It's almost Christmas, which explains my persistently crabby demeanor and frequently alarming mood swings. I just realized it's almost Christmas a few days ago, at the same time that I realized I have purchased zero Christmas presents. Zero. And the thing is, I can't even go out and rush around fake-festive department stores clogged with billions of other people to buy overpriced gifts that no one really wants because I can't think of anything creative or useful to get them right now because I have other things to do, like read an entire book of Joyce criticism and write a review on it for an obscure Irish literary publication so that 15 people can read it come February.
No matter how well everything is clicking or how precisely I have lined up my little ducks, right around this time of year I always suddenly feel overwhelmed and over-rushed. I find myself cursing more and smiling less as the end of each year creeps up. Until New Year's Eve, of course, which I love and who doesn't--because what's better than a holiday where the only requirement is to dress slutty and drink a lot before midnight? Thanksgiving, with all that eating, is fabulous, and New Year's Eve, with all that drinking, is a great time, but Christmas BLOWS. Is anyone else with me on this? In case you're still not convinced, here are a few more reasons:
1. If you've moved to the other side of the country in an ill-advised bid for a fun autumn lark eight years ago and never moved back, you have to fly home for Christmas. Which is the most expensive time of the year to fly, as well as the most congested, and by congested I mean both the airports and the nasty, snuffling man next to you on the plane who snorts phlegm into tissues which he then stuffs in the crack between your seats.
2. The aforementioned gift-buying. A task which doubles in size and unpleasantness when you get married and have to now think about appropriate gifts for all of your in-laws, who are secretly but undoubtedly mad at you anyway for taking their first-born son away from them to accursed California every year for the holidays.
3. Guilt. The guilt of the Christmas spirit, namely determining whether you have it or not. When lights go up all around downtown and fancy office buildings put polar bears in the vestibule, you feel the obligation to get "in the holiday spirit," even though I've noticed it generally takes either a windfall of cash or actual spirits to make this really happen. It's especially hard to get in the "holiday spirit" when you are rushing to the grocery store or the dry cleaners in a car that persistently threatens to seize up and die in the cold altogether, or trekking down to Government Center where you must apply in person for a Boston parking permit when it is 7 degrees outside with the wind chill. It almost makes me miss those foil-wrapped palm trees that come out every year for Christmas in L.A.
4. Santa and "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" and Kwanzaa stamps and bell-ringers and fake Christmas trees. Just the fact that Christmas isn't real anymore. If I was going to do Christmas, I would take my family (just people that I like) out into a really cozy cabin in the woods with a fireplace, and we could bake homemade sugar cookies with icing that are so easy to make that those Pillsbury break-apart things in a bag are a travesty, and we could watch '80s movies, and have wonderful, sleepy pajama breakfasts and no one would have to buy each other a thing to make this happen. Wouldn't that be nice? Of course that's not how it's going to be. The reality is awkward small talk with distant relatives and dressing up in itchy sweaters for uncomfortably boring get-togethers and the familiar haze of the Christmas story in the background that is in desperate need of a fresh re-telling to make you care.
If you disagree, by all means make your case. Maybe you are one of those people who hauls out the Christmas stuff after Thanksgiving dinner, or whose favorite childhood memories involve steaming mugs of yuletide cider and non-terrifying visits to the mall Santa to tell him your gift list. Maybe you like all the non-stop holiday parties, those embarrassing displays of inebriation, oversharing, and erratic behavior from co-workers that are an inevitable part of every office Christmas party (Actually, I like those too). Perhaps you don't tire of hearing about Joseph, Mary, and Bethlehem, and this story somehow still strikes you as unusual and poignant. Far be it from me to marginalize the true believers among you. If you love Christmas, let me know like Cindy-Lou Who so you can warm my Grinchy heart.
Even now, I have to admit all might not be totally lost. As it does for all good Scrooges, redemption for my curmudgeony little self beckons this coming weekend, in the form of tickets to "The Nutcracker Suite," one of my own childhood favorites and a lovely tradition just re-introduced by my sister, who believes in Christmas. It might be just the event that brings me back to the holidays. Whatever the case, it will be accompanied, as all good holidays should, by lots of eating beforehand and plenty of drinking afterwards.