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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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