1991, the Thursday evening before Christmas vacation is due to begin. Emily sits at the kitchen table for her after school snack while in the other room a piano student bangs out "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in what she will one day realize is a hilarious reference to that scene in It's a Wonderful Life. But not yet, as she is only nine and won't be seeing it for a few years more. Instead, as she feasts away on a selection of homemade cookies, she does some holiday-themed coloring, wondering if Santa will bring the right American Girl doll (Molly, not Samantha) and if she should maybe check that place Mom always hides the presents to find out. So absorbed in these seasonal concerns is she that she doesn't notice the refrigerator begin to rattle and emit a strange blue glow.
When the rattling and the glow have subsided, the door opens, and an older (though under thirty so not old) version of Emily climbs out.
"David Tennant makes that look so easy," she says, dusting spilled baking soda off her sleeve.
Younger Emily stops coloring and looks up at Older Emily in amazement, while Older Emily takes in the pigtail braids, green leggings, and garish holiday sweatshirt her past self is wearing and cringes.
"I'm not here to give out fashion advice, but next time those," she says and points to the leggings, "come into style, skip it."
Younger Emily just frowns as Older Emily takes a seat at the table and snatches a gingerbread man.
"Anyway, I'm you from the future," Older Emily says.
"No duh," Younger Emily says. "You still haven't fixed your teeth. How did you get here? A Christmas miracle?"
"No, the milk's gone off," Older Emily says, cocking her head at the refrigerator. "I've come back to explain something to you."
"Is this about Santa Claus?" Younger Emily asks. "Because Preston says he's not real, but I--"
"Nah, you'll find that out on your own about two weeks from now," Older Emily says. "Remember that thing you heard on the radio earlier about Christmastime having higher suicide rates than any other time of the year?"
"Yeah," Younger Emily says, rolling her eyes as if to say, of course I remember.
"And it made you wonder how anyone could possibly be unhappy at Christmas," Older Emily continues. Younger Emily nods her head fervently, always eager to learn something.
"Yeah, I mean, how can you not love Christmas?" Younger Emily says. "It's the--"
"Don't say 'most wonderful time of the year,'" Older Emily interrupts.
"I was going to say 'best holiday ever,'" Younger Emily peevishly replies. "So why would you not be happy?"
"Well, what do you think is so great about Christmas?" Older Emily asked, feeling rather pleased at herself for her use of the Socratic method.
"Everything!" Younger Emily exclaims. "The presents and the cookies and the songs and Jesus and family and..."
"A partridge in a pear tree," Older Emily mocks. "You do realize that half the stuff that you think makes Christmas great is all just an idealized version of Christmas no one could possibly meet that's been constructed by the culture industry to get you to buy more crap, all in support of the global capitalist system, don't you?"
Younger Emily blinks.
"And that's bad why?" she asks. Older Emily sighs, remembering that she hasn't heard of Karl Marx yet.
"It just is, okay?" she says. Younger Emily nods.
"Okay, but what about all the non-commercial stuff, like spending time with your family?" she counters.
"And if they're a bunch of assholes?" Older Emily says. Younger Emily gasps.
"You swore!" she says.
"Get used to it," Older Emily says. "Look, family isn't constant. People die, or they get divorced, or they start their own families they'd rather spend time with. And, let's face it, Christmas is catered toward kids. It may be fun now, but at some point, your family's going to decide you're an adult, and then nobody will care whether or not you're having a good holiday."
"Jerks," Younger Emily mumbles with a frown.
"Don't I know it," Older Emily says.
"But there's still Jesus," Younger Emily says. "I mean, He is the reason for the season."
"Er...." Older Emily says, shifting uncomfortably.
"Why do you use 'er' and not 'uh'?" Younger Emily asks.
"Huh? Oh, I guess I picked it up from Harry Potter," Older Emily explains, glad to have dodged the religion question.
"Is he your boyfriend?" Younger Emily asks.
"Yes... Yes he is," Older Emily lies, unwilling to reveal that she has no life.
"Cool," Younger Emily says. "But anyway, people care more about their fellow man--"
"And woman," Older Emily corrects.
"More at Christmas. Isn't that good?" Younger Emily asks.
"Yeah, but people need help all year. Isn't it hypocritical to only give once a year?" Older Emily counters.
"Better than nothing," Younger Emily retorts. Older Emily seems at a loss for words, and so takes a bite of gingerbread man and nearly chips her tooth.
"Ow! Dammit, Mom, learn to bake!" she says.
"So Christmas is good," Younger Emily says, ignoring the second swear. "And people should be happy."
Older Emily looks at her younger self and sighs.
"Look, you won't understand yet," she says. "You can't. One day, because of various life events and changes in perspective, Christmas won't be what it once was. And that will make you sad. But right now, Christmas is what it once was, and that's what makes it so awesome. Does that make any sense?"
"No, not really," Younger Emily answers.
"Oh, well," Older Emily says. "Probably better that way. Wouldn't want to put a damper on that pony you get next year."
Younger Emily's face lights up in amazement.
"Really?" she says.
"No," Older Emily says. Younger Emily's face falls as the refrigerator rattles and begins to emit a blue light again.
"That's my cue to leave," Older Emily says, rising from the table. "I've got to go stop my teenage self from watching Pride and Prejudice. That's one fetish I don't need right now."
And so she enters the fridge without a goodbye, leaving Younger Emily wondering what a fetish is.