'The Jolliest Bunch: Unhinged Holiday Stories'

"The Jolliest Bunch: Unhinged Holiday Stories" by Danny Pellegrino.

It's a hard choice to make. When someone asks you about your favorite holiday, you have to think.

Do you pick a spring holiday with bunnies, hearts, or leprechauns? Or something grand with parades and flags? Then again, stuffing yourself with stuffing is pretty awesome and that whole Santa-reindeer-elf bit is pretty appealing. Do you have a favorite holiday or, as in "The Jolliest Bunch" by Danny Pellegrino, do you just pick them all?

We've all had 'em: legendary stories attached to holidays that are best forgotten – for at least a little while, until they become family lore. Take, for instance, the various stories Pellegrino tells, beginning with a shout-out to his mother, Linda.

Linda, controller of all holidays, who invites the family over for Christmas Eve at 6 o'clock and then, like clockwork, freaks out at 5:10 "for approximately forty-nine minutes." Linda, who rents chairs for the holiday from a local funeral home. Linda, who once fashioned a passable angel costume from a woman's white shirt.

For a holiday we love, we'll do almost anything to be home with family, including taking a cross-country ride with a half-drunk driver who's on her way to see a former lover with six kids. For a holiday we love, we hold onto Christmas Past by welcoming gay ghosts into our lives. We work retail and endure the same eight holiday songs on every store speaker, then go home and watch the same four holiday specials on TV. We hope we get the gift we didn't ask for. We celebrate with family and friends,"and sometimes we're surrounded by people we don't like all that much."

And then there are the traditions and the things that make the holiday a holiday: a string of beloved lights that a childhood pet nearly destroyed. Cookie cutters in the shape of the south end of a cat. Enjoying "Midwest comfort foods... that are incredibly delectable and anything but healthy." Knowing that you've wrapped the 100% exact right gift for someone you adore, but also knowing "that even the most special presents are not as important as how you make them feel."

So, here's the brilliance of "The Jolliest Bunch": no matter who you are, man or woman, gay or straight, author Danny Pellegrino has a universal memory to share that's hilariously close to something you've experienced. Awkward relatives, check. Meals gone wrong, check. The gift you wanted more than anything, check. Bad holidays at a stranger's house, yep. Decorations that are older than you are, uh-huh. It's like he was at that same get-together.

This may make you cringe, but you'll also laugh because Pellegrino is a funny writer with a keen eye for a great (and relatable) story. Just beware, though: holidays also bring out nostalgia, longing, missing, and regrets, so watch your heart.

In his introduction, Pellegrino says this book is for holiday haters as well as for those who start singing Christmas carols in August. That means "The Jolliest Bunch" is for you, and reading it's an easy choice to make.

"The Jolliest Bunch: Unhinged Holiday Stories" by Danny Pellegrino

c. 2023, Sourcebooks $27.99 239 pages


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