To start with, I don't mind Christmas songs. I gather that hating them is a requirement, one that ranks a notch below buying presents and/or deploring commercialism. But I like pretty tunes, I can't help it, and Christmastime has a lot of them. Back when I listened to my town's light rock station, I got a kick out of December rolling around. Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing “Little Drummer Boy.” That famine song, “Do They Know It's Christmas?” And “Silent Night” and “Silver Bells” and “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Not “White Christmas,” because that one is a snooze, but if it were good I'd like it fine. I really don't mind if a culturally sanctioned classic gets rammed down everybody's throat every year forever. Some nice songs fall into that category (see above).
The Christmas decorations you see everyplace don't bother me either. Maybe that's because I don't run into them all that much. Normally I go from my apartment to the yoga studio, a four-minute walk, and then back to my apartment. Not a lot of decorations along the way. In the afternoon I'll walk the seven minutes necessary to get me somewhere that has beer and junk food. At that point I do see decorations, since my neighborhood's main drag is decked out by the local government. But the decorations look nice: understated, inventive. I live among foreigners and maybe they know how to do these things. No, that's not the whole answer. Back in New York, the decorations never got on my nerves. I have no particular rationale for accepting them, no guff about the communal spirit of joy finding expression however it can. I don't mind wreaths or things that look like wreaths, or red-and-white plastic representation of fat bearded men. We live in a world where these things appear at a certain time, hang about, and then go away. I have never questioned that and I take no responsibility for it. If everybody decided to stop, I'd be surprised but not alarmed.
What I like about Christmas is this: the tree my mom picks out always looks nice, sometimes I get things that I want, sometime people like things that I buy them, and it's always a change to spend a few hours watching people open presents. That's something I don't do any other time of the year, and it breaks up the monotony. But if you're old, actually getting presents doesn't matter so much. The thrill of Christmas is the belief that good stuff dumped beneath a tree will demonstrate that life is worth living. Who can fall for that past age 12? Once you have collected some nice items and measured how much good they did you, you have to shift your sights higher. You have to start dreaming about a new body or new career or new personality—those would make a difference. Maybe. But the stuff under the tree is small time. You know that.
My nephews are teenagers now, so there's no thrill in seeing them acquire new stuff, and I can't remember the last Christmas gift I really liked. Wait, I do. It was Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson by Marshall Frady. My mother gave it to me for Christmas 1996 because I'd told her a quote I'd read in which Jackson talked about Ronald Reagan and leadership. (“He made history that all those little wannabe Kissingers in the future will spend their working lives analyzing.”) I really liked that book, and a few years ago I got an iPod that comes in very handy. If I'm crafty, I can offload big-ticket needs onto my family and pay them off with socks or houseplants. But who wants to be crafty with their family? I'd rather pay for my stuff out of my pocket and skip the rest, the choosing and wrapping. Small as it is, it's now a burden, the same sort of burden as laughing at a joke you weren't listening to.
So that's the downside. But I still like the atmospherics, the songs and special colored light bulbs. You guys go ahead, don't mind me. You have fun.