James was at the bar getting a round of drinks for their annual after Christmas-party unwind. He watched as Ed yawned, Alice checked her phone and Carrie smiled at everyone. How many years had they all been together playing out just that scene? And was this the last one? Alice's husband Eric had an offer from a company that was based out of Chicago. If he took the job they would be moving on. One more Christmas tradition over.
Ed took his drink as James came back to the table, "Why so glum, chum? Did you get stuck introducing yourself to Mrs. Patterson over and over again?"
"No, just the once this year. And she almost got my name right. Almost."
Carrie laughed, "She means well. And you know she has to hate these parties. She doesn't know us, she doesn't work with us. She doesn't ever stop by the office except for the party, it must be a really long night for her as well."
"Ah, our little Christmas Angel spreading her good tidings. It's so lovely. Now pass me my drink so I can have one last toast to calm before Christmas Eve with my mother. The guilt over Eric's interview is thick. You would think Chicago was Mars for how much she is complaining."
"Okay, so back to my question, why are you looking so down? It's Christmas merry, merry, and all that jazz."
"Honestly? I'm just not a fan of Christmas. Never have been."
Carrie looked shocked, "Seriously? How did I not know this?"
"Well, one, you love it enough for everyone and two it's not something that is really socially acceptable to own up to. People call you a Grinch or bah humbug you and then laugh it off like you must really be joking, but I'm not. If I had my way I would skip from Thanksgiving right to New Year's Eve without anything in between."
Alice reached out and patted James' hand, "Bah humbug, you old Grinch."
The friends all laughed.
"I'm not the only one you know. Look at Christmas music. At least half of it is horribly sad melancholy stuff. And Christmas movies? Someone is always miserable!"
"But when you were a kid you loved it right?" Carrie asked.
"Not really. I sort of think we all wish our childhood Christmases were as fabulous as the ones we saw on TV. Well except for Miss "I met Santa" your's tops that. But for the most part it was a lot of build up, a whir of activity and then a let down. So much hype for ten minutes of frenzy. Then a half hour before the first gift broke. And a few hours after that the first drunken family fight of the party.
And as an adult you can't just say, I hate Christmas, for fear of the vapid Barbie and Ken dolls from Fox and Friends swooping down on you with garland and wrapping paper and forcing you to admit you LOVE Christmas."
"Enhanced Decoration..." Ed deadpanned.
Alice laughed, "Can you just imagine? We will light you up! And then they actually string little twinkle lights on you?" She laughed again, "Okay, I might be a little drunk..."
"I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that suicide rates skyrocket in December." Ed started before Carrie cut him off.
"That's actually a myth, they are highest in the spring not in December, but..." Carrie realized she was about to Wikipedia her friends, "Well, anyway, it's a myth."
"Okay, but even without that lovely little bonus, it's still awful for a lot of people. People who have lost family members or don't live near them. The money you spend. The pressure to make a perfect holiday. You get a sweet spot when you are a kid, if you are lucky, where you aren't responsible for any of it happening, but then once you are an adult you are either nostalgic for when you were a kid, or trying to create some sort of impossible Hallmark Christmas for your kids. It's just not that great. And like I said, I think most of us are nostalgic for something that never even really happened."
"Saudade." Carrie said.
"Bless you." Alice giggled again.
"It's a Portuguese word. It's not really translatable but that's what it sort of means. Being nostalgic for something that never happened." Carrie held her hands up in an 'I give up' gesture. It wasn't her fault she knew all of these random things. Years spent in libraries when she was growing up. Free books and someplace to stay warm and dry to hang out when she and her mother were on their own and Mom was at work. Spending time alone at the halfway house was just depressing.
Ed leaned back, "Okay so we have a true believer, a non-believer, and me and Alice. Where do you stand on the subject, my dear?"
Alice looked around the table, "I like it. I don't love it. And James' is right. The music can be super depressing, like even songs you think are supposed to be happy aren't. I'll Be Home for Christmas is all about how she won't be home at all. And then there are the sappy stories people tell just to get you to cry, angels on the side of the road and stuff.
But I love a twinkle light. And Eric is fabulous at gifts. And, well, if he takes this job we have decided that it's time to start our own family. And I would be lying if I didn't say the thought of seeing Christmas through my child's eyes didn't get me a little misty."
"Yeah, but you are a little drunk." James laughed.
"True. And holy shit, if I get pregnant this could be my last Christmas with drinks for awhile. Now I need to think about this again." Alice smiled and put her hand on her stomach, "Can you even imagine me as a mother?"
Carrie nodded, "Yeah, I totally can. Though I'm going to be more than a little pissed that you are living so far away when it happens. I might have to join your mother tomorrow with the guilt. I'm really going to miss you if you move." Carrie wiped a little tear away, "Okay, maybe I'm a little drunk too." Alice reached out and squeezed Carrie's hand.
James pointed out the friends each in turn, "Okay, true believer, non-believer, wants to be a believer and you?"
"I've been a little of all of it. When I was in college I dated this girl who loved Christmas. Like Carrie levels of love. We went out and did everything. The lights, the caroling in the park, Christmas plays, everything the city had to offer we did. Then she went home for break and I went home for break and she got back together with her ex-boyfriend, mistletoe you know, who could resist. So I spent a few years just hating the holiday. Everything made me think about her and how pissed and hurt I was. After awhile the specific hate of the holiday faded but I never could say I liked it.
Then a few years ago I started work at this company that had the world's worst Christmas parties. I mean truly bad. Cheap booze, the owner's wife drunk and condescending, everybody just dying to get out of there but staying because they had to and then a co-worker invited me out for drinks afterwards. I almost said no but figured why not, it really couldn't be worse than the party. And it was the best part of my day. Maybe my whole holiday season. It was relaxed and funny and the booze was better. It was just a great night. And ever since then I've sort of made my peace with the holiday. It's all about friends sitting around sharing their world. A little island of calm in a storm of tinsel. So I kind of love it now."
"Aww...." the other three said in unison.
"So if you'll excuse me I really need to meet up with those guys..."
Alice threw her napkin at Ed, "Snot!"
Alice's phone buzzed, "Oh there's my ride. Thank goodness for sober husbands! Merry Christmas, everyone! See you next week!"
The friends all made their goodbyes and headed for home. James was thinking maybe Ed was right, maybe he just needed to look at the holiday a little differently. It could be enjoyable. It didn't have to be a pocket of misery dressed up with a bow. His cab pulled up to the corner and he slid in to the back seat and then he heard Judy...
"...Someday soon, we all will be together...If the fates allow... Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow... So have yourself a merry little Christmas now."
He laughed so loudly his cabby thought he picked up a crazy man.