Welcome to 2011, folks. We are past another holiday season and all the trappings that come along with it. Money has been spent (and probably lots of less tangible, high-interest money). Hams have been eaten, pork has been sauerkraut-ed, and cookies have fossilized. But aside from those holiday headaches that have been immortalized in a Christmas radio classic, which in itself has become a headache, there are also many other parts of the holidays that you can enjoy if you take Ferris Bueller's advice about life moving too fast and stopping to look around before you miss it, or something. The holidays can whiz by, and before you even have a chance to smell the tree (real trees > fake) and bask in its soft colorful glow (colored lights > white), it's out on the curb (recycled as a habitat for fish breeding, better than landfill).
Which brings me to one of my favorite parts of the holiday season: going out. Going out during the holidays is a structured ritual that serves many purposes. It welcomes home friends that are visiting from out of town, from presumably more exciting places; it allows one to escape the stress from a holiday house packed with relatives before a bloodbath ensues; and it gives you the chance to show off your presents, by wearing your new scarf from Grandma or lugging around your deluxe talking Darth Vader helmet all over town. Pubs, clubs and restaurants are warm and friendly, decorated with festive lights and decorations, and packed with familiar faces. Where I live in Youngstown, the downtown / campus crawl allows you to pop in to many spots and increase your visiting rotation. The pop-in works when you can't track everyone down with phone calls, texts and Facebook stalking. And sometimes, you run into someone who you haven't seen in years, a real Christmas present.
The Going Out schedule itself is structured. The week of Christmas is usually filled with gag gift exchanges, ugly sweater parties, cookie baking with the girls, sled riding and other stuff. This is when you get to wear thick sweaters and warm boots and basically look like an Old Navy ad. The night before Christmas Eve is the more laid back of the Going Out nights, where recently arrived friends can relax and hang out before succumbing to hordes of kissing aunts and grandmas. Christmas Eve is fun, with the novelty of being out while Santa is en route still fun for the young at heart like me, who had the Where's Santa? app on my phone. This night is particularly fun for college students whose families are far away. In Youngstown, there's usually a big fun show that night to tempt everyone to stay out late and delay presents in the morning, thus upsetting impatient relatives who still get up at 5 a.m. to ogle the gifts. Christmas night is the night where you attempt to roll yourself off a mountain of new socks and leftovers and see everybody who had so far been saddled with holiday obligations. There's also usually a big fun show. The next night (Christmas Night Day Eve?) is when you get a second chance to see friends you may have missed, and listen to the frustrations of friends whose flights were delayed because of snow. New Year's Eve, at least in Youngstown, is actually the lowest-key of all the Going Out nights, with people preferring to play it safe by staying in with friends. But the gods usually shine like the ball that drops from City Hall, and those lost souls frantically looking for fun as the clock ticks down usually converge downtown in view of the spectacular fireworks. Sandwiched in between all this are five or six days of a walking coma.
The holiday was a success. I packed in as much Christmasy stuff as humanly possible. I toured the Arms Museum's vintage holiday tree display. I went to a fun gift exchange / dance party (received the customary candy cane tube filled with M&Ms). The whole town engaged in a scavenger hunt for the elusive Great Lakes Christmas Ale. I danced with elves, played the holiday mix on my iPod ad nauseum and did Christmas karaoke. After our traditional family dinner and pre-presents, I spent Christmas Eve nestled all snug in my booth at Cedars with friends, passing my Santa hat around for photo ops, and everyone got one round of Christmas spirit on the house. Wild horses and my parents' warm fireplace couldn't keep me from my friend Chris' annual Christmas night storytelling party, complete with skits and his annual Christmas video. The next night was indeed filled with flight-delay casualties and elusive out-of-towners. I had an excellent gourmet New Year's Eve dinner at University Pizza. And it wouldn't be New Year's Eve in Youngstown if a great party didn't emerge out of nowhere at the last possible minute. Great job, Internet.
I didn't get to see everyone (sorry, Ben), and I didn't make all the parties (sorry, Colette), but I tried. Now, seeing an inflatable Santa on a motorcycle makes me cringe, but for two weeks, I was a holiday champion. A week past, and I'm still finding fake snow, New Year's noisemakers and red and green M&Ms in the bottom of my purse.