Oh Chestnuts!

A quick Christmas message and an old ornament from the past.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours. Rejoice that we’re still here, while honoring and loving those we’ve lost.

Here’s to all the Chardonnay Moms, Cabernet Dads and the dude at the end of the street who always forgets to turn off his outdoor Christmas lights at the end of the night, so they’re still on in the morning, the first lights of dawn.

Here’s to the children and the grandchildren, the parents and the grandparents, the pets who provide such remarkable kinship, to our friends and neighbors for their laughter and support.

To all that we love, past and present, real and spiritual. Remember, as Frank Church said, that the most real things in life are those that we cannot see: love, faith, hope.

From afar, I raise my glass of nog to you. I grasp your hands in prayer.

Going to hit the pause button today. I’ve spent the past 24 hours making schleibel, an old family recipe from the north country. It requires elk goo and cranberry resin. Then you have to find an elf to blow on it. That’s the hard part, the elf. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, below please find a rerun of a Christmas column from a few years ago. Hope you like it.

Hugs to all.

December 24, 2016

I’ve been writing now for 40 years, not long. But my goal remains simple: to write something half as good as John Lennon’s worst song. Seriously, sometimes I wish he were worse. Sometimes I wish he hadn’t set the bar quite so high.

As you may know, I like bars and music and games of chance. I also like Christmas because you never know what you’re going to get. Could be an epic season, big and bawdy. Could be a tiny interlude, candlelit and serene.

Yet, in a world brimming with change and disappointment, we can always count on Christmas, a holiday so significant Tchaikovsky set it to music.

What’s so great about it? Well, how about the simple sound of an acoustic guitar in a crowded church? The clunk of an oven door. Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens … bright copper kettles….

Charles M. Schulz once said of it, “Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”

So there’s that.

I once parked a car for a freaked-out shopper in a crazy Hastings Ranch lot. To be honest, she rammed the curb so many times I was afraid she might eventually mow us all down. My ultimate goal, every Christmas, is not to wind up as B-roll on CNN.

Years ago, when the kids were quite small, we decided to dress up a little Charlie Brown tree for a beloved elderly neighbor and surprise her with it.

“You want how much for this scrawny thing?” I asked the tree lot attendant.



“Forty bucks,” he insisted.

“It’s a twig,” I said. “It’s half a %#@*&% pencil.”

“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad,” scolded my lovely and patient older daughter.

All my life, I’ve been drawn to misfits and malcontents; that’s why I had four kids. As I may have mentioned, our hospital has a no-returns policy on babies; they won’t even allow exchanges. Doesn’t matter — a day, a decade — you can’t return them, which is a lousy way to run a hospital, if you ask me.

On that day, in the tree lot, I looked down at my then-10-year-old daughter – obviously defective, obviously not even my own flesh and blood, for she didn’t think that 40 bucks was that bad a price for a piece of kindling wood. As every dad knows, $40 is a Christmas ham; $40 is a big bottle of Jack.

“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad,” she said.

“OK, you want it on the roof?” the tree attendant asked as he carried it to the car.

“No, just put it in the glove box,” I said.

If you’re a father, and the holidays give you the yips and inadvertent twitches, a heightened sense that you’re not in control in any way, just laugh at the whole bloody blob of it … the excesses, the expectations, the specials that don’t seem so special at all.

This year, for instance, Starbucks offered a special fruitcake frappuccino, perhaps the worst idea since the sitar. Or nuclear weapons. Or even “Bad Santa 2.”

Consider the fruitcake fraps. They look pre-digested. They look like a cup of moldy socks. Conveniently, little pieces of fruit kept blocking the straw, so you couldn’t actually drink it. So laugh.

The holidays are here, so laugh. Plug in a Chevy Chase movie. Call an old pal. Buy your bartender a pair of silly lighted antlers. Laugh.

Because Schulz was right, Christmas is merely doing a little something extra for someone. To that end, the little guy and I are burning homemade cookies together right now. Trust me, someone in the house will eat them.

Look, it’s been a long, brutal December here in Los Angeles. Daily highs have rarely broken 70, and all the women are wearing multiple scarves, as you would a neck brace, and doubling up on designer sweaters to ward off the cruel chill. Forecasters blame a polar vortex. I blame Nordstrom’s.

Obviously, it is a full-on state of emergency here, and I’m not sure how much more of this the townsfolk can take. Certainly, Santa won’t come within 300 miles of a place like this, nor should any of us.

So, if Santa’s a no-show, you might pick up some of the slack. Do that little extra something. Give a humble tree. Or a tray of homemade cookies. How about a bowl of overseasoned meatballs (is there a more succulent holiday sight?).

For in a world chronically short of kindness and charity, at least we’ll always have the holidays, at least we’ll always have meatballs.

And doorbells and sleigh bells … and schnitzel with noodles.

Merry Christmas.

Reprinted from “Daditude,” 2018, Prospect Park Books

12 thoughts on “Oh Chestnuts!

  1. Did you ever play “Cardinal Puff”—a drinking game? I received a Chrismas card this week from a couple in Seattle to whom, years ago, I had administered the test. Both of them, very surprisingly, were able to pass on the first try! Their card was delivered to my place, addressed to “Cardinal Puff”!

  2. Hi Chris
    Wishing you & your beautiful family a merry Christmas and a happy & healthy & safe 2021.

  3. To quote Bib Hope: Thanx for the memories!
    I love your old columns as much as the new ones…some things are timeless.
    Much good cheer to you and yours as this year winds down.

  4. Merry Christmas. It’s a holiday meant for you. It even has your name right in the title! I have to tell you what my BEST gift under the tree was this morning. My husband bought me a genuine Chris Erskine hat and T shirt! I could not be more pleased to be a walking billboard for you! Best wishes to you and your wonderful family! Party on.

  5. You’ve done it again, Chris – writtten a story full of love, and despite its age, it manages to capture exactly what Christmas means to so many. Blessings on you (for your twinkling fingers on the keyboard) and all your lovely (soon-to-be-extended) family and friends. We wish you the merriest (and safest) of holidays, and a joyous new year full of wonderful reunions.
    P.S. Jack Smith (may he rest in peace) couldn’t hold a candle to your writing.

  6. Years ago, before a pre-lit artificial tree graced our Christmases, we cut down fresh from the tree farm trees. Prices had gone sky high and the our budget was lean. We headed to the tree farm and found an 8 footer for $10. It had a huge hole where it had been heavily damaged. No matter. It came home with us. Rather than turn the hole to the wall we packed it full of ornaments emphasized by circling it with extra lights. Wonderful memory and best Christmas tree ever!

  7. No one could craft words and music like. Rodgers and Hammerstein! Chris, you ,in one piece of prose,touch on every emotion that humans can have ! So as Dickens channeled through Tiny Tim, “God Bless us everyone!”P.S. Not only Jack Smith, but My Dad and I loved Jim Murray!

  8. Merry Christmas Chris….Thanks for all the wit, kind words, love and prose this year. May 2021 be a better year for everyone.

Leave a Reply