This is what I remember of the bland Christmases I grew up with in a blue-collar Ohio suburb: It's December 25. We'll pick the year 1984, though any year between 1982 and 1990 will do. The plastic green tree which is in the living room, covering much of the faded red shag rug, is saturated with malformed little ornaments that my siblings and I made at school. The exterior of the house is decorated in gaudy, oversized green and red lights. The fiberglass factory down the street is not adorned at all; it ignores the falling snow and the holiday atmosphere and continues to pump God knows what into the air and soil.

It's time to open presents. We gather around the tree at 9:30 a.m., after eating one or two bowls of cereal. Once the process begins, we all move quickly, industriously. The entire routine of sorting gifts and handing them out and unwrapping them and feigning surprise and appreciation lasts no more than 15 minutes.

We all get exactly what we ask for. No creativity or imagination is involved: Each of us states exactly what we want, and if it's not too expensive, that is exactly what we get. I don't remember what I received in 1984.

My siblings and I watch my father unwrap his gift. For the year 1984 I will claim that we used red wrapping paper with white candy canes on it. We watch my father in particular because, unlike the rest of us, he never tells us what he wants for Christmas. So seeing him unwrap his gift has an element of suspense to it. Except that we always get him the same thing.

He rips the wrapping paper into shreds. He stares at the contents. In one great breath he snorts and tries to sound pleased. White handkerchiefs and brown socks. White handkerchiefs for his sinusitis, and brown socks for his hairy feet, just like always.

Christmas is one of the reasons I left Ohio.