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Christmas, from the outside


Honestly, this is one of a very few songs you might classify as a Christmas carol that doesn't make me want to gut an elf. It's really a song about Christmas, and I wouldn't switch the radio station if it were on in July.

If you're celebrating today, happy Christmas. I've always preferred happy to merry; I think it has to do with what I perceive as solemn traditions like a fire in the fireplace and gathering around the piano to sing.

I start working soon. Whenever someone has to work on Christmas (or even Christmas Eve), I always try to be the first to volunteer. It might as well be the Jew working, right? When I worked for a weekly newspaper, I used to go in for a few hours on Christmas. It gave me time to clean my desk, get some features together and really accomplish something without the phone ringing, without the fax ringing, and without other people in the office.

This year, I'm working for a company that will have multiple deadlines throughout the day; there will be two of us on during the day. I expect, actually, that we'll have a small flurry of stuff to do when we start, and then the basketball games will come on at noon, then there will start to be photo galleries and entertainment stories and the news part won't pick up until people start leaving their family gatherings.

Last year, I worked Christmas night instead of during the day, and we went until almost 5 a.m., it got so busy late.

Anyway, if you want to know what Christmas is like to someone who really is a Christmas outsider – and to be clear, I'm marrying into a family with a secular Christmas tradition – here it is.

I don't really remember Christmases as a child. Yes, I understand that I got gifts on Chanukah because all the Jewish kids were jealous of all the Christian kids generations ago. I remember helping a family friend decorate her tree in early December. I remember watching snow outside the window, playing in the back yard for a little bit, and waiting to see if we got some Chinese food or if a pizza place opened later in the day.

I do remember Christmas with my family as I entered my 20s. We'd make sure we had a good selection from Blockbuster (remember renting videos? me neither) and a couple of six packs of beer, and we'd at least wait until breakfast digested before we started on the beer. Most of the time. Sometimes we'd grab a movie later in the day. You know, because theaters get fired up about the time people get sick of hanging out with their families.

These days, though I've had a few years as an adult spending Christmas with the families of significant others – next year, I get to call them my in-laws, I guess – I still feel like an observer to someone else's traditions. I'm not entirely comfortable with the language of the holiday, I don't have tradition to fall back on and incorporate into this new scene, the way you would need instruction if you came to a Passover seder at my house, even after a few years. The food would be strange the first year, something maybe you remembered the second year, and then it would become a once-a-year novelty that maybe you don't fully understand and still need to be reminded how to eat and what it's made of and why it exists. That's how I feel on Christmas.

Also, this. It's a holiday filled with pagan rituals, during which is celebrated the birthday of an actual human who was born months later. Apart from the tree and the cross, the main symbols are a stranger who breaks into your house and leaves you packages that would get airports evacuated by TSA agents, along with the mutant arctic animals that fly his fat ass around. Call me a Scrooge (who, by the way, came around, if you read the rest of the book) if you wish, but that is some creepy shit.

Do I get offended if you wish me a merry Christmas? No. Expect I won't have one – it doesn't mean the same thing to me that it does to you. But expect I'll only wish you a happy Christmas if I know you celebrate, because this year, for instance, happy Wednesday means more to me, because Wednesday has a different connotation to me.

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