I liked what it was associated with. What seemed, at the time, like pretty uncomplicated joy at Christmas. Presents, candy, the excitement of opening gifts, love, all of those things. Any holiday horror story? When my partner and I brought our African grey parrot to my father’s parents’ house. The parrot would do this dance and my partner would grab his beak and move it up and down and the parrot would start doing this dance. We thought that would take the attention off the homosexuals. The next week we got a call from my aunt who did not appreciate sexual gestures with the parrot! What kind of bizarre world do you live in to think that the gays are engaging in parrot beak fisting as a source of pleasure?
Dale Carpenter is a legal commentator and professor of law at the University of Minnesota.

Jessica Chobot
She’s Got Game
What’s your religious affiliation? Gosh, technically we’re Roman Catholic. I’m just Catholic enough to have the fear of going to hell if I’m bad. What is your happiest Christmas memories? We would all play pranks on each other. We would make what we would call these Acme gifts, which were like fake gifts. So for the communist uncle when the Berlin Wall fell, we went and picked up a bunch of gravel out of the driveway and gave it to him as pieces of the Berlin Wall. My great aunt who was in her late 60s at the time asked for makeup, so we bought her, what do you call it … not caulk. Spackle! We even designed a special makeup label for it. We were just cruel, cruel people. Ham or turkey for Christmas? Mmmm. Turkey. Wait. Actually, I would say both. What’s your favorite Christmas song? Probably “White Christmas.” Artificial tree or natural tree? If it’s in my house, artificial. But if it’s in someone else’s house, real. Icicles: yes or no? Only if they’re the plastic ones with the hooks that were made in the ’50s. Those were really good. And I do fully support tinsel, even though they stopped selling it. Were you good this year? Are you going to get candy in your stocking or will you get coal? Well, I probably should get coal, but I think I’ll get candy.
Jessica Chobot is host of the IGN Games site, The Daily Fix.

Danny Kallen
Merry Marry
Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu? I’m Jewish. Do you celebrate Christmas? With friends, I participate in the holiday season. My partner is not Jewish, so we will celebrate everything. What’s your favorite holiday memory? Getting my first mink stole. [Two obviously fake chuckles.] Actually, my first holiday memory is when I was a little kid I got a red go-cart and I thought it was the best. I ran around the house until I was let on the streets with it. Also, I grew up on the block of a Temple in New York, and in all the hype of the Christmas season, I put colored bulbs in our electric Menorah. As my mother pulled into the driveway and came into the house, I had my ass handed to me, saying, “We live on the block of the Temple. The rabbi will kill us.” What was the worst present you’ve ever received? I won’t mention names, but one side of my family didn’t give great quality gifts, and they would give us, like, shirts from Sears, and we were instructed [by my parents] to not even open the package. They were going back immediately. How good are you at dradle spinning? Some people sit around and do what you’re supposed to do during Chanukah. We did the food part, we didn’t do the dradle part. What do you do Christmas Day? [Laughs] I spend it with friends, my partner, his family. But when I was a kid, we had nothing to do, and our dog was dying, so one Christmas we put the dog to sleep. So when people asked me what do Jewish people do on Christmas, I would tell them, “We put our dogs to sleep.”
Danny Kallen is the marketing director of The Perfect Wedding Guide.

Lavita Marks
Spirit of Giving
What’s your faith? I would say Christian. I go to RMCC. What’s your fondest holiday memory? The Christmas before my Mom passed away. She had Parkinson’s disease, her body was not responding, but her mind was still there. So we took antlers with little bells on them. And she wore those antlers the entire time and smiled the prettiest smile you’ve ever seen. What’s the worst present you’ve ever received? A Barbie cook set. You know those little cooker oven things? I hate cooking, to this day. And my Mom, when I was younger, wanted to get me enthusiastic. You know, “My little tom girl can cook!” So I got some kind of Mattel, little cook-thing—which my brother just loved. Favorite Christmas carol? “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
Lavita Marks is a frequent volunteer in the LGBT community.

Alex Stutler
Phantom of the Opera
What’s your spirituality? Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim? Yes. What’s your fondest holiday memory? It’s kinda hard to narrow them down. I pretty much had an Ozzie-and-Harriet childhood. What was your favorite present you got as a little kid? I was addicted to Star Wars toys, so I think the Death Star was probably right up there. Did you ever have to fake it with a present you hated? [My partner] John I’ve had to fake it for. I’m violently allergic to chocolate, and John knew I was having a hard time, and he got me some body products. Cocoa butter. So you say “thank you” and hide it, because you don’t want to break out in a rash and die. Ham or turkey? Generally, it’s whatever strikes Mom at the time. 
Alex Stutler is the opera stage manager at Rice University.

Sol Lara
Good-Time Gal
So … Jewish, Pagan, Agnostic, Hindu, Catholic, Christian? I am a Catholic Christian. What is your most fond Christmas memory? It’d definitely have to be my time in New Jersey, believe it or not, when I was a child. That’s where I spent about 10 years of my childhood life. Narrow that down for me? Oh, the actual time frame! That’s very simple. My older brother, myself, and my kid brother were around the tree, and my parents brought out our Christmas presents, and they were all musical instruments. Drum, guitar, tambourines, what have you. We’re not a musical family, but for some reason they felt, “Oh, let’s get instruments this year for the kids.” And it was the best. We spent hours playing those things together. And my parents endured all the pain of the sound, but they enjoyed it and so did we. What’s the crappiest gift you remember receiving? Oh, there have been a lot of them. It would definitely have to be a freakin’ Barbie and a freakin’ Barbie house. I hate Barbie! Ham or turkey? Actually, pork. After I left Jersey, I was raised in Miami, and it was all about pork. Favorite Christmas carol? Oh, “Silent Night.” Icicles: Pro or con? I hate icicles. They’re such a pain to pick up, and they get all over the place.
Sol Lara is, actually, a self-described “good time gal.”

Kamal Bosamia
Macy’s Christmas Elf
What’s your faith? Hindu. What is your fondest holiday memory? Since my birthday is a few days after Christmas, I’ve never been crazy about the birthday/Christmas combo gifts. It’s just not fair! (Okay, I’m done with my tantrum.) Do you put up a tree? Artificial or natural? I do put up a tree—a burnt orange-and-white University of Texas Christmas tree that I bought two years ago at the Nutcracker Market—artificial, of course. What’s your favorite Christmas song? I have a tie: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Christmas Time Is Here” from Peanuts. Were you good this year? Will you get candy in your stocking or a lump of coal? I think I’ve been great this year. I’m working on buying myself a house for Christmas, so I’d love to have the deed in my stocking on Christmas morning. Even if I do get a lump of coal, at least it will help keep me warm in this cold Chicago weather! Do you believe in Santa Claus? Most definitely. I’ll be writing my letter to Santa Claus and dropping it off at Macy’s Santa Mailbox. Macy’s donates $1 up to $1 million to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for each letter submitted.
Kamal Bosamia is Macy’s media relations manager for north & midwest regions.

Alan Davidson
Aye, There’s the Rub
What’s your spiritual affiliation? I would say mystic. What’s your favorite holiday memory? I was afraid to come out to my maternal grandmother. And one afternoon after Christmas dinner, my grandmother came up beside me and pointed out my two sisters and their husbands, my brother and his wife, my other brother and his girlfriend. And she said, “You always come alone. And I want you to know if you have somebody you love, you bring them to Christmas. You bring them here. Because they’re welcome in our family.” So it was her way of saying she knew and she understood, and if there was someone special in my life, she wanted to meet them. What’s the worst present you’ve ever received? My mother has always been a craft person. She tried to make me a sweater once, and not only was the color hideous but the whole look and fit of the sweater was just awful. Favorite Christmas carol? I think it’s called “Carol of the Bells.” Ham or turkey? Oh, I’m a ham kinda guy, in case you didn’t know already.
Alan Davidson is a massage therapist.

Jessica Frinsco
Riding Writing Teacher
What’s your spiritual affiliation? Christian. Best Christmas toy? A clickety-clack horse. Back in the day, you had those horses with the springs on them, and they’d neigh. You know, the kind little kids get on? Crappiest present? It was probably from my aunt that doesn’t know me very well. She got me a nightgown, and it literally went all the way to the ground, and it looked like an old woman’s nightgown. It was pink, it had ruffles and everything. It was mortifying. What’s your favorite Christmas carol? I’d have to say “Silent Night.” When do open your presents? I’m not really a presents kinda gal. Ham or turkey for the Christmas dinner? Both! Do you believe in Santa Claus? Always. Are you gonna get candy in your stocking or a lump of coal? I’m always naughty. I wouldn’t be surprised if I got both.
Penchant for clickety-clack horses aside, Jessica Frinsco is a writing teacher.

Cesar Inserny
Rocker ‘Round the Christmas Tree
What is your spiritual affiliation? Well, I was born and raised Catholic, but right now I’m agnostic. Favorite holiday memory? I remember the first present I ever got when I was like three years old. My dad gave me a bow and arrow with those suck things on the arrow. I thought that was pretty awesome. What’s the worst present you’ve ever received? I get a bunch of bullshit. I hate, like, ornaments, you know? Little creatures for the house? Those are probably the worst. Open presents Christmas eve or Christmas Day? In Venezuela, we open presents the 24th at midnight. What’s your favorite Christmas carol? It’s not a carol, but my favorite Christmas song is “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”
Cesar Inserny is the lead singer of The Watermarks.

Charles Flora
Lacoste, Plus
Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Muslim? What are you? I’m a little bit of a mystic. I believe in a higher power but don’t believe too much in organized religion and that kind of thing. What is your favorite holiday memory? I grew up on a farm, so Christmastime and the wintertime holidays always mean the time when the animals would have babies, essentially. So my favorite holiday memory is having this long tunnel through the snow all the way up to the barn to take care of the baby animals. What’s the worst Christmas present you’ve ever received? I don’t think I had a worst Christmas present particularly. But I remember my grandparents on my father’s side were very strict and straight-laced. Even opening presents we had to, like, release the tape. You couldn’t actually rip the package open and get crazy. And if we got toys, we had to play with them very quietly. When you’re a kid, you just want to go crazy. Artificial tree or natural? I am so artificial. I have a completely artificial tree that has those fiber optic lights all through it, the changing colors kind of thing. I’d have a totally automated tree if I could. Ham or turkey? Definitely turkey. I’m a tryptophan addict. What’s your favorite Christmas song? Anything by Lena Horne.
Charles Flora is the managing director of Lacoste.

Joe Angel Babb
Hark the Herald Angel Babb
What is your spiritual affiliation? Now it’s probably more kind of spiritually new-agey stuff, but as a child I was a Catholic. Favorite Christmas memory? Oh, man, it was always meals. I grew up in a mixed-race household, so on my mother’s side we had Mexican food, tamales, that sort of thing. And on my dad’s side, we had country food, and divinity and fudge and all that stuff. Loved it. Worst present you ever got? Socks. Tube socks from my godparents. What’s the earliest toy you remember going crazy over? [Laughs] You’re gonna laugh. The Sit-n-Spin. What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Oooh. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Do you believe in Santa Claus? I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. Are you going to get candy in your stocking or coal? I get candy in my stocking for being a bad boy.
Joe Babb is the artistic director of Unhinged Productions.

Chris Kairo
Nutcracker
What’s your religious affiliation? Christian. What’s your most fond holiday memory? It would have to be the first Christmas I ever spent when I was in Puerto Rico when I was 12. Down there they celebrate Christmas for at least two weeks. I have very fond memories of waking up while it was still dark and serenading house to house with friends and neighbors, with the crowd getting larger and larger at each stop, until we made it to morning mass. Then after mass every day, we would go to someone’s house to sing songs, play the piano, eat, and dance. And it was always supplemented by some kind of pageant. What’s the worst Christmas present you ever received? A cheap set of dishes from a roommate on whom I spent a lot of money. What’s your favorite Christmas song? One of the Vanessa Williams’ Christmas songs. I can’t remember which one. Open presents Christmas eve or Christmas morning? I don’t do presents at all. Christmas isn’t about the presents, it’s about the music and the food and the parties and the religious aspect.
Chris Kairo just celebrated his second anniversary of the crazily popular rave night, Revolve.

Pierre Bernard
O Come All Ye Rageful
Religious persuasion? Catholic. What’s your favorite holiday memory? The only thing that comes to mind right off the bat is my dad got me this Lost in Space robot I wanted. But I don’t even remember what age I was at the time. What’s the worst Christmas present you ever got? You know, I can’t say I’ve ever gotten a bad present. I’ve always found a use for something I’ve gotten. Even clothes. Do you open presents Christmas eve or Christmas morning? I would say these days, I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think Christmas has the same impact for me anymore. Nowadays, it’s just another day off. Ham or turkey? Ham. No! Actually, both. What’s your favorite Christmas song? I don’t think I have one. I can’t think of any. Maybe “Silent Night.” Do you still believe in Santa Claus? I don’t believe in a lot of things anymore.
Pierre Bernard is an artist and comedian on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, famous for his “Recliner of Rage” sketch.

Will Brooks
Box Boy
What’s your religious belief? I’m an atheist. What’s the worst Christmas present you’ve ever received? Clothes of any kind. The best? When I got a Nintendo. You know? The original Nintendo? The one with Mario Brothers. What’s your favorite Christmas song? “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Something secular. Or maybe a really nice choral rendition of “Oh Holy Night,” even though I’m not religious. Do you believe in Santa Claus? [Laughs] Uh . . . nooooo.
Will Brooks is an artist. He is currently working on the continuation of his “Cube” series.

Tom Judson
Christmas (Canned) Ham
What’s your favorite Christmas present you’ve ever received? I wish there was one that really stood out. I do remember my sisters and I tunneled outside in the snow and made these huge tunnels and forts out of the snowdrifts before the snow plow came by. What’s the crappiest Christmas present you’ve ever received? I remember my grandmother got me this really stinky bottle of cologne. I put it on the floor and kicked it under the couch. And then she actually gave it to me again later. Are you an artificial or natural tree kinda guy? I am a natural tree kinda guy, but once I left home, my parents switched over to an artificial tree. And every year I go home and say the same joke, “Wow, you guys really got a good tree this year.” My mother never really quite gets it. Open presents Christmas eve or Christmas Day? When I was growing up we’d go to my mother’s mother for Christmas eve and my father’s mother for Christmas Day. But for our nuclear family, it was Christmas morning. What’s the most romantic Christmas you ever spent? It would have to have been with my late husband Bruce. But I remember one year, and this is the yin and yang of who I am, but Bruce gave me two Christmas presents—one was a Kitchen Aid mixer and the other was a circular saw. What’s your favorite Christmas carol? I think it’d have to be “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Tom Judson (formerly known as Gus Mattox) is a writer, actor, and musician. His latest work is entitled Canned Ham.

Eric Shambam
Visions of Sugarplum Maker
What’s your religious persuasion? Jewish. What’s your favorite holiday memory? Probably spinning the dradle with my grandfather. What’s the worst Chanukah present you’ve ever received? I’m sure there was one. Let me think. [Pause] You know, I can’t think of any bad ones. What’s the most romantic holiday you’ve ever spent? I was home, with my first partner. And it was Christmas! What is your idea of the best holiday meal? A rare steak, a baked potato, and a wonderful salad. That’s just one of my favorite meals. What are your plans for this year? I’ll be working, because it’s a very busy time of year.
Eric Shambam is owner of The Chocolate Bar and Candylicious.

Steven Coats
The Doctor Is In
Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim. What’s your spirituality? I’m agonostic. What’s the first toy you remember getting for Christmas? A Millennium Falcon. I’m sure I had other toys before that, but that’s the first one I remember that I almost wet myself over. What’s the crappiest present you ever got? A box of curios and knickknacks and s–t that I had left at my house. On top of my pile of s–t was a picture of me and my partner. A really nice, memorable picture of me and my partner before we had broken up. This was a present given to me by my ex-partner. That was probably the worst.  Artifical or natural tree?  Artificial, but only because I’m allergic to real trees. What’s your favorite Christmas carol? It’s a song Placido Domingo sings called “Oh Joyful Children.” Do you believe in Santa Claus? No. I believe in the spirit of giving. Are you going to get coal in your stocking or candy? How about a big bottle of Skyy vodka? The hell with candy and coal.
Steven Coats is a Houston psychologist.

Karen Derr
Reign, Dear!
What’s your religious affiliation? Christian. What was the first toy you remember getting? It was called a Walking Doll, but it didn’t do anything. It didn’t really walk. What it meant was that her legs could be moved, that they weren’t fused together. I named her Connie, and I still have her. She’s like three feet tall, and when I got her as a little kid, she was as tall as me. Kids nowadays would be less than impressed. What was the worst Christmas present you ever received? Toaster ovens. But that’s not that bad. What’s your favorite Christmas song? That Karen Carpenter song. “Merry Christmas, Darling.” Ham or turkey? Actually, I’m really into Mexican food for Christmas. Real tree or artificial. Aluminum now. Were you a good girl this year? Are you going to get candy or a lump of coal? Oh, just because I’m in politics this year, I’m gonna get a lump of coal.
Karen Derr is a candidate for Houston City Council.

David Brogan
Sir Mix-a-Lot
What’s your religious affiliation? Oh my God, I am a Jewish Muslim! No, I’m Catholic. What’s your fondest Christmas memory? When I was 13 I went downstairs and—typical colonial Christmas in Connecticut—there were stockings hanging above the fireplace, and my stocking was moving. And I went up to it and there was a little Dachshund puppy in my stocking. Worst Christmas? The year we were going Christmas shopping and to get our tree, and there was a huge drop in the hill and the road was a sheet of ice, and my Dad lost control of the car. We went off the road, hit a big huge tree, and got in a horrible car accident. Favorite Christmas carol? I love “Joy to the World.” But we love watching White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye. I love the song “White Christmas,” it’s just so beautiful. And that’s why I named and created the cocktail White Christmas. Turkey or ham? I love ham, but we usually have rib roast or something like that. Turkey’s Thanksgiving.
David Brogan is one of the most sought-after mixologists in the country. His recipe for a White Christmas martini appears below.

holidaymartiniSignature David’s “White Christmas” Martini

11/2 oz Grey Goose vodka   
11/2 oz Godiva white chocolate liqueur
1 oz half and half
Drizzle of Chambord
Drizzle of Frangelico

Combine ingredients in a shaker over crushed ice. Shake well (until frothy!!!) and strain into a well-chilled martini glass. Skewer three plump raspberries on a white birch twig and lay across the top of martini glass. Dust the raspberries with confectioner’s sugar. Voila! The “White Christmas”!

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