An Assignment for You This Christmas

Last night, after a good dinner, our reassembled-for-Christmas family sat down to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Unless you are from Afghanistan, you’ve probably seen it. It stars Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a bumbling dad, nostalgic with holiday spirit and hoping to create “the best Christmas ever.” His character is really idiotic, but I couldn’t deny the apparent: He was just like me!

Christmas time has the same effect on me. It makes me sentimental about what sentiment is best spent on: friends and family.

The Mastersons have a very traditional Christmas. Our house and front lawn are lit up — not as brightly as the Griswold’s, but bright enough. Inside, we’ve got all the classic decorations, the garlands and Santas, and a real Christmas tree. Above the fireplace, stockings are hung. And we have not just one but two enormously impressive miniature Christmas villages (planned and erected this year by Number Three Son, home from college a week ago).

Christmas morning begins with a big breakfast, complete with Champagne cocktails and Christmas music. Afterward, my brother and K’s brother come by with their families and we sit around the tree and exchange presents. This was always the highlight of the day when the kids were small, and it’s still a lot of fun. Of course, it’s an enormous production with a sinful amount of wrapping paper and cardboard boxes destroyed in no time at all.

During the day, friends and family come by and more presents are opened, more thank-yous said, and more kisses given. Eggnog will be abundant. Bloody Marys too. At about 5 p.m., we will be serving dinner to the 40 or so people who will be milling around the house by then. The gathering will be very diverse, as they say these days. We are proud to have in our circle of family and friends Ecuadorians, Peruvians, French, Jamaicans, Polish, and African Americans; Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.

I’ll be in great form, smoking my cigar and serving drinks. K will do the hard work, getting all the food on the table. She will be helped by various friends and family members. Meanwhile, most of the men will be talking and drinking, oblivious to the work that is being done.

At dusk, we’ll light the lights outside, light the candles inside, and continue to enjoy one another’s company as long as we can keep our eyes open.

Late tonight — probably much too late — I will fall asleep counting my many blessings.

I hope you do the same.

A Little Christmas Assignment for You…

Sometime this weekend, I’ll find an hour to review what I did in 2010 and think about what I want to do in 2011.

This is something you might want to do too.

I begin by reviewing my yearly goals. If I’ve been good this year, I’ll be rewarded by seeing that most of them have been accomplished or at least partially accomplished. Since I review my goals monthly, I’ve already got a pretty good idea of my accomplishments this year. I know that my main financial goal — helping one of my clients turn his business around — was achieved. And I wrote and published two books. And I got my movie distributed. All of that makes me feel good.

But I’ll also take some time to think about what I didn’t get done and what I want to accomplish next year. I try to limit myself to a dozen main objectives each year, but I often can’t stop myself from adding more . Last year, I wound up with more than 30. Not a bad thing, because it gets — and keeps — me motivated.

I’ll also spend some time reviewing my contact file to remind myself of all the people I do business with, all the new people I’ve met, and all the friends I have. I make a list of everyone I should get in touch with in the new year, and I write to those people during the first week of January.

Those in Need

If you are thinking about giving beyond the traditional Christmas circle this year, you might consider “adopting” a niece or nephew. For as little as $25 a month, you can change a child’s life and improve his/her future prospects. The link below describes a new program based at the clinic I support at Rancho Santana in Nicaragua, where I have a second home. Julia Guth, executive director of the Oxford Club, started the clinic to help these very poor village people get basic medical attention.

In Nicaragua, people don’t expect the government to take care of them. At least, the people in our little town don’t feel that way. They are grateful for the jobs they have gotten and the medical help they’ve been given… and now, they are grateful for the help this new program will give to their children.

Ode to Joy

A video has been making the rounds on my e-mail list that, in the spirit of the season, I feel I must share with you today. As the friend who first sent it to me said, “Don’t you wish you still had this?”

Check it out here and enjoy.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]