Literature 1-2-2007

Letters from a Writer: In Which I Become a Jehovah’s Witness

Jean Sramek speaks of the Other Side of the holidays.

1Jean Sramek

You’ve probably noticed by now that I did not have a Christmas party, and I apologize for any inconvenience. I know you were looking forward to the pineapple rumaki, and the triple-ginger cookies. No, you can’t have the recipe for those little mushroom-thyme-phyllo bundles I make, because it’s a thing I invented and I don’t measure or keep track of how much. Unless it’s baking—like those cardamom shortbread cookies with the jam in the center, which are actually Bea Ojakangas’ recipe, except I use lingonberry instead of raspberry, and which you will also not be eating this year.

No Thai chicken meatballs. No whimsical collection of Popeye ornaments on the real-live balsam tree. No bruschetta with bell peppers I roasted myself only the day before. No ironically displayed Christmas cards and letters from relatives. No truffles. Not even a ceramic dish pulled from the dusty, holiday/party portion of the china cabinet and unceremoniously filled with stale fun-sized packets of Skittles, leftover from Halloween. Sorry.

I hate Christmas this year. I have spent my life either ignoring it or embracing it, and this holiday season marked the end of a long stretch of embracing. I’m against embracing on principle, so my running from the arms of Christmas should come as no surprise. Still, I feel an explanation is in order, because the triple-ginger cookies really are to die for.

I get seasonal affective disorder. Some people think it’s fake, just like I think the baby Jesus is fake. The late-October switch from CDT to CST hits my bare soul like a bag full of wet, mothball-reeking wool blankets and doesn’t let go until the winter solstice, when science tells me it will get light again. Exercising helps. If I give in to the winter blues and slack on the cardio for a few weeks, I get weepy and sentimental and really into putting up Christmas decorations; in January, I get mean again and ski like a maniac, and we hack the Christmas tree into forearm-sized pieces and burn the evidence in the fireplace.

It did not snow this year, and the beloved part-time job I had for 21 years underwent a regime change and my holiday bonus was to be downsized and lied to. To add insult to injury, I not only had to work through the stages of grief, but admit that I knew what the stages of grief were. So I spanked the exercise extra-hard. The depression that normally occurs from Halloween through New Year’s Day was squeezed, oozing out of my brain and morphing into insomniacal anger and an uncontrollable urge to tell the truth. The only things that made sense were drinking coffee, going to the gym, and listening to Steve Earle records. If I had simply stopped going to the gym, defaulting to my normal, depressed, seasonal self, everyone would have liked me better. But screw them.

I apologize to my nieces and nephews, who are old enough to know the awful truth, which is that you will get the same thing every year from us: a gift card to Barnes & Noble. This year I didn’t even bother to wrap it or disguise it as a good present. Maybe it made you nostalgic for the days before I married your uncle, when you got age-inappropriate gifts shipped in crumpled newspaper, approximately on January 23rd, if you were lucky. I apologize to my Dad for rejecting his offer of a tree, which he has cut for me every year, even in my apartment-dwelling days when I could not have a tree and had to give them away. I saved Dad a trip, since this year I would have unceremoniously put it at the curb, with a sign saying “FREE.” I did not put up my super-cool collection of ornaments. They stayed in the attic. If the house had burned down, my only regret would have been the hours spent on eBay finding the rare Alice the Goon ornament, but maybe not even then, as eBay is full of thieves and liars.

I apologize to the people who gave me gifts. You are my friends and I owe you the courtesy of politely shuffling my feet and mumbling busy, forgot, depressed, busy, screwed over at work, peri-menopause, sorry, busy but instead I tossed your twinkly little gift bag into a burlap sack marked “GOODWILL.” See this gigantic box full of recycled gift bags? Take it. Give gifts to others. Seek out the giftless and be generous.

In the future, do not give me anything because I don’t need anything. I don’t need another copy of that book. I have three, including the one you already gave me the birthday before last. I don’t need a hangy-ceramic-uniquey-thingy, or mugs in that ubiquitous stoneware blue-and-brown, or adventurous condiment containers from Fiji or Malta, the contents of which I am afraid to consume. I don’t need any candles or lotions or balms, and our house is full to the brim with crap that we keep like pets. No T-shirts, please. No hats. No objects of any kind which are larger than an idea.

I know I was full-on into the homemade gifts scene for a few years, and I apologize completely for the biscotti, the salsa, the flavored oils and other things which could have given everyone food poisoning. Spare me the homemade crabapple-choco-zucchini bread which is sometimes delicious and sometimes not, and could everyone please, for the love of God, toast your nuts before you put them in your fudge? Keep your home-woven, hand-chewed, herbed and beribboned whattitz to yourself, because they’re going in the trash the next time you’re not looking. Hold my unworthy friendship in your sweet holiday heart as I tell you that I rarely take baths, and consequently have an 8-year backlog of your bath salts in the closet and have resorted to using them as cat litter.

Ah, I see. You don’t mind that I’m a complete asshole and you are going to give me gifts next year, regardless. Because you love me. Okay. There had better be earrings in there.