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Klinger: Outside On Christmas

12/25/09 5:55PM By Amy Klinger
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(HOST)  Commentator Amy Klinger is always a little relieved when Christmas is over and life returns to normal.

(KLINGER) I have to believe that the warm, sentimental images of Christmas are true. That inside, houses really are filled with children elated to discover that Santa ate the cookies. Where there are crazy piles of wrapping paper and families gather around a warm fire to share sugar-sprinkled cookies and stories.

Because from the outside, to those of us who are Jewish, on Christmas it feels as if everyone on earth has been abducted by aliens. The big box stores that seem to never close are darkened and locked during regular business hours. Radio stations play hours of ethereal choirs without any DJ interruptions. It's no wonder Jews congregate at Chinese restaurants and movie theaters on December 25th. It's nice to be able to commune with strangers, imagining they are temporary relatives at our own unconventional celebration.

As I drive to my friend's house to feed her cats on Christmas morning, mine are the only tire tracks in the snow. The eeriness of the day is heightened by the cold and silent contrast of a house that just yesterday had been bustling with people wrapping presents and baking stollen, with flicker and glow in the wood stove and holly jolly tunes on the iPod.  Now, when I arrive, the cats look haunted, hunched in the farthest corners of the house, as if to say, "They all just disappeared."

When I return home past the empty gas station, mine are still the only tire tracks in the snow.

I remember the first Christmas my husband and I spent together. We were living in Salt Lake and decided to spend the holiday camping in the desert. Not surprisingly, the campground was empty. It was also unusually cold and extremely windy. We were unable to keep a match lit long enough to get our propane grill going, so we huddled together while blasts of wind grabbed and flattened the nylon tent walls. When the heavy rain started, we packed up and drove to a tiny outlying town where, if not for the bored woman behind the desk, we might well have been the only people in town. The only dining option was a bright red Denny's, but it was closed; so we picked up some Froot Loops and milk at the gas station and sat uneasily in our drab motel room, feeling like the unlikely leading characters in a holiday disaster movie.

Fortunately, the effect of the day doesn't last. And as late Christmas afternoon wears on, I go for a walk, reassured by the chattering river. I pass house after house, and I see inside: shimmering tree lights, an easy flow of movement and conversation, folks with wine glasses in hand, squirming toddlers in their laps, elegant dinners being served on once-a-year china.

And though it's cold and I am on the outside looking in on traditions I don't share, I am comforted. We're all still here after all.

Tomorrow, the sun will rise and stores will open again; and thank goodness for that, because Christmas Day is the closest I ever want to get to the Twilight Zone.
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