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A contemporary Candelabrum in the style of a traditional Menorah. United Kingdom, Chanukah service, December 2014. (Gil Dekel; http://www.poeticmind.co.uk; via 39james via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-4.0.

The truth is, the only holiday traditions I have come either from my wife or her family or were born out of my circumstances. Like making super-sweet, two-packs of Fruit Punch Kool-Aid and mixing it with either ginger ale or Sierra Mist for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or getting our son’s Christmas presents ready for him without him knowing the night before. Or me making some holiday/birthday cake for me and us (since my birthday is two days after Christmas). And often going to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or other venue to give away clothes, toys, money, my time in knowing that no matter how I might feel about my life, plenty others have it much worse.

The truth is also more complicated than simple poverty. Up until my eighth birthday in ’77, my Mom and me and Darren (with either my father or my idiot stepfather) celebrated Darren’s birthday, Christmas and my birthday as separate or nearly separate events. Some of my best times growing up were those days. Then, when the hyperinflation of the late-1970s kicked in — along with a second marriage and two more mouths to feed — Christmases ’78 and ’79 consisted of a fake two-foot table tree, a new shirt or sweater and a new pair of slacks. There were no birthday celebrations for me.

Between Christmas ’80 and Christmas ’88, we didn’t even have the fake dwarf tree. Of course, four of those years we were Hebrew-Israelites. But see, there is this holiday known as Chanukah that also occurs in December, in which Torah believers celebrate the Festival of Lights with eight days of gifts and giving. But these were also the worst of our poverty-stricken years, and we could barely afford one candle for the menorah, much less eight or nine. The best gift I got those years was my idiot stepfather being out the apartment at 616 and on the prowl for other victims for his fast-talking nonsense about making money and living a godly way-of-life. I also attempted suicide on my fourteen birthday, not exactly a tradition worth repeating.

My running away in response to my Mom’s marriage to my stepfather Maurice on Saturday, December 2, 1978 was the start of eight consecutive years without an acknowledgement of my born day (that was part of my punishment for taking $16 in my and my older brother Darren’s savings with me). Even when the drought ended on Friday, December 27, 1985 (my 16th birthday), I had to get my own cake, with my idiot stepfather’s money, a Carvel ice cream cake on a cloudy 15-degree day. That and my father attempting to hook me up with a sex worker in ’86 was how my family reintroduced me to gifts during my last two Decembers before my 18th birthday. This was when and how I decided to celebrate my birthdays by making my own cakes. If I screwed up the cake, at least it was my screwup, and I’d still be able to eat my own screwup! 

But, in December ’89, we had our first Christmas at 616 with my Mom having divorced my now idiot ex-stepfather. She bought a fake full-sized tree. I bought my four younger siblings gifts big and small for the holiday. My mom even made me a Duncan Hines chocolate cake with vanilla icing for my twentieth birthday that year. We didn’t have much, but what we did that year meant so much as we moved into the 1990s.

In all of my adult Christmases, I’ve actually only done two in Pittsburgh. One was Christmas ’98. That week, perhaps the only important tradition I’ve ever been a part of began. I moved in with my then girlfriend Angelia, mostly as a cost-cutting measure, partly out of love and concern for our respective futures. We’ve been living together and celebrating the holidays ever since!

The other one was Christmas ’15, one of the worst Xmases and birthdays I’ve ever had. It included four days of my wife and son not being able to endure my now persistent snoring, even with a divided room. It included a Xmas in one of the most culturally boring-ass White towns in the US (not counting places like Indy, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, which are even more culturally White than the ‘Burgh). It included my 46th birthday-Sunday, one that began with a summer-like rain at 68ºF. The unusually warm and wet weather helped a spark plug in our Honda Element explode out of its cylinder as I started the car so that I could pick up my mother-in-law on the way to her church. The weather then immediately turned cold, as the rainstorm turned into an ice storm and temps dropped to 33 degrees by 4 pm that day. We were stuck in Pittsburgh an additional night, as we got by on Five Guys and The O that evening.

No cake, no celebration, no gifts on my first day of year 47, my first year of middle age. Just like my Hebrew-Israelite years. Someone light a candle for me!