Hello, I will be your local unabashed Christmas elf for today, the second day of Yulevent. I love these holidays. I’m as enthusiastic as you can get without running afoul of the Christmas Sweater Mafia for not paying dues. I mean, I will kvetch with the grinches over the manic commercialism, the competing obligations, the gluttonous expanding waistline, the duochromatic obsession with red and green, but let’s be honest. Anyone who knows me well knows that my two favorite things are good food and great friends and for those two blessings, ’tis indeed the season.
Here in the States, we’re graced with the bounties of the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November, and although its origins are, um, a little culturally problematic as the kids these days like to say, it cannot be denied that one of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it holds the tidal wave of Christmas mania at bay, exactly where it belong: in the month of December. I have heard tell stories that in the UK, with no natural barrier reef of football and turkey and pumpkin pie, Marks and Spencer has been known to show telltale signs of the Christmas Pox as early as September?! Woe betide us all. Christmas joy is like a lump of Trinitite burning a hole in your pocket. Just a little and you’re surrounded in the warm sparkling glow of its magic. Three months and suddenly you’re radioactive.
You may ask, where does the tiny infant Christ, of his eponymous holiday, fit into my monthlong joyfest? Eh. I carry not a single whit of religious observation through the holiday; for me and my family, it has only ever been a “don’t mind if I do!” appropriation of the parts we love best. If it’s alright with you, I will leave the hand-wringing over whether it’s really Christmas with just the -mas to those more theologically inclined than myself. I’m too busy making every weekend into my very own Richard Curtis movie, and you’re welcome to join me when you’re done arguing! I probably just made a quiche.
And yeah, the rampant commercialism and covetousness gets old. I think presents are lovely, don’t get me wrong. Like Karen before me, I have a well-curated Amazon wish list that my family ravages every year without so much as an ounce of subterfuge. But I get just as much enjoyment from making a spectacular choice for my impossible-to-shop-for mother, and I relish finding great gifts for my in-laws, particularly since we are so rarely celebrating in person. The presents are the mode of conveyance for the joy. The joy is the thing.
Even better than the presents are the parties. Entertaining wonderful friends and cooking an impossibly elaborate feast (in a sprawling open-plan kitchen, like I’m goddamned Meryl Streep or something) is what I live for, it’s what I dream about, it’s what makes up my core molecules along with a bunch of French poets, young adult fantasy novels, and an obsession for metadata. Heck, I used to make an annual mix CD with my favorite holiday songs and just give them away at our parties. It was called Not So Faithful: Songs for Festive Heathens. That about sums me up.
In fact, while I love throwing a holiday party, I think any kind of party in December is a holiday party. We just had two friends, and their absurdly adorable toddler, over for brunch this Saturday. It wasn’t even December yet and it was still a holiday for me because I got to roll out pie crust while drinking coffee, assemble an elaborate quiche and roast some tiny rosemary-tossed potatoes, and make pomegranate mimosas. You literally can’t be a grinch if you’re holding a ruby-red glass of bubbly and it’s not even noon, that’s just science.
But I know what the best part is. It’s the weird quirks of your own family’s traditions, and how deeply those shape and inform you. For instance, ahem, I am not known for my patience in this life. Since childhood, I started to form words and questions and demands, and make dimples and Bambi eyes in order to get these demands met. When I was ten or eleven and my delight in the Santa myth had been allowed to naturally ebb away, my dad exasperatingly gave in to my pleading (and my mother’s egging-on) that we open just one present at midnight on Christmas Eve. By the time I was in my early twenties, my family was opening the presents in a pleasant and leisurely wine-fueled binge starting at about 9:30pm the night before. Oh yes. We were those people. And do you know what we loved the most? Sleeping in the next day.
After my dad died, so close to Christmas in 2009, it was an uphill battle to find that joy again. The next year, I shopped for presents and went to holiday parties like a bad copy of myself, with a lump of coal where my heart normally was. The holidays since then have been a hodge-podge of finding new traditions and recognizing that the old ones are still cozy but not exactly the same. Last year Stuart and I put up a tree again for the first time, and I sat in the dark with just the twinkling lights, drinking a glass of wine and marveling at this very silly, but surprisingly deep, holiday. It’s only about the presents if you skim lightly across the surface, which is fine. But I think there’s a lot of joy still to be found in these long wintry nights, no matter what you call them.