Created by families, for families


A Christmastime Letter

By Burke Koonce III


“If music be the food of love, play on.”

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


I have a terrible admission. Christmas makes me grumpy. I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge, mind you. I’m not of the view that “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” as the great Dickensian villain proclaimed in a flourish. It’s just that, well, I totally get it. Christmas is not the easiest time of year to be happy, and certainly not merry.

Sometime between when Santa waves at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and when the last leftover turkey sandwich has been consumed, the Christmas blues set in for me. This year, it was on Black Friday. I had just written a letter to Warren Buffett (long story for another time) and I was proofing it as I walked through the post-Thanksgiving clutter in my home when I accidentally kicked an ironing board and broke the pinky toe on my right foot, which quickly metamorphosed into a blueberry scone. Terrible accusations flew from my mouth like sins from Pandora’s Box. That was precisely when Christmas started to deviate from the department store fantasy version this year. Fast forward three weeks, and my ratio of holiday calorie consumption to exercise minutes has increased to truly alarming levels. I’ve also contracted a cold, so I’m generally just about as disagreeable as you will find me all year, and it’s all Santa’s fault, or maybe Warren Buffett’s, and I’ve still got two more weeks until the 25th.

My ancient Toyota truck is in the shop, prognosis negative. The check-engine light is on in another car, and to quote Bud Fox from Wall Street, “American Express has got a hitman looking for me.” There’s talk of a kitchen renovation next year. Inflation has driven the price of dinner for four at the taco restaurant near my house to well north of $100. That’s a lot for a Tuesday night.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we push ourselves to our physical and financial limits? We do this in the name of love? It’s ridiculous. It’s the perfect ending to a lousy year in the markets; a capitalist’s final blow to separate the very last pound of flesh from the bone—instead of Caravaggio’s nativity scene, it’s Goya’s Saturn devouring his son.

Perhaps not surprisingly, having upbraided each member of my household for various transgressions or shortcomings, real or imagined, I found myself home alone a few nights ago. I sat there, by myself, listening to Christmas oldies on Spotify like the pathetic middle-aged man I am.

I don’t believe I’m alone in my loneliness—I do recognize that. We’re living in a bull market for loneliness. The pandemic destroyed social networks for adults and children alike, and the mental health ramifications of years of isolation and the upending of socialization and human relationships will not be known for many years. It’s just that the holidays have the tendency to amplify pre-existing conditions and the pandemic has atrophied the social muscles we all need to get along in the world.

Soon enough, I turned off the Christmas music, practically out of spite. Then, in my own personal way, I said a quiet prayer:

“Hey Siri, play me something I like.”

More rapid than eagles, the speakers filled the room with sound, and the Ghost of Christmas Past appeared before me. Or, wait, it was actually Stevie Nicks, but I think that counts. Very stylish, this ghost, or witch as it were.

The song was Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, and before she could finish singing, “children get older, I’m getting older too,” there were hot, salty tears streaming down my cheeks—and I felt like a new person.

I just needed to hear my experience being shared by someone else. I just needed that communion.

So I asked Siri to play me another one.

This one was even more of a visitation, a Stairway to Heaven, an interlude with the Ghost of Christmas Present himself, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. By the time he sang, “there’s still time to change the road you’re on,” I knew I would require no further ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Future might as well take the night off.

That’s the magic about music—like Shakespeare’s Orsino said at the beginning of the Twelfth Night, it truly is the food of love. It sustains us and powers us and enables us to step outside of ourselves, out of our own heads and into communion with other human beings, living or dead, present or not, across the years, more than a little like Christmas. Twelfth Night, a play about love, takes place during the Christmas holiday.

The only way to enjoy Christmas is outside of your own head. Otherwise, it’s just like any other season of one’s life, just garish and crowded. Christmas is terrible if it’s observed the same way we normally live our lives—racing around, hunting and gathering. Those who love it best are those who love best, who take up residence in the hearts and minds and memories of others through their selflessness.  It takes me a while to get into the Christmas spirit, but it’s not because I don’t like the idea of Christmas—I adore it with childlike wonder; it’s because, like lots of people, I drift out of contact with people during the year and I spend too much time thinking about myself and my own little world. Christmas is a reminder that we can be part of something bigger, part of someone else’s Christmas story, existing not in your own head, but in someone else’s head, in someone else’s heart.

So, back to our story. Before my family returned home, I made sure I put the Christmas music back on. I was ready for some. And the first song that came on was the World War II classic, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, which concerned itself with looking ahead to better days. And with that, the third ghost appeared:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay.
Next year all our troubles, will be miles away.

Once again, as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more.

Someday soon we all will be together,
If the fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.


Burke Koonce

December, 2022

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