A Hemingway-Inspired Christmas Story
If Ernest Hemingway wrote down his Christmas thoughts:
I write this at first light. Christmas morning. Damn Christmas. Oh, it’s not the festivity or ceaseless singing. It’s good. It’s fine.
Presents. Gifts. I’m compelled to shop but I prefer the term hunt. My prey is challenging. Staring at me. Mocking me. Daring me to exchange cash for whatever supposed joy it may impart the recipient. Damn joy. I release my debit card. The prey is captured. Later wrapped and lain in repose beneath the fir awaiting reception. Others have hunted too and expect appreciation from me, I suppose. Damn appreciation.
Time comes to release the captive items. Expected joy is expressed. I reciprocate sparking a smile. Maybe two. It doesn’t matter. I have participated. It’s good. It’s fine. One can’t complain when endowed with a new sweater’s warmth, or sustenance of a cheese log. Thanks is expressed and accepted. It’s a process and I submit. One may term it celebration. Some do. I submit, and drink. No, not that nasty nog. A zesty mojito or scotch and soda will do just fine. Several. Then, I celebrate.
There are children. Many. I observe their youthful mania while manipulating machines with batteries. It is not long before the batteries expire. I wish for children operating under the same power. Peace. Another mojito. More peace.
I am informed. In the days following the exchange of hunted items there are further expectations. Notes. Damn notes to express gratitude for procured items. I have already expressed such gratitude orally! It’s all overkill but I submit to allay matrimonial harangue. I sit and write. What is there to it? There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. If one could now find a typewriter I would gladly bleed rather than manipulate intangible characters that might disappear without warning.
Someone in my family. Perhaps a distant relative with little knowledge of my comportment reports the beginnings of a smile. I demur. It can’t be. Damn, I’m slipping. As if losing traction on Mt. Kilimanjaro, or being becalmed off the Cuban coast.
I retreat to examine the commodities bestowed on me and they were good. They were fine. I’m good. I’m fine. Very fine. Perhaps you are too. Damn season’s joy. Another mojito seals it. A new year awaits. The hunt renews.
Go ahead and wish me a “Merry Christmas.” I don’t mind. I’m not Christian but I’m OK if you want me to have a merry day on your holiday and share your joy. Of course I’ll then ask you not to mind if I wish you a “Happy Hanukkah” during the 8 days we celebrate our holiday. After all, why wouldn’t I hope everyone, of every faith, feel good about one of the best come-from-behind victories of all time as well as a miracle I doubt even David Copperfield could pull off, and transfer those good feelings to their own lives and experiences.
Of course, if you don’t want to play that game, when we’re not certain which holiday someone celebrates, or if we’re sure the other person doesn’t celebrate our holiday, why not spare each other the discomfort or embarrassment and use the greeting that best enunciates what we’re all hoping for each other, “Peace..and health.” Peace and health to you all. That should about cover everyone.
Holiday Turf War
It happens every few years. Christmas and Hanukkah occur at the same time leaving families like mine with the vexing issue of how much surface space to grant each holiday’s symbols.
At first blush, the Christmas tree has a built-in advantage being taller and broader than a menorah, unless, of course, one installs a traditional candelabra that’s roughly the size of street lamp. Such a flaming behemoth is possible, but if it’s anything like the street lamps in our community, there’s no chance they’d stay lit for 8 crazy night, or even a long weekend.
Christmas seems to require a lot of hanging stuff. There are ornaments and tinsel on the tree, wreaths on the front door and smaller ones on the walls. I’m guess one of the Three Wisemen worked for the power company, because who else would gin up a scheme to bump up their Christian customers‘ bills by finding a reason for them to burn up megawatts by hanging a billion little lights on one’s dwelling and tree.
At one time, as a Member of the Tribe, I took umbrage that Hanukkah was totally overshadowed by Christmas. As my Protestant wife constantly reminds me, “you keep telling me Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday, so stick a latke in it and relax.” Well, that’s totally true, but my riposte reminds her how the world goes bananas with over the top decorations, songs, sales, commercials and fruitcakes over a holiday celebrating the birth of a person in December that actually occurred in the summer. Apparently, this is done because who ever dreamed of a sunny Christmas? Indeed, celebrating Christmas when its triggering event really happened, would screw up a songbook full of odes to winter and snow and sleigh bells. Besides, Santa would have to change his mode of transportation to a Ski-doo, putting innocent reindeer out of work, in favor of a pod of grinning porpoises.
Hanukkah? It happens the same time every year on the Hebrew calendar on the days the defeat of the Maccabees and the miracle of one night’s worth of oil lasting 8 really happened. But since that calendar is based on the orbit of the moon around the Earth, the months are only 29 days and you add an entire month during leap years, so that’s why it seems to jump around our Gregorian calendars.
Getting back to the original premise, the holiday that’s celebrated months after the event it marks gets lots of stuff and is a major contributor to the bottom line of millions of businesses. Hanukkah, is celebrated when it really happened, but gets a candle holder and maybe those cardboard letters that spell out “Happy Hanukkah” you string across a window. Merchants selling said cardboard letters and boxes of candles make a few shekels on the day, as well as delis hawking potato pancakes
We do our best to give each holiday its proper due in our house. There’s no disputing Christmas, regardless of spiritual and commercial timeshift, is more demonstrative. Hanukkah, with its eight flaming sticks of wax, has a potential to be more destructive. Nevertheless, it make perfect sense for our menorah to live peacefully next to a Christmas symbol that, in another language, could very well be a landsman…you know..Tannenbaum. Nooooo?
The Frittered-away Fortnight Dilemma
When I left my desk Friday, it was the last time I’d do so in 2015. I made sure the wastebasket was emptied, coffee pot unplugged, piles of junk on my desk thinned to a few spare Post-it notes and the last crumbs from all the holiday cookies, cakes, brownies and peanut brittle deftly swept to the nether reaches of my 12×12 cell/office/workspace.
Now comes the hard part. What the hell do I do until I return in two weeks? Normal people relax. I could go on an actual vacation in a warm location where you spend your time broasting your epidermis under the sun and tip anyone who so much as looks at you. Who knows? Maybe they’ll bring you a Jack on the rocks. I understand you don’t have to tip a lifeguard who saves you from drowning, although I value that service more than the bellhop who expects a gratuity for grabbing you a cab that’s already just sitting around awaiting its next fare. Actually, that kind of vacation wouldn’t do me any good since I’d never sit still long enough to cook evenly.
I could spend the next two weeks binge watching old episodes of a TV show I missed, but then again why would I do that since I apparently didn’t think enough of the show to watch it when it originally aired. Oh, wait, I’m already doing that. Paste the big L on my forehead.
I’m not a member of Costco, otherwise I would graze there all day snarfing down free food samples and snarkily asking people who buy 150 rolls of toilet paper if they have control issues or are they aspiring to become town criers. I’m not sure an unfurled roll of Charmin would make an apt substitute for parchment..but if you have 150 rolls who the hell cares? They were a great deal.
One person suggested I volunteer for something. Well..that would defeat the purpose of the break if I exchanged doing paid work for un-compensated labor. Don’t get snippy. I support several charities from the comfort of my debit card.
My wife has a reasonable list of tasks for me to do which I will complete by turning this into a drinking game. Vacuum the house, drink a beer. Clean the bathrooms, sip a Jack. You see where I’m going with this.
I’m sure by the time I return to the office I’ll wish I had even more time to fritter away by doing things like contemplating which game shows offered the best parting gifts. I always liked the lifetime supply of Spam, which you could use as lunch, or to patch bicycle tires.
When someone asks what I did during the year-end holiday break I’ll puff my lips, shake my head, roll my eyes and complain that I was SO busy I wish I had two MORE weeks. I heard Costco was giving out free cocktail franks.