Okay, now that we've gotten through this Christmas thing once again, let's stop and reevaluate.
Under our current system, is it really worth it? I mean, if you were to stop 100 people on the street and ask them what they think of Christmas, how many would really say, "Man, it's great!" Sure, people would say that after it's over or before it gets started, but in December every year it's tough to find people over the age of 14 who are glad it's Christmas.
Think about it: If you're a student, you're wigged out from finals. If you're an adult, you're being dragged through office Christmas parties, which I'm convinced no one enjoys. If you're a parent, it might be the worst time of the year. You're taking kids to parties, to and from school, to the mall, plus all the while stressing about what to get them for Christmas. I spoke to one mother recently who had bought the "perfect gift" for her 12-year-old only to find out he had already gotten one on eBay.
I've got this theory about the human condition. Well, I have lots of theories, but today I'll inflict only one upon you. It's my Theory of Mutual Misery. It goes like this: We humans do lots of things that actually make us miserable, but we do them because everybody else does them and nobody can remember or imagine not doing them. The fact that these things make us miserable gets lost in the shuffle, because, well, everybody's doing it.
Take neckties and high heels. Who likes wearing neckties or high heels? Nobody. But you have to wear them, because everybody else is wearing them. Well, they're expensive and uncomfortable, and they're one of those things that will look completely ridiculous when future generations look at pictures of us. What do you think, for example, when you see pictures of our Founding Fathers wearing wigs? "Oh," your history teacher says, "that's what everybody was wearing in those days."
Well, he'll say the same thing about neckties and high heels one day.
My point is this: What if we all just agreed to not wear them? Then nobody would have to. Like Christmas decorations. When did the entire world agree to celebrate some vaguely Scandinavian version of Christmas? I happen to like Santa hats, but why can't we have a different theme each year? Caribbean Christmas, Cowboy Christmas, Tie-dyed Christmas?
And what about the time of year? Nobody ever suggested that Jesus was born in the wintertime. Why would we have our biggest, longest, most outlandish holiday in the middle of winter? Sure, there's the whole White Christmas thing, but the South never gets those anyway, and nobody in the North seems too excited about snow anymore. I think we should have Christmas in the summertime. The kids are on summer vacation, the weather is better, nobody's stressing over finals, parents can get time off work much easier (no end-of-the-year hassles), and in the summertime we all watch much less TV, so we wouldn't have to see all those stupid Christmas TV commercials.
If we have Christmas in the summer, we would also get Thanksgiving back. If we don't do something pretty soon we'll see wreaths at the mall in September. And this way, New Year's Eve could be its own holiday again, followed by several days off work to make plans for the year.
Clearly, this whole commercialism thing with Christmas is way off-base. Again, though, see how the Theory of Mutual Misery works: Nobody likes the massive shopping spree Christmas has become, but everybody does it, because, well, everybody's doing it. This year a mother told me that because one son had found the Xbox before Christmas and told the other son about it, in her words, "Christmas is f****d."
So here's what I think we should do for Christmas. I think, first of all, the whole country should take off work for a week. I mean really off work. This year people were working on Monday, Christmas Eve. That's obviously insane and should be taken care of in federal legislation. What we need is a week in summer when the entire economy shuts down except for essential services like police, fire, and music stores. And the travel industry.
Ah, yes, the travel industry. This is supposed to be a travel column, right? Clearly, Christmas should be a travel holiday. Not like it is now -- delivering presents in crappy weather -- but where everybody is traveling just for the sake of traveling. I think Christmas should be renamed Exploration Days. We can get the commercialism and religion out of it at the same time, create a holiday that all Americans can dig, and just go out together to explore all the beauty in the world around us. That sounds much better, doesn't it?
We could even work out some kind of house-swapping thing to keep expenses down. You visit your friends' house in Chicago while they crash at your place in Memphis. (This would work especially well for Memphians.)
It's too late this year, of course, but I think we can work this thing out. If nothing else, next year, as the annual Christmas stress-out approaches, remember the neckties.
You can e-mail Paul Gerald at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out his new book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland (Oregon), published by Menasha Ridge Press.