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Ralph Gardner, Jr: The Holidays

Rob Shepperson

If you attend a party this time of year somebody will probably ask you, “Do you have plans for the holidays? Are you going anywhere?”

They don’t mean to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree. Or whether you’re making roast beef or turkey for Christmas dinner. Or going out or staying home on New Year’s Eve.

They mean visiting somewhere that probably involves airfare. Someplace that boasts a change of scenery. Perhaps skiing out west. Or heading south to Florida, the Caribbean, or, what the heck, the Galapagos.

My answer is always the same and has been for approximately the last thirty years: I’m spending the week between Christmas and New Year at our home in Columbia County.

After traveling back and forth between New York City and upstate the other fifty-one weeks of the year, I look forward to an uninterrupted stretch of time and nature. The rewards are both aesthetic and psychological. Those seven days (up to ten or eleven depending on when in the week the holidays fall) serve as a buffer between the old year and the new.

That’s not to say that I never leave our property. In fact, we rarely accomplish all we plan to do because an intoxicating inertia sets in. But that’s the whole point. You know you’re on the right track if the most ambitious thing you accomplish all day is to gather kindling and set a roaring fire.

When our children were younger we made an annual pilgrimage to the Crossgates Mall in Albany. That was primarily because our daughters had Christmas money from their grandmother burning in their pockets and they felt obligated to spend it.

From my point of view, it was an opportunity to experience mall life since we have no malls in Manhattan, where I live much of the week.

But after a couple of hours window-shopping at Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods, jockeying with other males for a chair at Forever 21 while my wife and kids shopped, overspending on lunch, then resisting the temptation to succumb to the seductive aromas of Cinnabon, and finally starting to go stir crazy, came my favorite part of the afternoon.

That was heading east out of Albany on Interstate 90, returning to the cleansing influence of forests and fields after overdosing on consumerism. Looking forward to nothing more strenuous, or pricy, than, a bath, dinner and bed.

Culture also plays an important role during that week. We typically travel to the Berkshires and visit Mass MoCA and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. At least we say we’re going to. But we haven’t done so in years. We’re too busy doing nothing.

This season my plans include a trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Then again, I say that every year.

My determination to flee the crowds during the crucial week between the holidays dates back to when I was approximately seventeen years old. After having previously experienced the forced frivolity of New Year’s Eve, the noisemakers and party hats, I found myself standing alone under the stars in a snowy Vermont field, breathing in the cold night air.

I realized at that moment where I wanted to be on New Year’s Eve ever after: a timeless setting, as far as possible away from the clock ticking down to 1970 or 1999 or 2017 and the ball dropping in Times Square. Somewhere that put things in a slightly more cosmic perspective.

That’s not to say you were required to be cold sober. Mild intoxication, the moon and the stars, go well together, especially if you’re warmly dressed.

This year also marks the 28th uninterrupted year that we’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party at home for close friends. We’re not that hospitable. It’s just another excuse to avoid leaving the house.

Guests arrive at approximately 8 p.m. We sit down to dinner at ten. And seconds before midnight we file outdoors to stand around the bonfire in the backyard. Actually, it’s a copper fire pit on the patio that I purchased after years of trying and failing to construct a bonfire.

There’s also a Japanese drinking tradition, repurposed by my wife, that involves writing down on a scrap of paper wishes, resolutions or demons one might want to purge, and tossing them into the flames.

I never participate because my wish is always the same: that twelve months from now, whatever its triumphs or setbacks, I’ll be right back here watching the sparks from the fire as they ascend to the stars.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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