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It was a mellow Christmas season for parties -- for me. That was good, considering I was sick for almost two weeks around that time. There was a bris I found out about, but the idea of going to celebrate a baby being circumcised isn't my idea of a party. I cringe even thinking about it. I do laugh thinking about the story where a man sued his mom for having that done to him as a baby.

A woman named Anne called to invite me to her Christmas Eve party. She told me her father was Portuguese and her mom was Samoan, and they combine both traditions when they celebrate and party on Christmas Eve.

Earlier that day, I met a girl named Corinna who was from Germany. I asked her about their traditions on Christmas. She said, "Our entire celebration is on Christmas Eve. Our parents would lock the living room or another room in the house. The kids were in their rooms, and they decorate the tree at that time and set the presents out. In Germany, it's tradition to have a bell that you ring. When it is rung, we can come out of our rooms. We are told that it's the Christ Child who decorated the tree and left the presents. We sing songs and open gifts at that time. Sometimes a child is asked to say a poem. If there is a piano in the house, someone will play that during the carols. We have a big meal, and then families attend midnight Mass. This all happens the day before Christmas, though."

I loved the idea of the bell. Talk about creating a Pavlovian response in children.

I asked her more about Germany. Corinna said, "The most famous market is in Nuremberg. You can buy everything there -- decorations, candles, gingerbread, trees, and all the presents. The kids are told that Christ Child shops here, in case they see a gift they end up getting. The children also send letters to Christ Child or Santa, just like in America. We have some of the same foods we eat during the holidays, but we also have stollen, stuten, hutzelbrot, ginger nuts, marzipan, roast apples, and rum grog."

Ah, sounds delicious...I think.

She ended by telling me, "In Germany, it has moved away from being such a religious holiday. It is more about the time with your family."

I showed up at Anne's brother's place in Point Loma. She told me a lot of the Portuguese tuna fishermen live in this area. Her father is a retired fisherman, but she has a brother in the business. She's writing a book about tuna fishermen. I was just thankful she didn't spend her time at the party telling me all about the book. So often at parties people tell me of a novel, CD, or screenplay they are working on. Sometimes it's interesting, but when people spend an hour telling you details of something that you didn't care about to begin with, you can start to nod off. (Thanks for not doing that, Anne; can't wait for the book.)

The smells from the kitchen were incredible. They were making lasagna, but the smell of the garlic bread and other treats was wonderful. A lot of children were running around, and one lady had the perfect idea. She handed out fun pads (miniature coloring books with puzzles inside) to all the children. That kept 'em busy for about 20 minutes.

It also reminded me of a time when I was five. My mom took my brother and me to see Santa Claus. When my brother sat on Santa's lap, he was given a fun pad and a watch. I was so excited to receive these, I jumped on his lap. And when I was done rattling off the toys I wanted, Santa handed me a fun pad and a toy race car. I asked for a watch and he said, "I just ran out of those." I started to cry and continued sobbing all the way home. My mom said, "Stop being a baby." And my brother, in one of his kinder moments as a big bro, grabbed the race car and said, "Look how cool this is! It has a number on the side, and I bet it can go fast." Through my tears, I wanted to scream, "But it can't tell time, damn it!" Ah, writing this column, it's cheaper than seeing a shrink.

Anne has a brother who is a singer-songwriter. We were talking about his music, and an older woman overheard this. She told me her son was a musician and writer. "He wrote the liner notes for many popular CDs. And he cowrote [San Diegan] Frankie Laine's autobiography."

People at this party were speaking many different languages. Anne's mom was talking to me, at one point, about the importance of pronouncing people's names properly. I was telling her that I find it annoying when somebody is named "Andrea" but she asks that you pronounce it "On-dray-ah." It seems to me that if your name is spelled the way it's usually spelled but you have some funky pronunciation, you seem silly if you are correcting everyone at a party. They really don't care, and it will make them feel uncomfortable for mispronouncing it. Maybe I'll ask Saffron the etiquette behind that.

A tall, good-looking guy named Mark showed up. His mom works with Anne, and Anne joked about trying to seduce him. He was a tow-truck driver in his early 30s. When Anne told him I was doing a story and that he should do something crazy like get naked, he said, "Like I always do?"

The first thing Mark said to me was that he had towed his old girlfriend's car the other day. I immediately thought of the Harry Chapin song where he drives a taxi and picks up an old girlfriend who is now rich and is tipped $20. As I was waiting for him to say how humiliating it was to have an old girlfriend see him towing cars, he told me, "She's ruined every car she's owned." He then told me he and his buddies would fix the cars up a bit, doing a lot of welding, and have rally races in the desert. "You don't care if you roll a car doing 90 if it's a piece of junk. It's so fun. We have to work on them. People often give me their junky cars, but most times they go straight to the junkyard."

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