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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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You’d have to be a contortionist to take on all of the demands commercialism imposes upon people at Christmastime. This year, whittle away at all of the unholy crap until you’re left with what supports the most basic premise of the season: connection.

Huddling together against the cold, treating each other to gifts, bringing evergreens into the house to enjoy together, cooking special foods to share, making toasts, looking into a flickering fire and wondering what the new year will hold for all of you—these rituals predate Christianity by thousands of years. They still matter, and they always will.

Melville emphasized human interconnection in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale when he wrote, ‘A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.’ You can draw the same parallels between nineteenth-century sailors working waist-deep in whale blubber in the belly of a ship, occasionally, accidentally grabbing each other’s hands in the muck; tired, corporate-America soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder in the subway, singing a Christmas song and laughing; and standing fifteen deep in the checkout line at Nordstrom, a future Christmas gift draped over your arm, bloody hot in your Miss Sixty wool pea coat, wishing you’d had the sense to leave it in the car,* when the woman in front of you sees you only have one thing and lets you go ahead of her. Sometimes the frazzle of the season get distilled down in this way, to connection alone. When it does, it can stay with you, heartening you, for days.

You don’t necessarily have to seek out connection, though it’s kind of fun to do that. Just being open to it can drop you right into it. Some of my favorite and most genuine connections this year were surprises. They happened in the middle of an idle Facebook chat with a friend, or in a conversation backstage during a show as actors and stage techs swarmed past, or after eating big warming bowls of Vietnamese soup.

If, on the other hand, you’re inclined to seek out connection, give one of the below a try. I’ve road tested them all with great success; maybe you’ll have the same—or better.

1. Make a cake. An easy and yummy one. Like this. Share a warm, gooey piece with a family member, friend or obliging squirrel.

2. Serve at a soup kitchen, then cook dinner for yourself afterward. Whatever you make will taste better after you serve hungry people—I promise you.

3. Have a pal over for hot chocolate one morning and just dish. Leave your holiday stresses, work BS, ego, phone, everything, in the car. Laugh. Slurp. Goof off.

And so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.

-Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

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*My college boyfriend always left his coat in the car when he went Christmas shopping at the mall. He’d take it off, throw it in the backseat, and dash across the parking lot into the store. Then he was comfortable the whole time shopping while I sweated to death in my coat.

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Halloween was the one night a year when it felt as if kids ruled the world. And we did.

Below, a step-by-step description of what, to me, makes a perfect Halloween—and which is what I lived every year in the ’70s and into the ’80s.

Step 1: Be lucky enough to be raised in a small town—for example, Interlaken, NJ—that has 1000 residents, pretty much all of whom are extended family members, or are neighbors of extended family members, or go to school with you. Either way, they’re moms who work with your mom on the PTA and have your back. Your town will have hundred-year-old trees that grow together in the middle of the street just like Ray Bradbury described in the town of his youth, and which, despite a handful of streetlights, make the town inky black at night and heap it with fragrant leaves, rich and musky, to shuffle through.

It was Mayberry—and it still is, 30 years later.

Step 2: Choose your costume at the 5 & 10 one town over. It will be acrylic, make no mistake.

Three years old, across the street at the Boyds’ house.

Or, if you are seven and your two front baby teeth have recently come out and you look three-quarters of the way to a jack o’lantern as it is, your mom might be inspired to put you in the pumpkin costume she sewed for your little sister a few years back, stuff it with bunched-up newspaper, and draw triangles around your eyes and nose and an exaggerated smile around your mouth with black eyeliner. Hypothetically speaking.

Step 3: After school, your mom sends you and your brother and sister outside to play because you’re too hopped up to be inside. You meet your friends to go trick-or-treating after dinner. Unless you’re five, you don’t go out before dark. We lived in a safe town and helicopter parents then were few. My mom had just one rule: Don’t cross Westra. (That was the one moderately busy street in our town.) The rest of the town was fair game. Once you were old enough to go trick-or-treating alone with your friends, you did—and your parents did not fret, fuss, insist on coming along in their own costumes, tell you not to eat the candy you got, make you wait to eat any until you got home so they could check it for tampering, or text you incessantly—because, saints be praised, it hadn’t been invented yet.

Pendant of candy corn encased in Lucite, circa 1973. Yes, I do still wear it.

Step 4: You stop at every house with a porch light on. You make a point to stop at the Maguras’, because Mrs. Magura makes homemade popcorn balls, and Mrs. Panes’s house, because her family owns Criterion Candies on the Asbury boardwalk, and she always gives out gorgeous candy apples. And you stop at your cousins’ because your aunt gives out the yummiest candy and the most generous handfuls. When you pass other friends on the sidewalk, you stop and brag about how much more candy you have than they have, and then you tell each other which houses have the good stuff and which have the raisins. When you’re in the mood for candy, you eat it. When you’re full, you still eat it. Because you and your friends don’t eat like this on a regular basis. It’s one night a year. It’s okay.

Card from Auntie Phyllis, circa 1977. Each of us kids got our own Halloween card.

Step 5: Once your candy bag starts getting too heavy and a thick layer of leaves has attached itself to the hem of your acrylic dress, you say goodbye to your friends. You don’t walk home, but to your other aunts’ house, where your parents and your aunts and uncles are gathered around the dining room table. After a certain point that night, they stop handing out candy to neighborhood kids, turn off their porch lights and head over to relax together with coffee and apple cider and cinnamon-sugar apple cider doughnuts. It is always the same cider and doughnuts from the same place, Delicious Orchards, because nothing—to this very day—beats them for quality. We grew up on this cider, which is unpasteurized, murky and intensely flavored (and may be why none of us has allergies) and the doughnuts are crackly and delicately crumbed.

Cider doughnuts from Delicious Orchards, on one of my beloved aunt’s dessert dishes. Worth clicking to see it bigger. Seriously.

Step 6: Go home and dump all of your candy on the living room rug, making stacks for each variety and counting how many you have of each. This was a time when there were not many ‘fun sizes’ except maybe for Milk Duds, which came in tiny boxes and you got three to a box, and Hershey Miniatures. Most other candy came in full size—big Krackels, big Charleston Chews, big Chunky bars.

Give your sister all of the Snickers and Baby Ruths because you hate peanuts and she likes them, and she will give you all of her Reese’s peanut butter cups (because you do like peanut butter and she hates that). Your dad roots around for the Mounds bars and Hershey Special Darks, which is fine because you also hate coconut and dark chocolate. (What was I thinking?) Milky Ways, Skor Bars, Rolos, Whatchamacallits and $100,000 bars (their real name) get place of privilege. Mary Janes—these you and your sister and brother throw at each other just because they’re weird, always smushed, and aren’t chocolate. If it’s not going to be chocolate, at least have the decency to be Chuckles, those luscious half-dollar sized gumdrops, or Twizzlers.

Small ceramic witch I received when I was very young. My sister has a blonde one, with a pumpkin instead of a cat.

Step 7: Eat some more. Your mom does not rush you off to bed because you go to Catholic school and tomorrow, November 1, is All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ is the result of Christianity trying to co-op the pagan holiday and is kind of a weasel move, but I’m not about to quibble with a day off, especially the day after Halloween. You put all of your candy back into your candy bag. And finally you head to bed.

I bought some Mary Janes this year just to taste them, since I never had before. They’re peanut butter-molasses chews, and I was underwhelmed. I don’t know why I was expecting a miracle. Did that stop me from sticking the rest into two envelopes and mailing them to my brother and sister? It did not.

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