“Strange days have found us.” That’s what Jim Morrison of the Doors sang. I have my own version that goes “Another strange holiday has found me.”
Maybe lots of people have strange holiday stories. Not stories that are strange about holidays, but stories of unexpected, quirky, and unforgettable holidays. Why those holidays should stick in our minds as being stranger than any other strange days, I’m not sure. I think many of us are deeply committed to holidays displaying conventional attributes. Despite tasteless Hollywood cinema, we like Santa to be jolly, not Jack the Ripper. Turkey should make us full and sleepy; the cooked bird should not rise up from the platter and chase us around the dining room. The Easter Bunny… Please, don’t make me describe Bunny Gone Bad.
My strange holidays happened at long intervals. That’s a good thing. I wouldn’t have been able to bear three lunatic Christmases in a row. I actually had only one of those that was memorably strange, and that was in Majorca. I’d been living in Spain for four years and had a perfectly acceptable life. Except for some reason, that one Christmas, everyone I knew disappeared. Went home to Sweden or the UK or Belgium, sailed on a yacht to Greece, got a windfall and used it to ride the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul and back. No one knew my address, so I got no Christmas cards. It was cold and rained for three days straight, and in the mornings there was ice on my balcony railings. I ran out of butane for the one small heater in my flat and couldn’t get any delivered until two days after the holiday. The on-demand water heater that I’d been complaining to my landlord about for a month finally quit working altogether, so I suddenly had a cold water flat. I was broke (he shops were closed, anyway), and the only edible things in the flat were a bottle of wine and a brick-hard baguette.
Abandoned by everyone, since even the mouse who lived in the wall had (I presumed) gone somewhere warmer or died, I sit alone in my refrigerator of a lounge, listening to carols on BBC Radio, drinking vino tinto, and weeping. Thankfully, I recovered by New Year’s Eve and got rip-roaring drunk with all the friends who came back at once in a noisy gaggle.
Ironically, that miserable Christmas in Majorca broke a taboo for me, and taboo breaking, I believe, is good no matter how painful. The specter of spending a holiday alone—any holiday but especially Christmas—was so horrifying to my family when I was a pup that it ranked somewhere between contracting bubonic plague and having wisdom teeth removed without anesthetic. Surviving that first strange holiday alone taught me lessons that made subsequent strange holidays a lot easier.
If you’re cold, put on more clothes.
If you’re lonely, turn on the radio.
If you’re sad, drink vino tinto.
If the baguette is hard, dip it in the vino tinto.
And have yourself a merry little holiday, however strange, wherever you are.