So it must have been after Thanksgiving. December 1, let's say. My husband, Bill, would not have been with me; I used to wander around the manly parts of the stores worrying about his present also, and the way I had snuck up on his nonobservant but nonetheless Jewish self with the concept of Christmas, stringing a set of white lights around the ficus in our first living-together apartment, and then the next year buying a pathetic sawed-off spruce top that I stood on an end table and decorated with, I don't know, an orange. After a while he humored me entirely, and his mother sent us a menorah, so there were candles and dreidels in the room with a hulking Christmas tree, and that was all right with both of us, but now there was more to buy. Small Hanukkah presents for the kids: two kids, eight nights. Plus the boxes under the hulking Christmas tree. And this particular December I'm speaking of, I had a cold. My head had the swollen, tied-inside-a-plastic-bag feeling that makes noises from outside resonate thickly and in slow motion. I remember picking up CD players, sweatshirts, fountain pens, bathrobes, acrylic paint sets, ceramic bowls, ski gloves, and an illustrated history of World War I. I remember a wood plaque on which a mounted tin fish opened its eyes on cue and sang, "Wasting away again in Margaritaville."
The year after that, we banned presents.