“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
—Joan Didion, The White Album
I was fond of Christmas as a kid, what with all the presents and candy and general atmosphere. It was a time of year when it was okay to eat too much, watch too much television, stay in one’s pajamas until dinner. But when I became a teenager, the holiday rapidly lost its luster. I’m not religious in any sense, so there was no spiritual connection to the holiday season. The more I looked around, the more the holiday seemed infused with greed and avarice: Black Friday fistfights, children crying over not getting the newest electronics, alcoholic overindulgence. The season of giving seemed just the opposite.
But then the usual story: I grew up. This picture above is from Christmas last year in Booneville, Mississippi, where my in-laws lived for the last few years, my father-in-law a pastor at the local United Methodist church. Next week, my family and I are driving south to visit them again, this time to Tupelo, where my sister-in-law’s family lives. And at our house in a few days we’ll be having our traditional early Christmas for my stepdaughter before she departs for the holiday season—this year’s celebration to include my own parents, as they’ve recently moved in nearby (to the great delight of their grandchildren). And that, I’ve come to understand, is it: the whole Christmas thing, at least for us non-believers. The rest of it, what I saw as mere gluttony—the tree, the lights, the wine, the gifts from my wife: The White Album, the unpictured iPhone 6 plus—is actually the stage dressing, the props and special effects for the holiday tradition of us, together, loving one another.
Part of a series of Holiday Storyographies from the Story staff.
Travis Kurowski is the editor of Story. He co-edited Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century with Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer, which will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2016.