Have Dress, Will Party

The way I celebrate the holidays makes some people cry. I don't give or receive gifts--my little family tradition. I don't haul an 8-foot pine up three flights of stairs and then have a nervous breakdown trying to untangle strings of constantly burning-out lights. I skip the trimmings because for years I took it literally and thought they were group pruning events, and I refuse to go caroling. I loathe Christmas music. Am I the Grinch? On the contrary. I love the holidays. When the first snap of winter hits the air, I dig in with relish and excitement. That's because I've eliminated all the headaches of the season. For me, there are no shopping day countdowns, I don't go near a mall, and I never feel compelled to sum up my existence via an endless stack of seasonal greeting cards. Best of all, I never go broke. I just need one good cocktail dress and a stock of red wine for party favors. I'm not the Grinch. I'm a holiday freeloader. In defense of my potentially offensive ways, I am never in a bad mood. I embrace the season with good will, joy, and happy salutations. With outspoken gratitude I rave over beautiful pines and scented wreaths and wallow in the make-believe world created by fanciful decorations. Cheer-givers thrive on having someone like me around--a guest who gushes over their efforts and enthusiastically goes back for seconds. Basically, I get to enjoy the fruits of other people's labors. And I do enjoy. How can you not completely fall in love with this merry season? With all the national holidays, it's like a grown-up's summer vacation, a turnstile of festivities. Crowds of people step out in their velvets and handsome suits, eager to socialize after spending the last two months nesting indoors. It's also the once-a-year excuse to catch up with friends you otherwise never see. If you're single, this is the season to be jolly. I've recently discovered that, if the holidays are an adult version of summer break, then October is the time for romantic spring cleaning. It's true, I swear it--if they're not getting married, couples are splitting up and there's a whole new circle of possibilities walking through those holly-trimmed doors. One friend of mine has a yearly bash and says she just loves watching the newly untied men and women pour in, their tails almost wagging they're so thrilled to be out in a crowd. Then there are the culinary pleasures of the holidays, the closest thing we have to a day-in, day-out Greco-Roman extravaganza. There is nothing better than hopping from one home to another, being served sumptuous food and fancy drinks you don't get to indulge in anytime else: eggnog sprinkled with nutmeg, hot buttered rum, and spiced wine; slabs of wild game, Christmas cookies, and gingerbread houses. While many of my friends and colleagues stumble around in a bitter, obscenity-riddled fog, cursing the parents who bore them, generous relatives who have kept in touch with them, and friends who suggest $5-and-under gift exchanges, I flip through my date book with anticipatory pleasure. The hardest part for me is not gloating when asked, "So, how's the shopping going" Granted, it's easy for me. I am single, and as far as my family is concerned, there are only four of us. We are intensely unsentimental, and it was 15 years ago when we made our deal to never hang another stocking, wrap another present, or sing another sappy carol again. We're so happy now. I do realize that the part of the holidays I discard is what, for many families, defines the whole experience of it all. It's not my intention to talk anyone out of that--what would I do then? No, keep the traditions. But set yourself up for permanent good cheer. Give parties, sure, but be sure to go out. Get invited, and accept those invitations. Get known for your party presence, not just for your wrapped presents. One tactic: give gifts that are charitable donations or subscriptions to trade magazines. Next year, no one will care if they ever see your name on a gift card again. Then, you can really start having some fun.

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