I love the holidays, mostly. I love the decorations and the music, the elaborate meals, the cards, and the school choir and band concerts. I love the ways in which we allow ourselves excess during this time of year, because so much of the year—at least for me—feels like I’m doing the opposite. I don’t just mean gluttony, either. I mean spending more time with my kids, staying up late to play Settlers of Catan or watching the Nightmare Before Christmas, or baking mountains of cookies and decorating them. There’s a feeling that it’s okay to indulge that permeates this time of year, and that isn’t present at any other time.
Of course, I qualified my statement—I love the holidays, mostly. The “mostly” is because this indulgence, this love of excess, comes with a price tag.
In an essay that you’ve probably already read, this is where the writer segues into the costs of buying gifts, of the debt that accumulates at this time of year. In that essay, the writer details the fact that American retailers depend on the holiday season to turn enough of a profit for the year.
This is not that essay.
My dad first went into rehab to treat his alcoholism the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1987. I was about to turn 14 and a freshman in high school. I also had a paper route, and I sometimes used my wages to buy things I needed, things my brothers needed. I was not a savior, though. Just as often, I spent my money on soda and candy and lip gloss, indulgences which allowed me to briefly feel like a normal teenager.
My brothers and I were living through a kind of suburban poverty that it would take years for me to understand, or put language to. We lived in a nice subdivision, surrounded by well-kept houses and manicured lawns, but in our house, we struggled to get enough to eat, to have warm clothes, or shoes without holes. I knew what poverty was supposed to look like: housing projects or ratty apartments, dangerous neighborhoods, bars on windows. It didn’t look like having a paper route, for example, and being able to buy a Dr. Pepper, or fritter away quarters on Ms. Pacman.