Thankfully, the holiday season comes but once a year. Any more often than that, and I might need therapy.
Don’t get me wrong, I try to avoid likening myself to Ebenezer Scrooge or Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, but I’m simply sick of Christmas.
Beginning in early November, junk mail advertisers began bombarding my mailbox incessantly. AT&T and other major commercial lenders announced lower interest rates on their credit cards just in time for the holiday shopping season. Gee, what a demonstration of good will and corporate beneficence.
Worse than our culture of credit, television channels are infested with cheesy Christmas commercials this time of year. Have you heard, for instance, the catchy jingle, “Come see the softer side of Sears?” Sorry folks, but I’m not gonna buy a tie from the same people who sell lawn mowers and power tools.
Why is it that television networks and cable providers feel they have a civic obligation to broadcast ad nauseam reruns of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “White Christmas?” It’s unfortunate that Clarence the Angel didn’t earn his wings before meeting Jimmy Stewart. If he had, we might not be repeatedly subjected to one of the classic yuletide torture devices.
Department stores are despicable too. There’s something wrong when Walgreen’s begins selling ornaments and tree stands in mid-July. Although there are five fewer shopping days this year, I have little sympathy when I see plastic Santas hanging next to Halloween paraphernalia.
In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t always this cynical about “the most wonderful time of the year.” As a kid, I remember writing letters to Santa Claus, decorating the tree and getting up early on Christmas morning. And my parents hung stockings, sent cards to friends and relatives and plastered decorations throughout the house.
Over the years, though, an alternative approach to celebrating Christmas evolved in my family.
My cynicism all started the year we didn’t have time to properly make Christmas cookies. Instead of scrapping such a quintessential element of the holiday season entirely, however, we opted to cut a few corners. Mom and I mixed the dough, but we never baked or decorated them. If someone had a craving for sweets, we merely lopped off a block of dough and ate it raw. Tasteless, you say? Well, that was the idea.
Dad also contributed a few innovative ideas. Of special note, he developed an incredibly efficient method of wrapping presents. He usually shoved them into a grocery bag, folded over the top and added a few staples.
If you’re shuddering right now, take a moment and consider the dangers of wrapping presents. First, smothering your gift with glitzy paper, bows and ribbons is a monumental distraction. What’s more important: the wrapping paper or the gift itself? Second, and more importantly, in an era of wanton environmental destruction, is wrapping paper a luxury we can afford? C’mon, folks. We can’t keep chopping down virgin forests and building more landfills to satisfy such an archaic holiday tradition.
Nowadays, my family avoids the wrapping paper controversy completely. A couple of years ago, my younger brother and I began purchasing our own presents, and then we billed each other for them. For example, last season I wanted a Whoopie John and the Polkameisters CD. I fought the crowds at K-Mart, purchased it, kept the receipt and was promptly reimbursed by my brother.
The concept quickly caught on with the rest of the family. Sure, this might not be entirely in the Christmas spirit, but it certainly solves a lot of problems.
Since implementing this policy, I no longer run the risk of receiving an ugly sweater or white tube socks for Christmas. For several years now, I’ve avoided standing in glacier-like lines waiting to return gifts. Finally, no one is stuck wondering, “Hmm … what does Dad need that he doesn’t already have?”
My family also experimented with moving Christmas day itself. This isn’t too unusual, I suspect; a lot of my friends, for example, open presents on Christmas Eve. In my family, instead of celebrating early, we exchange gifts a few days late so everyone can take advantage of the after-Christmas sales.
Alas, December needn’t be so dreary and depressing. If people simply rejected the corporate canonization of Christmas and helped others less fortunate, we’d all be in better shape.
To make the holidays more pleasing for everyone (including chronic complaining columnists like me), please do a favor for a stranger during December.
Before entering that shrine to crass commercialism and materialistic excess (popularly referred to as the mall), consider giving a dollar or two to the Salvation Army.
And while cruising Barbie Lane at Target frantically searching for the perfect gift, purchase a toy for Santa Anonymous.
Finally, if you’re really ambitious, forgo a day of shopping at the mall and volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
Although it sounds like a trite Hallmark card, I honestly believe that it’s better to give than receive.
If we all felt this way during Christmas, I might join the fold once again.
Greg Lauer’s column appears every Wednesday in the Daily.