By Allie Shyer
Chicagoans are obsessed with Christmas.
As a Jew from New York, Christmas was never really a thing for me until I moved here. Last winter my boss would continuously refer to himself as a “gay Christmas elf” throughout the month of December, and all the customers at the second hand store where I worked seemed to share this opinion that Christmas was a significant holiday that needed to be celebrated (we sold out of novelty Christmas sweaters the last week of November). Having taken paid time off for Thanksgiving I had none left to spare for a holiday my family did not even celebrate. I played it off like being alone on Christmas was not a big deal to me, but in reality being a Jew in the Midwest during the holiday season is a pretty strange experience. One by one my friends and co-workers scurried away for sentimental reunions with great aunts, grandmas and second cousins. All of my art school friends went out of town to visit their families and I felt very alone in a big cold city. The week before Christmas was a strange time for me, with almost everyone I knew in the city gone. Admittedly, I am a very social person and don’t do well on my own for extended periods of time. I countered the unease that this caused me by spending a lot of time planning outfits to wear that would make me feel less lonely. I attended my weekly therapists appointment with cheeks covered in silver glitter and a navy blue jumpsuit, “I feel so strange” I told her.
My big plans for Christmas were to clean my apartment thoroughly and avoid going outside. I skyped with my family around 5pm in my now very clean apartment. Hearing my mom’s voice made me want to cry. We tried to watch a movie together over Skype, our favorite Christmas movie called Bell Book and Candle. Bell Book and Candle is a movie from the early sixties in which Kim Novak plays a sexy independent witch who has to choose if she wants to succeed her powers for the love of a hapless Jimmy Stuart, coincidentally all of this is happening around Christmas time in a snowy New York. I promise you it is the best Christmas and witch themed movie you will see, although Kim Novak’s choice to give up for her powers for the love of the ferret-like Stuart is perpetually disappointing to me. Ultimately my mom and I couldn’t get Skype to work for an extended period of time and my dad, who never understood the cult appeal of Bell Book and Candle, decided to go finish the newspaper. My mom and I watched Bell Book and Candle separately on little screens 791 miles away from each other. It was sad but also comforting to know that we had this intangible connection. It is one of the moments that stands out to me as conveying the weight of adulthood; being able to handle long periods of separation and finding new ways to make connections. I survived that holiday season, and eventually my friends returned from their far-flung homes. My life returned to an order I was used to and my apartment got less clean (a sure-fire sign that things were returning to normal.)
Being alone taught me that I am strong, that I can weather the storms of my own emotions, and that I can develop coping mechanisms to help me beat depression when I get lonely, so in many ways, my first ever Midwestern Christmas was a time of growth.