Thanksgiving is around the corner, and that can only mean one thing. My PHSD is about to kick in.
Post-Holiday Stress Disorder, or PHSD, is the only way I can describe what happens to me once turkey day is done — and in less than a week, it’s about to come on full force.
Just the other night, while Joe and I were shopping in a local home improvement box store, I heard tinny, computerized notes weaving their way through the store’s general noise. The song sounded familiar, and as soon as I realized it was a Christmas carol, my head ached, my stomach knotted, and my chest tightened. Goodbye November and December, and hello PHSD.
As I glanced around the corner, I saw the most surreal thing. Christmas had exploded inside the store, and every robotic, flashy, noisy, blinking decoration was on display — and like good little wooden soldiers, there were my neighbors shopping for the latest, greatest, most inflatable-est lawn decoration. Not even a Sandy could keep the Christmas zombies away.
But, Kevin, you’re all saying. The holidays aren’t even here yet. How could you possibly have post holiday anything?
Because the holiday from which I’m still recovering is last year’s, and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on.
The sad truth is that I used to love Christmas. No, let me rephrase that. I used to LOVE Christmas. Joe once called me Christmas Boy. I was a grown man who believed in Santa Claus, who eagerly awaited each holiday rerun, who not only loved to wrap presents but who would also wrap the wrappings — tucking small ornaments and jingle bells and holly sprigs into the bows and ribbons. I would even wake up each morning, eyes shut, feel along the wall until I found the light switch, turn on the tree lights, and then open my eyes. Absolute wonder!
Then the craft bug bit me. I began a holiday newsletter that was filled with restaurant and movie reviews, family updates, puzzles, and amusing stories of the previous year’s events. More than 200 people received the newsletter — and many had asked for a summer edition. Waiting until Christmas, they said, was far too long.
All year, I planned the newsletter, holding on to ticket stubs and restaurant business cards, writing small notes and thinking of headlines, shopping for the perfect newsletter paper on which to print, handwriting a small greeting on each one, licking hundreds of envelopes — it was exhausting but joyful.
And in between all this, I sponge painted wrapping paper (thanks a lot, Martha, for that idea), and made my own greeting cards and gift tags for family.
Over time, however, Christmas became the holiday that ate the year.
On the one hand, I certainly blame myself for getting carried away — but I also have to place some of the blame on the Christmas pushers: retailers, radio stations, and many members of the public, who are like Christmas junkies, fiending for their next Christmas gizmo fix.
This year, I first noticed a red and green display in August. Yes, August! When I first spot Christmas jumping out of December, I make a mental note, and each year, the appearance is earlier and so too is my PHSD twitch. I wonder how the carol would go: “On the one hundred and twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . Aw, who cares? Just make it stop!”
As the months progress, store shelves seem to be at war with each other. Goblins and pilgrims and elves — oh my! I’m still never quite sure how economists can study the holiday sales season — do they begin looking at statistics on Black Friday or do they go back to July 4?
Even Rockefeller Center has jumped on the Christmas Super-Holiday Parade. When I was a kid, the lighting of the world’s most famous Christmas tree was broadcast from 7:30 pm to 8:00 pm. Thirty minutes to sing and entertain and ooh and aah. It now takes two hours to flip the switch.
There truly is no way to escape Christmas, to take a break from merry and bright mania. In a few short days, radio stations in my area will begin playing Christmas music — all day and all night until December 26. Yes, Virginia, not only can there can be too much of a good thing but “Good King Wenceslas,” as well.
And let’s not forget our newest holiday tradition: the running of the bargain hunters. With Thanksgiving dinner barely digested, thousands of shoppers will press themselves against the front doors of many stores, eagerly awaiting the opening bell. Once the doors are unlocked, they will push and shove and trample their fellow shoppers in a stampede to the sales display. This is the most wonderful time of the year? This is goodwill toward men?
What happened to Christmas? Was it always like this? If it was, my parents did a wonderful job of shielding me from the harshness of holiday reality. But I don’t think it was ever like this. I have very beautiful holiday memories not only from my childhood, but from my adulthood, as well. (And I plan on sharing these Ghosts of Christmas Past in a future post.)
Personally, I believe Christmas was hijacked and when I came to understand and accept my PHSD, I decided that I no longer wanted to be held hostage. Christmas — my Christmas — had to be reined in. I needed to take a holiday from the holly day, if you will.
My first step was ending the newsletter. It was no longer fun. I then gave up homemade cards and gift tags. Last year, I stopped sending Christmas cards. The only decoration is a wreath on the front of the house. Inside, it’s decoration-free because Joe and I now travel for Christmas and because it’s nice to have a Christmas-free space in a world gone Christmas-crazy.
This doesn’t mean that I ignore the season. There are still aspects that I enjoy: my nutcracker collection, warm holiday gatherings with family and friends, glimpsing decorated trees in windows. The holiday is about moments, not madness.
Someday, I think I will rejoin the land of Christmas — maybe I’ll even work in one of those Christmas shoppes, where it’s Christmas all year long. Until then, I just don’t think Christmas was meant to be a full-time job.
As I reread this post, I know I sound like a Scrooge — but my humbug is not born out of greed. Call it stress. Call it anxiety. Call it a lament for Christmas the way it was. I know, somewhere beneath all of the tinsel and garland and show, there is a Christmas that I can embrace on my own terms.
Simple and meaningful.
Calm and bright.
Special thanks to iRuniBreathe for the inspiration in creating this post.