Is the nature of man really that competitive? If we use the holiday season as a barometer of our desire to slap the snot out of the Joneses, then I think the answer is an undeniable “hells yes”. Leading the charge in this water-boarding of festive cheer are all of the radio stations who deem it necessary to begin their holiday rotations the day after Halloween. I am not sure who the marketing genius is that decided that sixty days of the same five songs is far superior to thirty days of said music, but whoever he or she is, they deserve to be slapped in the face. Sort of like how it was at sixteen, when every other sentence to your girlfriend was “I love you”, the heavy handed tactics of bombarding us with the same rotation for two months results in the diminishment of the sentiment. Your first girlfriend, and I, are sick of hearing it over and over, and pretty soon the Pavlovian response to hearing “White Christmas” for the 784th time is to choke the living daylights out of someone (and then break up with you). And don’t give me any of this “Scrooge” business – I really like the holidays, I swear I do, but there is such a thing as saturation overload – it’s tawdry and cheap. About the only thing I cannot abide this time of year is eggnog, and that is a result of an experiment gone horribly awry when I was about five years old; the details are unimportant, just suffice to say that eggnog is not a good substitute for milk on your breakfast cereal.
The mindset that follows sixty days of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer in your ears is one that celebrates “Black Friday”. This is a shopping phenomenon that The Wife, along with millions of others, really gets into; it appeals to me about as much as kicking puppies for sport. Despite the ability to save the same amount of money by looking for deals online, there is some sort of joy to be found in getting up at three a.m. just for the opportunity to catch pneumonia and then promptly elbow some woman to death over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo doll. Over Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws, I heard some ladies discussing strategy and “product-location” as though they were preparing to initiate a hostile takeover of a third world nation. They would assemble in a line three miles long, disperse throughout the stores and meet back up in the checkout lines for a few hours of gloating over their conquests like Viking warriors with lattes. This sounds like a lovely time, indeed. I’ve never been one for getting whipped into a frenzy over pricing, so this experience is one which I think I’ll avoid, if for no other reason than to keep from murdering other shoppers in a looting extravaganza.
One aspect I can’t avoid, however, is hanging the lights for Christmas. I enjoy the way homes look at night, all lit up; it’s as though whatever else is wrong around the globe, a home warmly decorated with colored bulbs on the exterior indicates that all is right in your corner of the world, your home is happy and you are, in fact, NOT a tax cheat or some other public nuisance. But, much like the music and the shopping mobs, there is an intense, unspoken pressure to get your house lit up. Some may claim taking advantage of remaining good weather, others may boldly proclaim they “just want to get all that shit over with”, but I think the truth is lurking elsewhere in the shadows. I think, again, that there’s a competitive edge to getting your domicile adorned with exterior lighting. I do like how each persons home can serve as a creative expression for their inner holiday artist; that part I really like, but it’s the subtle hints that really frost my cocktail tumbler. The unspoken insinuation that your neighbor is maybe just a bit more of an embodiment of holiday cheer because they had their lawn Santas up on November 1st. They hauled their pre-lit fake tree down from the attic sometime in October, and because of that, you suck. In a way, I feel sorry for Thanksgiving, because soon it will be known merely as pre-Christmas dinner. We don’t do this with other holidays – there’s no pressure to give your wife a Valentines day gift in January, nor do we dress in spooky costumes in August, demanding free candy from our neighbors. So why do I feel as though hanging my Christmas light on November 29th makes me late for the party? When did we inherit the cultural mores of The Whos of Whoville? Is there a marketing department of a faceless institution that I can blame for this, shake my fist at and mumble about the decline of Western civilization?
All of this is probably why I insist on resisting the lure of the fake Christmas tree. Sure, it may be easier, and it may look (artificially) more perfect, but there is an intrinsic aspect of Christmas that comes with a real tree. Much like having a home with a brick front and vinyl siding on three sides, there are those for whom a fake tree is a cheap concession they’re willing to indulge because it looks good from afar. As a kid, my mom took me to the the neighborhood barber shop that served as a de facto tree lot in December, and I remember all the scents and the sounds of the electric chainsaws and the way the overhead strings of white bulbs gave it all a surreal feel. It was as though this was NOT the asphalt parking lot of a low-cost clip joint, but a magical place where the democratic process of selecting a tree was undertaken. When I lived in Alaska, there was a group of us that went out into the woods and found our own trees and cut them down, a ceremony that involved lots of drinking, good times and impromptu snowball fights. Anymore, it seems as though you would give the selection of a simulated tree no more thought than as an addition to your shopping list at Wal-Mart: milk, bread, diapers, some PVC pipe, and……oh yeah, a Christmas tree. And now, as an adult, father and avowed contrarian, I insist on dragging my kids to a swimming pool sales establishment parking lot, one where Cub Scouts are selling trees to fund their ascension up the Boy Scout chain of accomplishment. The trees aren’t necessarily the prettiest nor the cheapest, but they’re real, and this is one of the few times in their childhood where our kids will have a say in interior decor, so it’s a bit of a rite of passage.
Before long, I think that those who we labeled as “crazy” for keeping their lights up year round will be hailed as visionaries of the future. Black Friday will be preceded by “Purple Thursday” and “Sea-Foam Green Wednesday”. The day after Christmas will be advertised with loud radio voices proclaiming “ONLY 364 days to get your loved one the diamonds they so richly deserve!! And now here’s Bing Crosby with his rendition of Jingle Bells!” People looking for a haircut or a swimming pool installation will have to negotiate pine trees in the parking lot year round. Candy cane manufacturers will experience unheard-of endless demand and you’ll get the opportunity to get a picture with Santa while he is water skiing in July. And you’ll probably find me in the month of May, trying to choke down some eggnog in a last-ditch effort to get into the season.