Christmas 2018: From Munich to New (and Old) Albania, with Vietnam Kitchen to follow.

Chinesischer Turm in Englischer Garten, Munich.

Give or take a few beers, we completed the 10,000 mile loop back to Louisville at 9:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The sheer awesomeness of Bavaria still was throbbing in the rear-view mirror.

It was a bittersweet homecoming, as we already knew the amazing Miss Nadia had used up her ninth life during our absence. Nadia’s passing was unexpected, if not surprising at the age of 16. There’ll be more to say about this, but not quite yet, apart from expressing eternal thanks to the Bluegill family for care-giving in our absence.

The year 2018 was Diana’s first visit to Munich. Our days were spent wandering Christmas markets and pausing frequently for principled refreshments. It’s hard to imagine better “together” time.

I hadn’t been to Munich in 14 years, and found myself reflecting about the way things were in 1985, and my initial experience with hoisting steins in the city’s amazing traditional beer palaces (and equally enjoyable tiny nooks). There have been a zillion changes during 33 years, and yet the combo of cool lager and steaming pork remains wonderfully timeless.

Now it’s Christmas Day, and it would be futile to attempt to deal with the jumble of emotions crowding my noggin. I may have to chip away at them over the coming days, knowing all the while that the year to come probably is going to be even more exhausting than the one about to pass.

But there are a few billion people out there who have it worse off than us, and I try never to forget it — whether a holiday or any other day when we roll out of bed and seek yet again to finesse the rough edges of the existential dilemma.

The following thoughts are a variation of ones previously posted.

Often I’m asked: Roger, why not relent and embrace the Christmas spirit?

Would it be so hard to be human, just for once?

Contrary to popular perception, I do relent – after a fashion – and in spite of my best efforts, Vulcan-caliber logic continues to elude me. It is enjoyable to have a (relatively) work-free day, to spend time with loved ones, to plan parties, to eat and drink, and to do what anyone else does on a holiday.

But you see, as an unbeliever, I simply cannot indulge the Christian aspect of the day as it pertains to my sphere of individual conscience. For the same reason, I cannot support Christian displays in the sphere of public property. There is secular rule of law in America, and it reaffirms and protects an individual’s religious or non-religious conscience, whether it speaks to no gods or many.

Without this fine line, theocrats like Mike Pence really will try to tell me which church to attend – or else.

At Christmas time, I respect the wants and needs of the genuinely devout, for whom the day is an expression of deeply held belief. More grudgingly, I acknowledge with deep groans the annual recitation by Ayn Rand fetishists of a belief in hyper-consumerism and pervasive materialism as a capitalistic manifestation of self, one worth glorifying in priestly fashion.

Maybe, but only up to a point. In 2015, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi contributed a thoughtful essay linking consumer Christmas to the stoking of irrational fears: This Christmas, Tune It All Out.

As for the rest of that shopaholic, mall-rushing craziness that can make this holiday so stressful, it turns out that it’s optional. Switch off the wi-fi for a few days, turn off the TV, and it’s amazing how much more reasonable the world instantly seems.

Supernaturally, just know that you can count me out. Perhaps religion remains the preferred opiate because too much of the profit from consumerism remains in the hands of the 1 per cent.

In fact, I do have a favorite Christmas story.

My sole “corporate” day job lasted from 1988 to 1989, with a solitary Christmas in between. So it was that in 1988, management at our office in downtown Louisville declared a contest for best work station decoration.

With entirely uncharacteristic zeal, my friend and co-worker Jeff Price, who was well-connected within local radical leftist circles and later would meet me in East Germany to take part in the “summer of ‘89” volunteer student brigade, went to work toward his stated goal of winning first prize.

He soon appeared with scissors, glue, armloads of construction paper and dusty old copies of the English-language edition of the “New Albania” propaganda magazine, as borrowed from a socialist workers group somewhere in town.

Who even knew Louisville had such an organization?

Come the day of judgment, Jeff had transformed his pod into a veritable showplace of dully-colored agitprop, with a few bright red placards bearing impenetrable phrases in the Albanian language, photocopies of stiffly posed Communist leaders like Enver Hoxha and Ramiz Alia, and a genuinely demented final touch, which I’ll never forget.

Snaking along the tops of the dull gray office partitions stretched strands of coiled barbed wire fashioned from silver holiday tinsel.

Jeff’s display was dubbed Christmas in Albania – at the time, the world’s only officially atheist state – and while the judges could not quite bring themselves to give him the top prize, second place was decreed his, from sheer perverse creativity alone.

In short, exactly my kind of Christmas, but please, feel perfectly free to enjoy yours.

Christmas Day means Vietnam Kitchen, which will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We’ll be there.

In the absence of farm-raised Slovak carp, it’ll have to do. To refresh your memory about this hallowed yuletide practice, go here: Carp in a bathtub.

Photo credit: Peter Dedina, in Košice, Slovakia.