My Christmas Tradition (with Prologue) by
(36 Stories)

Prompted By Holiday Letters

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I’ve missed my chance to take a walk today. Now it’s raining, and freezing, and the forecast says it’s only going to get worse.

My Christmas Tradition (with Prologue)

Prologue:  Christmas Day, 2021.  I’ve missed my chance to take a walk today.  Now it’s raining, and freezing, and the forecast says it’s only going to get worse.  I don’t feel like walking in this.  I could have walked earlier today when it was inclement but dry.  But I spent my window of opportunity fretting over whether to publish my below recitation.  Is it too personal?  Is it too unspoken?  Is it too naked?  And beside those concerns, is it any good?  Will it be liked?  What does it mean to be a writer?  Why take the chance?      


“Bah, humbug” said Ebenezer Scrooge, and I know where he was coming from.

The American cultural tradition of giving and receiving holiday (Christmas) cards, along with most other embedded American holiday (Christmas) traditions—such as decking the halls; dressing the tree; hanging the stockings; wrapping the toys; writing to Santa; baking cookies for Santa; wearing Santa hats; wishing for a white Christmas (white in the sense of snow-covered, not as an ugly expression of American racism which seems to be oozing its way into the open, nowadays); Brenda Lee incessantly rocking around her Christmas tree (stop, Brenda, please stop!); caroling through the ‘hood; spiking the ‘nog; admiring the neighbors’ flamboyant lights; and joyful celebration of Christmas morning when presents are unwrapped and families beam together—were not part of my childhood, with the exception of Brenda whose jingle was too invasive to be extruded from the diasporic Jewish suburban experience that I called home.

So that even today, on this Christmas Day, the day tends to be cold to me.

I apologize for being a downer (a spreader of coal) (a spreader of the childhood grievance of feeling uninvited to the party) (not that I wanted to go anyway), in the midst of pervasive good cheer (yes, I know, it’s not all that cheery out there, despite the flamboyant lights) (but I am speaking in stereotypes, the stereotype of pervasive good cheer, the stereotype of the home I describe compared to the home I actually lived in, I suppose for the purpose of creating a dramatic moment).

I would be wise (I know) to swallow my unpleasantries, hostilities, humbugs, and shadowy  feelings of exclusion, and instead say nothing if I have nothing good to say, or better yet (learn to) be gracious, generous, tolerant, welcoming and respectful to the happy traditions of others (as I would wish they would be to me, and also, regardless of how they would be to me, just because it is the right and better thing to do, in a multi-cultural society, and otherwise).

At the cost of repetition, the day is cold to me.

Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Jon, this is wonderful! I’m so glad you squelched your doubts and published it. It so well expresses how I feel about this day we are subjected to every year. My daughter texted me “Happy holiday we don’t celebrate!” and I thought that was perfect. Are you getting Chinese food and watching a movie today?

  2. Jonathan, in your long list of Christmas rituals from which you were separating yourself, I think you omitted an important one: donning your gay apparel. Which leads me to wonder, what are you wearing?
    This was trippy and fun and a reader could distinguish your very non-Scrooge-like heart deep inside your prosaic pretense at malice and bah, humbug. Must have been the amusing parentheticals that gave away your true holiday spirit.

  3. Thanx for writing your story Jon – yes it is personal, yes it is naked, and yes it is good.

    Altho I’ve been writing for Retro for a few years, I still feel fairly new, and have sometimes been hesitant to bare my soul when the prompt elicited personal memories. But the times I do always feels good, and when my fellow writers comment and advise and comfort, it feels very good.

    So keep your stories coming Jon , we Retro writers are a community of caring and sensitive friends. Stay well and happy holidays!

  4. Marian says:

    This is honest in the best way, Jon, and I have felt all the feelings you describe. (Note that edge in my story from last week, Python for Christmas.) I’ve learned to live with this day and try to tolerate it. Of course Chinese food helps … When there were more members, and before COVID, my synagogue would have a special bagel brunch on Christmas day, with some sort of interesting lecture, and I miss that, because at least there was an alternative way to get through the day. Please continue being honest, we appreciate it.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Bah, humbug to you too. Everyone who has responded to you is part of the same club Jon. We are all Jewish and totally understand your disaffection today. I loved your free association. Please don’t feel you have to hide. I have often thought of myself as the queen of TMI.

    Over here in London, my son’s partner is non-observant Christian, so we were invited to spend the day with her mother and sister (Anna remains in the hospital post-partum). But normally it would be Chinese food and movies. That’s our club.

    • I hope everyone is fine, post partum. I hope you had a good Christmas notwithstanding the absence of Chinese food. I was itching to express my inner Scrooge, perhaps as a shtick, likely gratuitously, hopefully w/o offense.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Your screed falls upon receptive ears. I have found that celebrating the solstice, the return of the light, and even adding a few candles and lights myself is helpful north of the 49th parallel. The incessant din of the Santa/Christmas industry becomes part of the other peeves, and a little nature time and observance helps to counteract. But don’t get me started on nature and climate, sigh.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a perfect expression of how Christmas 2021 feels to me. Bah, humbug. Couldn’t even go to a movie and out for Chinese food. My granddaughter, half of whose friends have Covid, comes by to visit but doesn’t get too close. She keeps testing, waiting for the shoe to drop. Trying hard to look ahead to a better 2022.

  8. I hear you Jonathan and I see nothing to be apologetic about. I smell the sweat of desire wafting from big box stores where the commodity-driven fight over the latest ‘smart’ flat-screen television. Exclusion is inexcusable and Brenda Lee always sounded like fingernails on blackboards even as a kid… maybe especially as a kid. From pre-teen times I knew where it was at, where it was not. I suspect we would have kept each other good company.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    I’m pretty torn about Christmas. When I was small I made the Advent wreath and hung the outdoor decorations with my Dad. I looked forward to the Mich Miller Christmas special and the Christmas Carols of Alastair Sim and Mr. Magoo. But…I became an atheist before I was ten years old, which took a lot of the energy out of it.

    As an adult I celebrate it mainly as an excuse to gather with friends and (my wife’s) family and drink and eat and drink and drink to forget how short the days are and how cold and gray it is outside and how depressed I get at all of the usual celebratory milestones through the year that only remind me of how old I am and what I have not accomplished.

    Of course, occasionally I go outside and watch the stars scintillating beautifully in a clear black sky while I walk hand in hand with my wife between piles of shoveled snow and listen to “O Holy Night” which despite having no spiritual meaning for me at all, remains, if sung well, a hauntingly lovely tune.

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