I am 8. It’s the holiday season, I am on winter break, and I am filled with bottomless guilt. My third-grade history textbook has disappeared — vanished somewhere in the bounds of our 500 square foot portable modular building, immune to my powers of search.
Christmas Eve before going to bed, I slip a note to Santa in my stocking, asking him to please give me nothing this year if only he can return to me the lost textbook and spare me the insurmountable fine of $30. The next morning, along with the requisite presents in my stocking, I find a reply note, written in my father’s spidery cursive and stilted English. It was then I realized the truth about this winter deity, yet I found myself unbothered by it. I got to finish the rest of the cookies and milk and have a day off from homework, practice, and chores. An animated Christmas special plays on TV, and as I watch a toddler clutching a blue blanket recite a well-chosen Bible verse to a bald boy and his intelligent black and white beagle, I too am reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
After returning to school, I find another textbook, misplaced and devoid of a name, and adopt it as my own. At the end of the year we each hand ours in, and just the right number have been packed away in the giant cardboard boxes so no questions are asked. Phew.
I am 10 and a witch for Halloween again even though I wanted to be Arwen. My classmate — who hasn’t even read Lord of the Rings — has a mother that sewed the perfect elf costume for her. I am told that if I want her costume I should go join her family, so I keep quiet and say nothing between the standard Halloween greeting at each house. My neighbor and annual trick-or-treating partner asks in disbelief if I wore that same costume last year.
That night as I sort my candy into piles of good, bad, and things I didn’t even know they gave out on Halloween, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown plays on TV. I’ve gotten mangoes, beads, cough drops, but at least I never got any rocks in my bag. Maybe next year I won’t have to go as a witch again. I could copy Charlie Brown and be a ghost. Look at the usually mean-spirited Violet in a rare moment of caring, getting out of bed at 4 a.m. to carry her brother back home and tuck him into bed. Older sisters are so misunderstood, I think to myself as I turn a blind eye to my little brother helping himself to my Twix.
It’s the first Thanksgiving that my family has attempted a turkey and it’s a pretty big failure. My parents are yelling at each other — for once not at me, the house’s angsty adolescent. I regress back into childhood, sitting in front of the tube, watching the life of comic strip children. At least I don’t have to whip together a last-minute meal for pushy friends, though it would be pretty cool to have a dog that does the cooking for you. Charlie Brown’s guests are so ungrateful — a Thanksgiving dinner of popcorn, toast, and licorice sounds really good right about now, but I’m too afraid to even venture into the kitchen to microwave a bag of Orville Redenbachers.
It’s fall break freshman year and suddenly I am a stranger in my own home. I feel odd, to no longer be a resident of this neighborhood, which is out, in its entirety celebrating this Halloween night. My brother is old enough to go beg on strangers’ doorsteps on his own, and I have crossed the threshold where the basket of empty calories no longer seems worth suffering the cold. But ABC knows my woe and I am soothed, watching Snoopy battle the Red Baron and faithful Linus, full of hope, sitting outside for the Great Pumpkin’s arrival. I see a bit of myself in him – even though they air the same television special year after year, I somehow never tire of watching, just as Linus never tires of waiting.
I am here and it is now. Schroeder keeps practicing his Beethoven, Woodstock will never be great at flying, and Lucy will keep tempting Charlie Brown with the promise of that football. Ratings for Peanuts television specials keep rising, just as families keep sticking to their generations-old recipes for perfect mashed potatoes, and just as witch costumes on Halloween will never go out of style. Tradition never graduates, and neither do these kids — the Peanuts gang still hasn’t finished school after more than 45 years on the air. For me, the holidays never seem to go by perfectly smoothly, but it’s all right. That’s my tradition, and I’ll always have it to go back to even as I get older. When I need to tune out the “wah wah wah” of adult life, I can always count on Charlie Brown, still struggling to finish reading War and Peace, and it feels like nothing’s changed.
This article was originally published by the Princeton University newspaper the Nassau Weekly.