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YULETIDE IS ONLY A GRIM REMINDER FOR THOSE OF US ON THE `OUTS’

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THIS IS AN ODE TO bah humbug, of sorts. This is an expression of protest and dissatisfaction from those of us who, on a variety of grounds, cannot completely partake in the spirit of love we are supposed to give and receive during this holiday season.

Oh, it is a given that there are plenty of reasons to be filled with the spirit of Christmas. Mother Nature has stripped the northern spheres of the planet of most lovely colors. The pinks, blues and yellows of spring have withered to the golds and oranges of fall. They, in turn, have decayed to the grays and browns of winter.But just when the world seems bleary beyond belief, along come the greens, reds, purples and silvers of Christmas tree lights; the wrapping paper, ribbons and Santa displays. The air is colorful once again. People are friendly again. Hope imbues the now-chilled air. Again.

But somehow, despite the cheery colors, the helpful people and the "come join us" spirit of the holidays, some of us feel we simply do not fit in.

The Christmas season is a reminder, for those of us who do not come from large, close, happy or extended families, or who live in places such as California or Florida (where sleigh bells and reindeer, even in December, seem patently absurd) that somehow we are painfully lacking.

Christmas is a remembrance, to those of us who do not partake in the Christian belief, that we are different, apart, out of place, and do not truly belong. And sometimes the holiday season becomes a forced regurgitation of earlier memories that we care not to relive.

For those on the "outs" in this season, retailers' efforts to sell gone amok are of no help. In line behind me at the grocery store over Thanksgiving weekend was a strapping, young, blond-haired, blue-eyed man. Based on countenance alone, he seemed to fit into the spirit of Christmas as easily as Santa, Dancer or Prancer. Yet even he peered at his watch, looked up at the ceiling whence strains of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" fell from hidden speakers and asked, "Is it the Christmas season yet? It's not even December. Haven't these retailers outdone themselves?"

A kindred spirit he was, though for whatever reasons. Perhaps he, too, comes from a loving, yet dysfunctional family. Perhaps he, too, has yearned for a family reunion for months in advance, only to find the first hour or two is fine (while everyone is on best behavior). But two or three days into the event, he is sorry he came.

Perhaps he, too, loves his relatives, but the traditional trip home causes an unwanted reversion to childhood roles, and his parents' attempt to treat him as a 10-year-old drive him as batty as do mine.

A friend of mine whose parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles do gather in small-town Missouri each holiday season once said he skips the annual Christmas reunion because his family drives him crazy. If more of those born into picture-perfect families would fess up to those of us who do not, it might make the holiday season easier for many to bear.

This year, though, I've given up. I'm spending Christmas on a beach in the Caribbean. I'll be reading Anne Rice novels, wallowing in the sun and the warmth and staying as far away from Santa's sphere of influence as one can be.