Every year right before Christmas, I reread The Catcher in the Rye.
I know I'm taking a risk admitting this. This book is associated with so many crazy incidents, and Holden Caulfield is one of the most intensely hated literary protagonists of all time. I fear the inevitable scorn from my peers and readers who consider their tastes more sophisticated, or those who might assume I’m consumed by homicidal fantasies. People love to hate it. But the feeling I get from it disallows me to think of it as a guilty pleasure.
When I read it for the first time in high school, I didn’t remember many details, but I do remember becoming conscious of something new and strange. It was one of the reasons I decided to reread it in the first place. And when Christmas rears its stupid snowy depressing head, I find myself looking for familiarity and comfort. And Holden's complete disenchantment with other people and the world seem to align pretty well with my sentiments about the holidays.
It doesn’t necessarily hold up over time, and though it’s in the canon for a reason, I’m not touting it as a great piece of literature. It does take place in the weeks before Christmas, but that isn't what makes me celebrate it year after year.
So I'm unapologetically pleading my case: You all should reread one of literature's most polarizing novels to fill the hole the holiday season leaves in our souls. Here's why:
It’ll give you an ineffable and familiar feeling of being young
Balancing gift-buying and paying bills can make you forget how easy it was to be a kid around the holidays. Back then you were unconcerned with the retail scramble because elves made your gifts and Santa delivered them. As jaded as Holden seems at times, he also has a bit of a Peter Pan thing going on, which makes him want to save children from growing up and becoming “phony” suckers like the rest of us. It makes him wonder where the ducks go when the lagoon freezes over, and it might remind us of why we asked questions like, How can Santa fit into the chimney when he’s so fat and jolly?
Seasonal depression is easier when you have company
Everyone is ostensibly filled with cheer around this time of year while I remain miserable, playing the saddest songs I can think of and watching Midnight Cowboy on loop. Holden Caulfield is literature’s most notorious wallower, so if you’re anything like me and find the holidays to be sort of a downer, you’ll find yourself wanting to wallow with the best of them.
It never changes: “The only thing that would be different would be you.”
It’s not as if by the seventh time you read it, Holden will suddenly stop bitching about everything and eat an ice cream cone or something. But just as Holden finds comfort in the unchanging exhibits in the Museum of Natural History, you’ll find comfort in knowing Holden is the same whiner he’s always been. And the ways you’ll appreciate Catcher as you reread it throughout the years will depend on who you are at that point. During tough times — or holidays — it might actually help you get perspective on your life.
It reminds you to shop for a red hunting hat
I’m from Boston, and next to the Midwest and the Arctic, our winters have been known to get pretty bad. If you ever experience winter like the ones we have in New England, you’d need to cover your ears in this freakish cold, too. And if you’re not really concerned with trends like me, a regular beanie won’t cut it. The lumberjack look is my new jam.
Holden’s obsession with phoniness is refreshing amid the Christmastime retail grind
Any commercial featuring a really expensive car with a giant bow around it or a woman opening a jewelry box as if she wasn’t expecting it comes off as, well, a little phony. And watching shoppers nearly in fisticuffs with retailers over gift wrapping their purchases can be pretty disheartening. Not that I care so much to maintain “the meaning of Christmas,” but retailers help you forget that it was once supposed to be Jesus's birthday. People give gifts out of obligation around Christmas when they could just be showing someone they appreciate them in other ways any time of the year. And it’s not as if after Christmas is over people won’t go back to cutting each other in line at the supermarket. Holden has a grasp — albeit a fairly shaky one — on just how fake everyone can be. And who needs another scarf?
It’s not as anticlimactic as Christmas
Maybe I read Catcher every December because it ends on a higher note than Christmas. Holden’s in a hospital trying to clear his head and heal his body. But on Christmas, when you’re sitting in a fortress of torn and crumpled wrapping paper you bought in a hurry two days before, amid all the stuff you now have to find a place for, you’re filled with indescribable sadness. Not to mention you’re worrying that you’re rife with possessions while there are so many people with no stuff, and no place to put it if they did. Christmas just ain’t what it used to be.
Holden’s discomfort about Catholicism might align with your own
I quit giving and receiving gifts years ago for a number of reasons, one of which was because I felt so guilty participating in something I couldn't believe in. Holden, a self-described atheist, can’t even talk to a couple of good natured nuns without worrying that they’ll ask him if he’s Catholic. And judging from the crazy amounts of money we drop for the sake of tradition, we're not as attached to the religious roots of Christmas as we used to be. What does having a Douglas fir with colorful bulbs in your living room have to do with Jesus, anyway?
Holden constantly feels like he’s disappearing
Because I’m so uncomfortable with how the origin of Christmas relates to me, I often feel like a hermit, receding into the safety of my metaphorical log cabin of indifference. If you ever feel alienated from all those eggnog-drinkers and carolers and ugly sweater-wearers, it’s not too far off from how Holden feels about basically everything.
Holden only likes things that represent (to him) a moral high ground
When it comes down to it, Holden really does have, for the most part, the best intentions at heart. He doesn’t like it when people are superficial and dishonest —not a bad set of principles. His dead brother is pretty much the only thing he likes, and it’s only because he never got the chance to get old and jaded. There's something dishonest and immoral in throwing down with other shoppers over an iPhone 6. Somehow morality got lost in the hustle.
It’ll motivate you to spend more time in New York
The city has always held a kind of allure for me. And if you live there, you live there for a reason. There’s so much to do and see, and when you're with great people the holidays in New York can be a nice experience. I wouldn’t mind seeing people spitting water into each others’ faces through a hotel window, either.
It will inspire you to not turn out like Holden
While I do, and always will, understand Holden’s disaffection with people and life, he’s still way too world-weary for a 16-year-old. Rereading it every year reminds me that, as comforting as it sometimes is to slide into, a disjointed mental state isn’t all that glamorous. For some, The Catcher in the Rye can act as our sponsor. Whenever we feel like falling into a pit of despair, as is customary around the holidays, we can just pick up Catcher and it'll talk us down. Whenever I'm less than infatuated with the holidays, it's been quite a good friend.