My wife’s father died before I ever met her. All the stories are that he was a mean s.o.b.

At Christmas he would come home from wherever he’d been for the previous few months and expect the family to be precisely in line with the Leave It to Beaver perfect Christmas image.

The rest of the family wasn’t perfect. Far from it. They kept on doing what they did when he wasn’t there. Lighting things on fire. Throwing their little sister down the stairs. Staying out to all hours of the night. Staying locked in the bedroom with several bottles of JD and a carton of cigarettes. Which made him angry and just that much meaner. Every year, so the story goes, the drama ended in a tirade ending with the declaration, “We will have a Merry Christmas, dammit!”

Now, whenever something doesn’t go right at Christmastime, or any time of year, and one or another of us is getting bent out of shape over the violation of imagined traditions, we tell each other, “Merry Christmas, dammit!”

Then we laugh.

Merry Christmas, dammit!