I’m the last person who should be writing a guest post about Christmas. I’ve long considered the Yuletide holiday season to be a dark, dreary, depressing slog. Maybe it’s because all my most vivid Christmas memories involve illness, hospitals, and dying relatives. But I’m nothing if not resourceful, and I resolved a long time ago not to bring others down with me. And so I thought I’d pass along my personal prescription for holiday happiness.
As a remedy for melancholia, I’ve found that two cures work best. The first is music.For years, I searched around for a Christmas song I could call my own, before settling on “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” by Jim Croce. On its face, it’s a bittersweet ballad about a man who tries to win back his his ex-lover by visiting her home on Christmas Eve. Shortly after recording it, however, Croce was killed in a fiery plane crash. As a result, the lyrics took on a creepy, Pet Sematary-esque subtext. “I’ll be dropping by today,” the doomed singer/songwriter croons in his eerie, Muppet-like tenor. The thought of Zombie Jim Croce popping over for Christmas dinner appealed to my morbid, Germanic side. I soon discovered there was a world of depressing Christmas songs out there, just waiting for me. Many of them are collected on my personal holiday playlist, which you can access here: http://bit.ly/ssOgqS
Along with enough minor key music to drive a Quaker to suicide, the other key to a successful Christmas is alcohol—and lots of it. Start drinking as soon as you flip the calendar to December. You’ll wake up and realize it’s Martin Luther King Day before you know what hit you. You must be prepared to live with the consequences of overindulgence, of course. As a young man, I once put a butterfly knife through my hand while drunkenly attempting to open a Christmas present from one of my grade school chums—an event captured in photograph here:
Lucky for me, the man on the right was a medical student who later went on to serve with distinction as a U.S. Army doctor in Iraq. Unlucky for me, he was zonked out on Zima at the time and could not—or would not—stanch my bleeding. I ended up spending Christmas morning in the emergency room and received many, many Christmas stitches. I still have a scar on my hand to this day. I still have the knife too. But that’s a whole other story.
All of which is but a throat-clearing prelude to what was supposed to be a post about holiday cocktail suggestions. I have three I’d like to share with you. All of them come from my recent book Old Man Drinks: Recipes, Advice, and Barstool Wisdom, available wherever fine books are sold. Each is a perfectly acceptable alternative to egg nog which, let’s be frank, is pretty frigging revolting when made in the traditional fashion.
I’ll start with my mother’s favorite drink, the Rusty Nail. If memory serves, this was the first cocktail I ever drank, and while I’ve never been a huge fan of Scotch, it’s still a hardy wintertime perennial thanks to the mellowing presence of Drambuie. For the uninitiated, Drambuie is a whiskey-based liquer that is often lauded for its “honeyed sweetness.” But don’t let that fool you. Sipping one of these is like taking a blow from the business end of a hammer. You know how they say some drinks will put hair on your chest? This one could give you tetanus. Scottish bartenders used to literally stir it with a rusty nail, the better to sicken their obnoxious American customers. You’d best stick with a plastic stirrer and let the alcohol do the sickmaking.
2 ounces of Scotch
1 ounce of Drambuie
Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice cubes. Pour in the Scotch, then gently add the Drambuie.
Next up is a Tom & Jerry. Once upon a time, this drink was as ubiquitous as egg nog on Christmas Eve. (Damon Runyon once wrote that it was “so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry.”) Then the spirit of Scrooge took over, and people became unduly squeamish about putting raw eggs in their cocktails. Overnight, it seemed, the T&J went the way of the holiday fruitcake, never to be spoken of again. Put a little old school back in your Yuletide celebration by reviving this drink, which was first concocted by British sportswriter Pierce Egan, and named after two characters from his 1821 novel Life in London.
1 ounce of dark rum
1 whole egg white
1 whole egg yolk
1 teaspoon of sugar
Dash of brandyNutmeg
Beat the sugar into the egg yolk, add the rum and incorporate the egg white. Transfer into a coffee mug and fill with boiling water. Add the brandy and garnish with grated nutmeg.
Finally, there’s my personal favorite cold weather cocktail, the Hot Toddy. A piping hot mug of this stuff will cure what ails you. In fact, the hot toddy has long been considered a crackerjack cold and flu remedy—despite the American Medical Association’s recommendations to the contrary. But hey, what do a bunch of egghead doctors know? I know that when I drink this on a cold winter’s night, I feel better immediately. Besides, if alcohol didn’t have some health benefit, they wouldn’t put it in cough medicine, right? Rum would be a traditional spirit to use during the Christmas season, though bourbon or amaretto works just as well. Cloves, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg are all traditional add-ins as well.
1 ounce of rum
1 ounce of honey
1 ounce of lemon juice
Combine the first three ingredients in a mug. Pour in enough boiling water to fill and stir with a cinnamon stick. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
So there you have it: three drinks and a playlist that I’ve found to be surefire cures for the holiday blues. May they bring you the peace you seek—or at least render you incapable of doing harm to others. As-Salamu Alaykum, y’all!
Robert Schnakenberg is “America’s Most Beloved Author and Raconteur.” His books include Old Man Drinks and The Underground Football Encyclopedia. Visit his website at www.robertschnakenberg.com.