My Alcoholic Holiday Season

The New Republic

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POLITICS DECEMBER 21, 2011

My Alcoholic Holiday Season

If you’re like most folks, you’ll be spending a fair chunk of this month in a tipsy haze as you flit from one holiday party to the next in a halcyon glow of seasonal intoxicants. And who can blame you? December in America is when we happily mistake the Christmas spirit for the Christmas spirits. Spiked eggnog, of course, flows as freely as organically farmed pine needles across your living room floor. Hot toddies welcome flushed cheeks in from the cold and novelty tipples—from winter ales to peppermint punch—dot the holiday landscape. And then there are the subtle variations on the besotted theme, like the bowl of French vanilla ice cream festively drizzled with crème de menthe or the deeply profound but subconscious urge to buy vanilla extract by the quart.

It’s nearly impossible to resist. There are endless parties—your office holiday party, your partner’s office holiday party, your apartment building’s holiday party, your friend’s holiday party, your other friend’s holiday party—punctuated by foggy, smaller get-togethers involving carols, fireplaces, and several empty bottles of wine. Even the office cookie exchange has lost its innocence: Fair-trade cocoa rum balls are the new butterscotch. And, really, unless you’re an alcoholic (like me, hi there!), why should you resist? Liquor stems the intense drudgery of office-party discussions about other people’s children and their inevitable gluten allergies, honor roll triumphs, and pediatric social anxieties. And by the end of the party, you either have to be spectacularly wasted or ready to run like the wind when you hear the words “Is that a Xerox machine I see before me?” Meanwhile, you and your colleagues have spent the last several days leading up to Christmas vacation in a kind of dazed buzz thanks to an administrative assistant’s talent for producing midday sweets filled with full shots of some toxic, exotic liqueur that leaves you all wheezing at first and then sends you off for the afternoon in dreamy subdued moods. What else is there to do?—say, “Oh, no thank you. Really, I hate feeling good in the middle of the day” and then go ask your boss for more work? No, you take the wee nip here and there (surely that wasn’t just in my office?). Then you can tolerate, nay, revel in a city swaddled in a hallucinogenic wonderland of multicolored, blinking lights, garlands, tinsel, wreaths, and Santa hats.

But let’s remember what this time of year is really all about: getting together with your dysfunctional families to exchange odd gadgets from Brookstone while simultaneously navigating the dicey politics of divorce and internecine sibling rivalries about who is mom’s favorite (it isn’t you). And that means more hooch to ease the passive aggressiveness and simmering resentment. The liquor stores have been ready for the onslaught since before Thanksgiving, stocking up to accommodate everyone from Uncle John and his Maker’s Mark to cool post-grad Sara and her fetish for Chilean wines. And then there are the made-for-TV movies that grandma loves—the ones in which all a young boy wants for Christmas is to be reunited with his landmine-sniffing American hero puppy. You practically have to drink to get through that.

Yet once the office shenanigans are over and the family time accrued, there is still more glitz. To reward yourself for having so much fun all month, you turn your attention to the very last day of December and cap the whole affair off with New Year’s Eve—an event for which drinking prolifically is expected lest you be deemed a pagan heretic and for which champagne itself was apparently created. This, it turns out, is what you have been building up your tolerance for all month.

So what will I do this December out on my alcoholic island? I will watch you from outside the fuzzy glow. I will see you in unflattering fluorescent lighting as you—under the mistletoe, naturally—make out with that dude from the communications department with the inexplicable and seemingly unnecessary cane. I will be the one bingeing on hors d’oeuvres and hoarding the sweets in the corner—that’s right, it was me who polished off the sugar cookies even though you promised to save some for the kids—because I deserve it. I will refuse to sing karaoke at any number of holiday parties even though—I know, I know—it used to be so very funny when I “performed.” I will be the designated driver for a gaggle of you, steering you safely home while you cry with laughter over things that aren’t really that funny (like how the back of my skirt has been tucked into my tights for most of the night). I will watch the glassy-eyed Decemberists totter arm in arm down the street, twittering with the ticklish tee-hees of the inebriated. I will reassure you that nothing that bad really happened at the office bacchanalia. I will be the uninjured party after an ice-skating-with-flasks fest. And, come January, I’ll be the omniscient narrator to your holiday season: “No, mom got you the cashmere sweater. I’m the one who got you the scatological, expletive-laced Metallica-Lou Reed collaboration. But, yes, that would be weird if mom did.”

In other words, I will be the sober one. Through every liquor-permeated moment, every nightcap, digestif, shot, snort, chaser, bracer, and cocktail, I will simply watch (and okay, sometimes I will laugh at you, too—and other times I will roll my eyes; and I may occasionally grind my teeth, and also here and there hold on to my sanity by the thinnest of threads). But I’ll be sober. And for that, I will also be really, really grateful—which after all is a pretty good way to spend the season. Happy holidays!

Sacha Z. Scoblic is a contributing editor at TNR and the author of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety, which makes an excellent Christmas gift. 

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