Saturday, December 22, 2012


For the first time in over two decades, we are actually completely ready for the holidays.

I know, right??!?

Cards were all sent by December 10th, packages mailed by the 15th, and our own presents wrapped and ready over a week ago.  I don't need anything last minute for the stockings.  I don't need anything from the grocery store until December 26th.  I remembered my sister's birthday and got her birthday present and card to her in time.  The outside of the house was decorated by November 30th, and the only reason the tree remained undecorated until December 15th was that we were waiting for my lovely daughter to come home for her Christmas break from University.

It's all done.

And you need to understand something:  we are never done early.  Never.  Not even a little bit.

One time, when Meg and I had been married for just a couple of years, she had a relatively easy rotation in her medical training in October and we got it all done for the simple reason that she was going to be absolutely hammered by medical school in November and December so we got it done when we could.  That was the last time.

It's weird.  I'm actually antsy because I have nothing to do until Christmas Eve.  This morning I actually made a huge batch of chili just to have something to do in the kitchen.  There are a couple of foodie things we need to do to make Christmas dinner go smoothly -- I like to have made the cranberry sauce ahead of time because I think it tastes better after a day or two in the fridge; I use orange zest and walnuts and brandy and -- much like the chili I made earlier -- it just goes down better after some time for all the flavors to meld.

I expect this probably won't happen again for another twenty-five years or so.

I hope you all have wonderful holidays.  No matter which ones you celebrate.  As an atheist at Christmastime, I can often feel like the proverbial long-tailed cat in the room full of rocking chairs -- one false move and I'm in deep trouble.  But this time of year isn't about arguing over how to greet each other ("Happy holidays?" Or "Merry Christmas?"  Jesus, or Solstice?)  It's about reconnecting with family and with the values that makes us human.  It's about remembering that we are meant to treat others the way we ourselves want to be treated, not just now, but always.

I still weep for the families in Connecticut who have the heartbreaking wrapped presents under their trees that will never be opened.  I can't begin to fathom their pain.  My love for my child is as necessary to me as breathing.  And like breathing, it's something I have absolutely no choice over.  I chose my wife, my friends, most of the people in my life.  But my daughter owns a love from me so fiercely personal, so intense, so necessary that I can't imagine having it taken from me.

Treasure what you have.  Like Penn Jillette says in his new book, Every Day is an Atheist Holiday, "Everything in the world is enough.  I'm rejoicing that what scares me and breaks my heart is the beauty of what I have right now."  I come here often to bemoan the everyday tribulations of owning a dog I don't want, or an appliance or automobile that's broken down.  But know that I know how extraordinarily lucky I am.  I have a wife that loves me, a roof over my head, food in my belly and an amazing daughter who actually speaks her heart to me.

That makes for the very best Christmas anybody could possibly ask.  Even me.

From my family to you and yours, I wish you all the very, very best that the season has to offer, and a new year with far less contention and tragedy than the one we are finally leaving.

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