Thanksgiving is now a memory, and the party season has sprouted from the doldrums of November. My mailboxes, both real and virtual, are full of once yearly greetings from friends and family, including the ubiquitous one-size-fits-all one page letter with filtered family news, and the remaining spaces are crammed with catalogues trumpeting the newest, the best, the most humorous, and the how-did-I-ever-live-without-it.
Welcome to the season of excess, the time of bright lights, of merriment, of too much food and too much drink, of living to the fullest today, and spending money as though tomorrow will never happen. And, as surely as summer comes before fall, welcome to the season that precedes regret.
It is not unnatural, as we head into the darkest days of winter, to illuminate the gloom; the nights are long and cold, and often cheerless. But human nature adores extremes, and this is nowhere more apparent than each and every December, as we attempt to outdo what we, and our neighbors, did last year. There is no better time of the year to keep up with the Jones’. But whereas, in the past, we might have tried to find the largest Yule log, or baked the most extravagant gingerbread house, now we buy everything that isn’t nailed down, whether food, drink, decorations, or gifts. It’s all about quantity, not quality, and he who has the most, wins.
And then January rolls around, with a plethora of hangovers: waistline, headache, credit, et al. All the effort expended in eleven of the previous twelve months has now flown out the window, replaced by a month-long Bacchanalian orgy. We know heading into December that we are habitual offenders, and come January 2, we will feel remorse, but we never learn–we repeat, and even increase, last year’s overindulgences. After all, we tell ourselves, it’s only once each year.
The unfortunate part, as we know, is that the years roll around faster as we age; I’m now at a point where my recovery from last year’s excesses are beginning to bleed into this year’s festivities. I suspect I am not alone as retailers and advertisers do their best to encourage a longer and longer season. This year, I saw the first Christmas decorations right after Labor Day, while my garden was in full bloom, and my red-tagged furnace not yet replaced. My first invitation to purchase 2011 holiday greetings arrived last February, and 2012 calendars were fully stocked and for sale in local stores in June.
I think we are losing track of what this time of year is supposed to be: a time to spend with those close to us, to reflect on all that’s good in our lives, and take stock of what we might like to change. We are so busy preparing for the holidays, we forget to enjoy them. Instead, they become just another item to stress over, wondering if we’re doing it right, if we’re doing enough, whether the neighbors will judge our efforts and find us lacking.
Frankly, I’m tired. I’m staring at over 200 cards sitting on my desk, waiting for me to write personal notes and addresses. My calendar is already filled beyond what’s reasonable with actual parties, proposed get-togethers, and other assorted social events. I have yet to begin my shopping, and each year, even though my family shrinks through the normal attrition of death and distance, my list seems to become longer and longer. I’m not having fun, and truth be told, neither are many of you.
I have this internal argument every year: to do only as much as I want, when I want to do it, and to do no more. And every year, my internal resolve collapses around my feet in the face of so much festivity. As I head towards each party, the charitable donations I’ve already given in lieu of a gift now seem paltry, and I rush out to find something, anything, however meaningless, to prevent me from arriving with empty hands. Come hell or high water, the social niceties must be observed, and that includes a prettily-wrapped gift, even if it only holds a bar of soap that will never be used, or a candle that will never be lit.
I have once again bought into the commercialism of the season, at least to the extent of all those unaddressed cards staring up at me from my desk. But it is not too late to make an effort to remediate the rest. This year, I am making my resolutions before I undo everything I’ve accomplished over the past eleven months. I resolve to give gifts that have meaning to their recipients, to celebrate with those I am close to, and to maintain prudent habits towards food, drink, exercise and spending. I am determined to break my own personal cycle of holiday excess, to do it this year, and not next.