I have this sparkling atrocity with lights on it in my living room. It's hers. We don't live together. I don't believe in God. Is this acceptable? – Mo, Montreal, Quebec

Dear Mo,

In the days of my childhood, the Levensons made it a point to be home for the holidays. It wasn't because we celebrated the family unit. It was because my father was too drunk to drive. “We don't need to go anywhere,” he'd say. My brother would look at him, smiling and starry-eyed. “Because we've got each other?” he'd ask.

But dad was already gone, chain-smoking in a ski mask on the patio.

Yes – those were the gauzy, magical, wondrous winters of my youth. Just the four of us, cozied up in different corners of the house with the doors securely locked behind us.

We didn't have a tree. (“Pain in the ass.”) But Christmas morning, my brother and I would run downstairs to find presents – and, ripping them open, then find the price tags still attached. And actually circled in highlighter with, like, arrows pointing. For after landing on the roof, jolly old Saint Nick's secondary objective was to remind you of your devastating financial burden.

A book! A game! We'd scream with delight. Then we'd hear footsteps – and father, still perched on the staircase, would greet us loudly with the holiday spirit: “You faggots got three seconds to plug your fucking mouths.”

Truth told, escaping a Sunday morning without a beating was a phenomenon on par with the immaculate conception. We'd retreat behind the couch, thanking Jesus – for Our Father, Who Art Kind Of An Asshole, had spared us this miracle.

And as the snow fell gently onto Yonkers Avenue, all through the house rang the sweet sound of my mother's inconsolable weeping.

In retrospect, I don't believe my brother and I felt that we observed the holidays, so much as the holidays observed us – scrutinizing our behaviour for any sign of joy, and quickly moving to send it up the chimney.

The paranoia, guilt, hysteria, terror and dread were incredibly overwhelming. What can I tell you? The Italians had the Feast of Seven Fishes, but we had our own kind of abbondanza.

I'm not sure what my parents were thinking when they had us, but it was shocking to imagine that they had planned this. How could that have been possible? This, you did intentionally? For Christ's sake! To have premeditated this kind of thing seemed too diabolical. No – I had hoped that I was an accident. An “accident” seemed mild. I could wear “accident.” “Accident” didn't really chafe, you know? But when I envisioned the circumstances surrounding my birth, a few other descriptions came to mind. Would you call Hiroshima an “accident?” Would you call the My Lai Massacre an “accident?” TWA Flight 800? The Holocaust? Pompeii?

Over the years, I got some cool gifts. But the first thing I remember receiving from my parents was their profound, cataclysmic sense of nihilism.

It was in plain sight. Unwrapped. They made no effort to disguise it. And as soon as I started thinking thoughts, I'd dreamed of taking that shit back to the store with the receipt.

Nowadays, when I think about what I want out of my adult life, I imagine a pretty girl with a friendly face who, for the most part, wants to continue living. I don't believe in God either, man. But she can put a tree up in my house anytime.

Merry Merry,

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