If there’s anything that can bring a little warmth to my cold, dead heart, it’s Christmas. I live for the holidays. From the strike of midnight on Black Friday to the last few seconds of New Year’s Day, I am like a Christmas Elf on crack. For every holiday movie marathon, gift exchange, tree-decorating, Christmas carol, and cookie baking session, I am there in full force with jingle bells on. But as much as I want to pretend that every day in December is magical, it’s impossible to deny that some days just plain suck, and in most cases, New York City is to blame for it.
Christmas in New York is often romanticized in TV and Film, and not for lack of good reason. There’s just something special about the city this time of year, and some days I get all the warm and fuzzies just walking the city streets, taking in the festive sights, and feeling the first wintry chills in the air…
And some days, I am swallowing back screams of rage and doing everything in my power not to karate kick one of the light-up three wise men in my Greek neighbors’ front yard. It’s time to face the facts: Christmas and New York City just don’t always mix.
Let’s start with the Christmas tourists, mostly because they’re an easy target, but also because they are their own special breed of out-of-towner. On an average day in midtown, I curse the heavens for every slow-walking, picture-snapping hoard of mid-Westerners I have to duck and dodge. I try not to forget I was a tourist myself once–wide-eyed and perpetually in the way–before I moved here 13 years ago. Tourists are like the puppy that won’t stop pissing on your carpet. You know they mean no harm, and god bless ‘em, they just don’t know any better; But after the 17th time you catch them squatting on your best Persian, you want to take them by their adorable little necks and toss them out the window. Eyes to the sky and M&M Store bags in hand, they spread like a disease into every available inch of sidewalk in their matching t-shirts and group oblivity that stopping dead on 8th Avenue by Port Authority to gasp and point at the Cake Boss store is the equivalent of slamming the brakes on a major highway.
Sprinkle a dose of Christmas spirit into the mix and the problem increases ten-fold. Quadrupling in numbers, they have nowhere else to go, but EVERYWHERE. Additionally, each one of them takes up exponentially more space with ten shopping bags in each hand–most of which are undoubtedly from stores along 5th Avenue that are just bigger versions of the same stores from the mall back home. To make matters worse, their extra jolly good mood makes it even harder to feel annoyed at them when they stop you on your way to work to ask for directions to Toys R Us. Their pack-mule-worthy loads won’t prevent them from still attempting to walk shoulder to shoulder in a horizontal barricade of snails’ pace destruction while on their merry way to Rockefeller Center, Radio City, and whatever poor restaurant in Little Italy they’ll touch down upon. At the end of the day, they’ll hop back onto the bus home, full of cronuts, frozen hot chocolate, and Christmas cheer, blissfully unaware of the chaos and destruction they’ve just been a part of.
This brings me to another, much worse kind of destructive day-tripper: The SantaCon-er. If a Christmas tourist is the adorable puppy that can’t stop wetting the rug, this is the rabid dog that slipped in the back door and tore your living room to f***ing shreds. SantaCon is one of the worst days of the year to be in Manhattan. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s when thousands of idiots under the age of 25 train in from the tri-state area to dress up as a dollar store Santa and do an all-day bar crawl through midtown. And when I say “all day,” I mean most of them show up in the city already wasted by 10:00 am, and are puking on the street and drunk-dialing their exes by 4:00. Trying to get anywhere that crosses the SantaCon path on time, is impossible, and hopelessly trying to battle my way through an endless stream of slutty elves and drunken St. Nicks while desperately rushing late to the train a few years back was one of the leading factors that led to the Great Breakdown of 2009 (more on that later).
But dealing with tourists and blacked-out Mrs. Clauses or not, checking off your to-do list with any kind of efficiency or positive thinking this time of year in the city is just a lost cause. Even the joys of discount grocery shopping are ruined, and for the entire month of December, one of my favorite places is brought to shambles: Trader Joe’s. If you don’t live in NYC, you need to understand that the Trader Joe’s here are already tightly-packed, well-oiled machines, that at any time have a checkout line at least fifty people deep and a generous three inches of personal space for you to fill. In December it is literally transformed into a post-apocalyptic sardine can, and it’s every man for himself. Why is it so much more aggressively crowded for the entire month? Are these people not eating during the rest of the year? I see no reason that on a Tuesday morning in the first week of Advent the lines should be tripled in length and the store be completely cleaned out of taco shells. Taco shells! WHO IS MAKING HUNDREDS OF CHRISTMAS TACOS ON DECEMBER 3RD? Why are we stockpiling brown rice noodles and wrestling past each other for the last tub of edamame hummus? All I want is to get in and get out with my ten boxes of Peppermint Joe Joe’s in under two hours, and without punching someone in the throat.
In the spirit of Rudolph and trying to uphold some holiday cheer, I’ve come to accept that I can live without my $2 almond milk for a few weeks—but unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. One of my favorite things about Christmas is searching for the perfect gift and lovingly sending it on its way. But NYC has latched its parasitical jaws onto the spirit of Christmas to kill that joy again and again. Attending one of the holiday markets can be a fun and festive experience, and sometimes it is…so long as you don’t have a task or purpose in mind and you’re willing to be shuffled from stall to stall in a giant herd of puffed-coat misery with zero possibility of moving faster than a half-melted snowman. The actual stores are unspeakably worse. I absolutely dread the days I have to brave Macy’s this time of year, or as I like to call it, Where Christmas Goes to Die. Anyone who has ever attempted to walk from one of the Broadway entrances to the mid-store escalators in less than fifteen minutes without suffering a complete nervous breakdown, comes out a darker and more worldly person than before they entered.
Once you’ve sacrificed your sanity and pledged the life of your first-born to find your perfect present, shipping it is punishment on a whole other level. Visiting one of the New York Post Offices, already soul-sucking dungeons of gloom, turns into a legitimate all-day prison sentence. Next time you’re in line during the holidays, observe the people around you. The ones in the back will still be relatively unaffected, alert and hurried, but content to be getting things done. The people in the middle will be on edge, brooding, silently constructing their Christmas hit list, with Santa at the top and that damn Elf-on-the-shelf rounding out the bottom. The ones near the front of the line will be absolute shells of what used to be human beings: Malnourished and glossy-eyed from their long, fluorescent-lit wait, they’ll defeatedly shlump up to the window at their turn, ready to receive their abuse from the angry USPO workers and ship their shiny, sparkling gifts off to the people who knew them before their internment.
Postage and shopping are stressful this time of year no matter where you live, so New York is not unique in this way, but why does it have to be so much worse than everywhere else? I refuse to believe that a city that can work through a Starbucks line of thirty Frappucino orders in under five minutes cannot provide a holiday shopping experience that doesn’t end with me crying on the floor of a Baby Gap.
I don’t want to sound too much like a Grinch here, because I still walk down the street grinning like an idiot, Christmas music blaring on my headphones and stopping to coo over every sad, little store window tree that I pass. But it’s time to stop pretending that NYC is the quintessential Christmas setting, and acknowledge that Christmas and New York, while each amazing on their own, create a holiday shitshow sandwich that for whatever reason, everyone feels the need to choke down year after year with the same strained smile. This year, when I depart on my crowded, delayed train to visit my family for the holidays, I’ll stop and give thanks for my beautiful life in my favorite city, but race out of there faster than a reindeer at the crack of Santa’s whip, middle fingers blazing. Merry f***ing Christmas, New York (and to all a good night).