Not being a Christian, it stands to reason that I don’t celebrate Christmas. The holiday in itself does not annoy me. The Christmas carols in themselves are kind of cool. It’s nice to have holidays that one celebrates with others of a like mind, with friends and family, doing traditional things whether they be religious or familial in origin. But Christmas is bigger than these things. Christmas, dear friends, is a machine. This is not a new observation. You’ve all see the garish red and green festooning the signs in stores advertising HUGE HOLIDAY SAVINGS!!!! BUY NOW!!!! You’ve heard the same songs on endless loop since November. You may or may not, depending on your own religious (or non-religious) leanings, have had that same argument with the cashier at the grocery: “Merry Christmas!”
“No, I said Merry Christmas!”
And then you inch carefully toward the door, fearing to upset the cashier or provoke more venom.
When I realized that I had finally gotten sick of my favorite holiday music, the Nutcracker Suite, I knew then that I had had enough. That is part of the reason I fled to New York. Don’t laugh. I avoided Manhattan like it was a horse plop in the road, and instead settled myself into a friend’s apartment (oh, glorious north eastern cast iron radiators!) in the middle of a Jewish neighborhood.
In an Orthodox neighborhood, I didn’t fit. There were many little rituals with which I was unfamiliar that I watched the people around me take for granted. It is a sweet luxury to be part of the norm. The fact that I didn’t observe them marked me an outsider right away. There is a pattern to life there, like a dance, and I didn’t know the steps. It was nice, though, to be watching a different dance.
I woke up Christmas morning and, for the first time in my life, did not remember it was Christmas. A call from my grandmother was the only thing to remind me of the date, and my family’s well-meaning choruses of “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.” But I forgot it was Christmas. I forgot. All the neighborhood shops were open, no mention of the day, no silly plastic decorations in red and green. I went to a party that night, and none of the attendees celebrated Christmas.
The nicest part of the whole day was spending the bulk of it in a small neighborhood café, lingering over good coffee and even better conversation. I almost escaped the long arm of Christmas. Sadly, even there, leaning over my breve, I was subjected to the piped-in horror of elevator versions of my least favorite Christmas music.