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A Pre-Christmas Reminder. . .

An illustration from a 1950s advertisement for Schweppe's beverages.

Here's a reprise of a piece I wrote and shared last year at this time. . .

With the 2014 [now 2015] Christmas and Holiday Season already in full swing, it's worth remembering our aim to dress and conduct ourselves better than has become the sad average among so many nominal "men" out there.  Coarse behavior and thoughtlessness seem to be the rule rather than the exception for too many in the second decade of the 21st century.  So, here are two dozen pointers to keep in mind when it comes to our appearance and actions at the various Christmas and holiday gatherings we might attend at this festive time of year.  Come to think of it, much of what follows below is also applicable at home and throughout the rest of the year.  Ready, guys?  Then, strap in and hang on tight, 'cause here we go!

1) Put on a blazer or sports jacket, or, heck, even a suit and tie when you attend those special Christmas and holiday events.  Nothing wrong with looking like an adult man whose slovenly undergraduate years are now behind him.  Right?

2) Wear a pressed oxford cloth button-down collar shirt in light blue, white, pink, or blue university stripes beneath your blazer or jacket.  It's a relaxed yet very pulled together look -- what used to be called 'casual chic' -- that will instantly mark you as a stylish man.  For an even more debonair look, a navy/black turtleneck pull-over below that blazer or sports jacket will work equally well.  Thank David Niven and Robert Wagner in The Pink Panther, and of course the early Beatles always looked superb in turtlenecks and sports jackets.

3) Ditch the jeans before you go out and put on a pair of charcoal or gray creased wool flannel dress pants with a belt that match you shoes.  After all, events that take place during the Christmas and holiday season are usually pretty special.  It won't kill you to leave the jeans at home once in a while, you know?

4) And if wool flannel dress pants don't float your boat, how about corduroy dress pants? A pair in golden tan is perhaps the most versatile and can be easily dressed up or dressed down without too much thought or effort.  Add a pair of loafers, an OCBD shirt, a crewneck wool sweater with a sports jacket over top, and you're ready for almost anything the holidays throw at you from shopping at the local mall, to attending all but the most formal of parties, and anything in between.  It's really hard to go wrong here with tan dress cords.  Unless you mistakenly put on a pair of over-sized white Jerry Seinfeld sneakers with them of course.  Whatever you do though, don't you dare attend a holiday party, Christmas open house, or set foot inside a church wearing sweat pants!  Even Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple by Neil Simon never did that.  What are you?  A complete cretin?

5) If you're going to wear a necktie, skip the goofy novelty varieties that proliferate at this time of year and opt instead for a more traditional and classic tartan wool tie.  These add an instant festive air to any ensemble without making you look like a clueless and cheesy goofball.  Know what I mean?

 A very pleasant 1950s seasonally appropriate image.

6) Or, maybe you'd like to shake things up and wear either a tartan wool vest or a pair of wool plaid "Go to Hell" dress pants.  Either garment would look good paired with a solid color OCBD shirt and a navy blazer, but wear only a single plaid item at a time.  We don't really need to say why, do we?  You're not Rodney Dangerfield or Ted Knight in the film Caddy Shack after all.

7) Leave the athletic shoes in the closet and put on a pair of leather loafers, either penny, or tasseled.  The latter are a bit dressier if you're going to wear a jacket of some sort and a tie on top.

8) Shine your shoes and dust the welts before you put 'em on too.  Don't forget to make sure your belt and shoes match pretty closely in color and gloss.

9) Don a classic adult male's overcoat of some kind -- trench, duffle, topcoat, tweed, etc. -- when you get ready to attend those Christmas and holiday events, and leave the cheap neon windbreaker, grease-stained hoodie, and/or Nascar emblazoned winter coat where they belong, hanging at home in the hall closet.

10) How about pulling up your damn pants and putting on a belt, hmmm?  No one really wants to see your ass and funky boxers anyway, and they should not have to.  Not even at Christmas time.  Now, you might labor under the delusion that your posterior is God's gift, but let me assure you that most of the rest of the civilized world does not share your opinion.  Cover it up, and if you're really that heavy, lose some serious weight and get a larger size of both underwear and pants in the meantime.  Got it? 

Was beer-drinking ever this glamorous?

11) Shave your face, clip, and clean you nails in advance!  Newsflash!  Even your close family at home deserves these basic considerations to say nothing of people who have been kind enough to invite you to their Christmas or holiday celebration or event.  Don't show up looking like Grizzly Adams, 'cause it's not 1975 anymore.  You know?  In case no one told you.

12) It amazes me how rude most of society has become when it comes to cellphone, I-pad, and/or other I-thingy use in public, so I'll just come right out with it.  Put your I-phone away (silence it first, or better yet leave the damn thing at home or in the car), and look at the people who are in the same room with and speaking to you.  Pay attention to them, respond to their attempts at conversation with more than single-syllable grunts, and do more than simply talk at each other while your attention is diverted elsewhere.  And do not, under the  penalty of death, get out your phones and check for new texts or e-mail at the supper table.  While we're at it, don't seek out the TV in someone else's house either and turn it on, so that you can stare at it like a zombie during the rest of the evening.  This happens a lot in my experience (though we hardly see that side of the family anymore), and it's unconscionable. 

13) Put on clean, crisp pajamas on Christmas Morning and or New Year's Day before appearing downstairs.  A nice flannel, silk, or wool robe over top is even nicer.  Not only do you look more presentable to everyone else, but imagine how decadently comfortable you'll feel until it's time to shower and dress later in the day.  Winston Churchill apparently ran much of the Second World War from his bed while wearing pj's and a dressing gown, so you can certainly put them on in a genuine attempt to kick up your own everyday style several notches come Christmas Day.  Bonus points if you wash your face, brush your hair, and clean your teeth too before heading downstairs, although you should do this anyway without the promise or incentive of extra credit.  It's called consideration for those you live with.

14) Mind your manners -- at the table and elsewhere -- when you attend Christmas and holiday events and dinners, or even if you're just having a quiet day with your nearest and dearest at home.  Frankly, you should do this the rest of the year too.  Do I really need to remind you?

15) Don't be the loudest voice in the room when you attend a Christmas or holiday party in someone's home, or in public.  It is anything but attractive or funny.  Whether alcohol is involved or not, you don't want to be that guy.  Trust me.  Other people will notice and pity your spouse or partner for having to endure such an obnoxious loudmouthed blowhard.  That's not really how you want to come across, is it?

Another beer ad!  People must have really liked their beer in the 50s although I suppose that was long before most people discovered wine in the United States.

16) Speaking of booze, watch how much you drink out on the town or in others' homes at their parties.  Don't make a spectacle of yourself due to a loud and ugly scene or simply because you puke on someone's shoes before the inevitable maudlin regret and contrition takes hold.  You won't be invited back the next time a gathering is planned.  Or, at least, you shouldn't be if you act like this.

17) Don't camp out over the buffet table and hog all of the Christmas and holiday treats , taking much more than your fair share when you've been invited to someone's home or at the numerous office parties that happen around this time of year.  Help yourself to a reasonable (smaller portions than you might think) amount of a few items, get a drink of something in your cup or glass, and then circulate to another part of the room, so that people who arrive after you might have a chance to sample some of that same holiday fare.

18) And since office parties have come up, I'll speak plainly here.  Keep the little general in check and do not let him think for you.  I don't care how cute and flirty that foolish and tipsy young intern or new hire might seem.  The world has moved on since the heady days of Mad Men, and you're just asking for trouble if you have a drunken quickie with someone from the office.  Capice?  Just don't do it.  Best case scenario, you'll live to regret it, and that's assuming you aren't terminated from your job outright. . .  or dragged into a legal dispute involving sexual harassment charges because people WILL find out about your daliance sooner or later.  So, be smart about this kind of thing and stay far away from office hook-ups and affairs.  Why screw up your life and/or career because your already poor judgment has been made even worse by a few drinks?  Keep your personal and professional lives separate and get your kicks somewhere else with someone who has nothing to do with your workplace.

19) Never show up for Christmas and holiday gatherings without some kind of tasteful host or hostess gift.  Some might scoff that it's overdone, but a bottle or two of decent, mid-priced wine, some sherry, port, good scotch whisky (better blends or single malt), or champagne are always nice as is a box of good quality candy or a seasonal flower arrangement.  But there are lots of other ways you might demonstrate your appreciation to your hosts.  Use your imagination, but it's a good idea to skip the joke gifts, which rarely go over well. . .  even if your hosts are polite enough not to say anything about your own appalling lack of good taste.

20) Drop in on aging neighbors or relatives with something seasonal to nibble on, or better yet, include them in your own celebrations.  This can be a very lonely time of year for many people for various reasons.  Why not try to spread a little bit of light and happiness into someone's life even for just a few minutes.  In most cases, your company and conversation will mean a lot to someone in this situation.  Remember them always, but especially at this time of year.

Clearly, the younger set liked their 7up and Vienna Sausages during the 1950s  if this old ad illustration is anything to go by though!

21) If you're planning an engagement of some kind in your own home, help your spouse or significant other to prepare for the event.  Turn off the TV, leave the online computer games for another time, put down your I-phone and ask him or her what needs doing.  Run the vacuum cleaner, pick up and straighten your place, sweep and/or shovel any snow from the front walk and porch, put down Ice Melt, or ask for the grocery list and make a run to the supermarket and liquor store.  In other words, get off your lazy duff and help!

22) When attending a holiday event to which you've been invited, keep an eye on the clock and don't under any circumstances overstay your welcome.  It's always better to leave your hosts wanting to see more of you the next time around. . .  rather than leave a sour taste in their mouths, ensuring that your name is struck from the list of possible invitees for their next party because you're a thoughtless boor/bore/boar, who doesn't know when it's time to go.  Think about it for a moment.  We have all observed these kinds of people at parties, and it's not something you want to do yourself.  Knowing when to leave a social gathering is an increasingly rare talent.  Cultivate it!

23) Sending out physical Christmas and holiday cards has become less common than once was the case not that many years ago, but I suggest it is time we reconsider things.  Afterall, the now ubiquitous mass mailing of cards stuffed with the impersonal and, if we are completely honest, unimaginative xeroxed letters bragging all about the kids' activities of the previous 12 months is so overdone that it has become a bad holiday cliche.  There is even a song about it.  So, how about sending out some Christmas or holiday cards with actual hand-written notes/signatures inside rather than the obnoxious bragging that masquerades as the yearly holiday update letter?  You know the kind.  Make your own holiday greetings a bit more personal, even if you limit yourself to sending out just 8-10 cards to your closest friends and family.  Don't rely on email or online social media for that kind of thing though whatever you do.  Tacky, tacky, tacky!

24) Finally, don't forget your spouse, partner, or special someone in the general hubbub that is the Christmas and holiday season for most of us.  If possible, arrange for some time out for just the two of you.  Maybe a visit to your local cafe, have lunch, go to dinner at a nice restaurant, or simply take a walk through the park without children, cell phones, or pets in tow.  Just the two of you.  Even 30 minutes will help remind you of what first attracted you to each other in the first place, and why you fell in love with each other.  And isn't that part of what this time of year is, or should be, all about?

There you are.  As always, none of this should have to be said, but, looking around, it seems like we have reached a new low as far as pleasant behavior, consideration, and general conduct are concerned.  Not that I am sure when that happened exactly. . .  although I have my suspicions how it has happened, but in the cheerful and charitable spirit of the season, we'll leave that topic for another time.  We certainly didn't carry on like this in my extended family, and the people my family knew did not either.  All in all, it was an extremely pleasant, polite, and also fun extended group -- close family, a few different generations of relatives, neighbors, and friends -- looking back at it.  Sadly, as an adult, I've become more conscious of and have observed all of the awkward behaviors and social gaffs alluded to above at any number of gatherings, at Christmastime and during the rest of the year.  

High time then that we back away from the let it all hang out, anything goes, incredibly self-indulgent attitudes of the last 40+ years or so and rein ourselves in a bit as a society.  Don't you think?  Let's start on a more personal level with the kinds of suggestions I make above.  It won't hurt you, really, to elevate your standards of behavior and attire a tiny bit.  At least as far as special occasions go.  Moreover, it will make a world of difference on a day-to-day basis in how pleasant we men are to have around as party guests, housemates, or close family members.  Honest. 

Remember, it's all about learning how to present oneself as a cultivated sophisticate. . .  that is, an adult male with a certain degree of polish and grooming in his dress, speech, attitudes, and habits.  Not only do we want to make a favorable first impression on people we meet, but we also want to preserve that image over time through consistent polite behavior, an awareness of occasion and what might be appropriate for it. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich


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