As I write this, we’re on a train that’s winding its way from Boston back to New York. There are gorgeous woods tucked away in the snow banks and placid, icy lakes that look at odds with their summer houses and boat docks. We were there to join our friends Galen and John for a special holiday ritual called Nine Lessons and Carols. It’s part holiday dinner, and part something else that’s a little challenging to explain, but it’s important to say that it ends with nearly 30 of us singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and thus, me in tears. We’re still building our own traditions in New York, so it was nice for John and Galen to so graciously invite us to be part of theirs.
For the past few years, winter has marked change. In 2017, we loaded a U-haul of our things and made the trek north to our new home. We spent the night in a hotel in Jersey wondering how our things would fare in the frigid temperatures. Last year we decided we didn’t want to spend another holiday in transit and started thinking about what it meant to enjoy Christmas day on our own, making a special meal for us, putting carols and a digital fireplace on the Apple TV, and just being hygge as fuck.
Although this is technically our second Christmas as residents of this great metropolis, the twinkling lights of New York have long drawn us in around the holidays. I first came to New York as an 11-year-old Girl Scout; we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and saw Phantom of the Opera and I almost shit my pants when my mom made me ascend the top of the Empire State Building with the rest of the troop. For too many years to count, my friend Lauren and I came to New York to see the lights and walk around Central Park and visit the various holiday markets, where we ate soft pretzels and drank thick hot chocolate. Tired of a family Christmas that refused to acknowledge we no longer believed in Santa Claus, me, David and my brother Jesse decided to spend Christmas together in New York. On Christmas morning we looked down from our hotel room on an empty Times Square and marveled when not one person, not one taxi, was to be found. We admired the lights of 5th Avenue (although these are surprisingly more fun when you’re body to body with everyone trying to get a view), and we ate at tourist spots because they were what we knew (even they are part of bygone New York; these days greasy diners are being replaced by grain bowl and make-your-own-salad spots). Last year, we walked several miles from our apartment in Harlem, down through Central Park, and over to Fifth Avenue to see the lights. We talked and sang Christmas carols to each other and watched our breath hover in the cold. This year there is more change: I’m starting a new job in January. It’s not quite real. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it. I’m taking two weeks off so that I can decide what I will leave and what I take from my last experience into the next one. I want to make pies and wear fuzzy socks and read books, uninterrupted, for hours.
For now though, I’m on a quiet train, listening to holiday music, and eating a meringue—exactly where I’m supposed to be.
“I’ve spent a lot of time reporting on and talking to libertarians and conservatives who object to nearly all forms of taxation and government spending, apart from roads. They believe that individuals should be able to decide which programs are important to them, and fund them accordingly — personally, through non-profits, through churches. I get the impulse; we work hard for our money and we’ve internalized a “right” to agency over where it’s directed. Within that model, there are all sorts of services that would fall through the cracks — and not just weed control. Just look at the GoFundMe model: if you have a cute kid, an incredibly tragic or melodramatic story, and a good marketing sense, your plea for assistance might go viral and be filled. But the vast majority go unfunded and unfound. Leaving services up to subjective giving means allowing so many people, and projects, to fall through the cracks. Taxes create a remove — and foils our very human, but very uneven, impulses.
Taxes. It’s making civilization better, more livable. And I fucking love paying for it. That’s what I say every time I pay my taxes: I love paying for civilization. What a blessing, to be able to care for others in this way.”
—Paying for Civilization, Anne Helen Peterson
“Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not been allowed to exercise. They are forbidden from singing, leading prayers or being fully ordained. In some monasteries, it is believed that female Buddhists can’t even achieve enlightenment unless they are reborn as men.”
—That’s fucked up. Meet the kung-fu nuns of Nepal.
- The Crown is back! (Netflix)
- I missed you, Midnight Diner! (Netflix)
- Not as good as the first season, but don’t sleep on The End of the Fucking World! (Netflix)
- 100 Outstanding Podcasts: Holy hell, we did it! For the fourth year in a row, we have made this big beautiful list of things full of things for you to listen to.
- Recording Artists: A podcast from the Getty Museum about what was it like to be a woman making art during the feminist and civil rights movements.
- Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?: The quirky little grocery chain with California roots and German ownership has a lot to teach all of us about choice architecture, efficiency, frugality, collaboration, and team spirit.
- Rethinking “The Bell Jar”: why The Bell Jar persists as an act of social criticism.
- Holidays Rule vols 1 & 2: If you can’t possibly listen to Wonderful Christmastime again, some pretty great musicians have made an album of holiday covers
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
A pin hole
of light. We
more of it
a small act
In the morning I drink
coffee until I can see
a way to love life
—From “Suggested Donation” by Heather Christie
I am wearing dark glasses inside the house
To match my dark mood.
I have left all the sugar out of the pie.
My rage is a kind of domestic rage.
I learned it from my mother
Who learned it from her mother before her
—From “Enough” by Suzanne Buffam