The Reason for the Season

My brother’s never met a debate he couldn’t exasperate. With a unique combination of absurdity and manufactured outrage, he quickly goes from zero-to-ridiculous, obscuring the point, and leaving his opponents with something closer to a punch line than a defensible position. One minute you’re having what seems like a reasonable conversation; the next you’re passionately arguing that, in fact, his neighbor is not really playing that violin just to spite him.

It’s a technique he developed at a young age. As a child, he once protested what he felt was an unreasonably early bedtime by turning and licking the fireplace in full view of our cousin and babysitter, Laura — known to the family as “Booba.” It was a gutsy and memorable move, not to mention the only documented time in history anyone’s licked a fireplace to win an argument with someone named “Booba.”

Whether or not it bought him a few more minutes of precious playtime, he was clearly on to something. And through the years, he’s regularly employed a verbal variation on the tactic — having given up on the persuasive potential of licking inanimate objects years ago. These days, he relishes in any opportunity to argue the indefensible. He’ll make an outrageous statement, then back it up with an even more outrageous hypothesis. To him, it’s sport. To me, it’s one of the highlights of any family gathering.

And during the holidays, it’s open season. Give him an audience and, sooner or later, he’ll work himself up over something. Bring up the time he got bent out-of-shape after a woman in front of him requested a straw from a gas-station attendant, and he’ll explode with comical rage. “These people think they’re in a restaurant,” he’ll shout, all the while maintaining a successfully straight face.

Once, over Thanksgiving dinner, he laid out an elaborate plan to discipline his future children through a Christmas bar graph — which he’d paint on the wall, tracking how naughty or nice they’d been throughout the year. If the naughty bar crept higher than the nice, he’d purchase them coal and leave it under the holiday tree. Why threaten them with coal, he reasoned, if you’re not prepared to wrap it.

It’s exactly this type of inanity, though, that make the holidays what they are. Of all the tender and touching moments the season’s produced over the years, more often it’s the quirky and questionable behavior that sticks with us.

In that spirit, we offer an issue’s worth of holiday gathering, giving, cooking, and décor — from sufganiyot and shopping on the avenue to decking the halls and serving a seasonal smorgasbord. Enjoy.