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Spending the holidays at the airport -- year after year

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 25, 2009

At Christmastime, it is important to establish traditions -- go to the same places, eat the same things, build up a reservoir of warm nostalgia. I have achieved tradition by spending my seven years of Washington holidays at the airport.

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Thank you, Reagan National, for hosting me these holidays, and for teaching me things about humanity, such as that when the last seat on an oversold flight is taken, an octogenarian in a reindeer sweater may beat up a man with her Birkin bag.

Thank you for the time the flight abruptly ended in Chicago, allowing me the experience of hitchhiking with a stranger, as well as the exciting brain exercise of planning what I would do when he pulled out an ax. (But murderers don't sing along with Burl Ives -- or do they?)

Thank you for the long, winding lines. The lines are Zen.

The thing about airports at Christmas is that they're nobody's first choice, which means that everybody's in a bad mood, which is heartwarming in a misery-loves-company kind of way. Airport Christmases can result in kindness, like the moms who dig into bags and produce enough granola bars to feed a whole flight. It's a high-fructose version of loaves and fishes, the feeding of many out of little.

One holiday, my own modern miracle: After a direct flight home had been canceled, I got on another that routed through Detroit. While I waited at the gate, the passenger next to me asked where I got my grab 'n' go pizza. The Detroit passenger and I got married last year. This year, we're spending Christmas with relatives in South Carolina.

We are driving.


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