Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We Need a Little Christmas

Last night, we polished off the last of the Christmas cookies. It was a lemon wreath, which my brother Matt said looked more like a bagel. Perhaps it was this very flaw in its design that allowed the wreath to survive so long. Where its sexier brothers and sisters bedazzled eaters with their chocolate coatings (cake balls), ginormous size (giant sugar cookies) or toffee toppings (millionaire shortbread), the misshapen wreaths slipped by under the radar, and lived to see another day. Until last night.

And just like that, the holidays were officially over.

I know, most people got on with their lives Jan. 2. They took down their trees. Put away the decorations. Completely denuded their households of anything remotely red and/or green. To which I can only ask, why the rush?

Because you know what comes after Christmas? Nothing. All the way to Memorial Day, it's one long slog of everyday living. You can try to make a case for Valentine's Day or President's Day, but these one-offs have none of the appeal of the holiday season. It's an entire month (or months, if you started celebrating back on Halloween) where we're encouraged to make our homes look cheerful, wear sparkly clothes, eat as much crappy/delicious food as we want and make merry with all our friends and loved ones. Why would we want to see that end?

Historians will tell you that December has nothing to do with the actual birth of Christ. We position the holiday where it is because right around that time of the year, we could all do with a little pick-me-up. When daylight savings ends, night falls in Chicago about an hour after the sun rises. Most days are relentlessly cold and gray. For awhile, amidst all the twinkling lights and shiny ribbon, you kind of don't notice. But once we've all been mandated to put the sparkle away, it's like stepping from technicolor into black and white.

I say we don't need less Christmas, we need more.

Why, for heaven's sake, do we all need to get in shape in January--suddenly every gym is full and salmon becomes our daily ration--when no one will see our flesh until June? What we really need is an extra layer of blubber to make it through February and, alas, March, or even beyond. You know, some years I've pulled out my winter coat in November, searched through the pocket hoping to find spare change or dollars, and come across a receipt or ticket stub from the previous May. That's right, I was wearing my winter coat in May.

It's still dark out when most people leave work at night, so why castigate the folks who keep their lights up past St. Patty's day? They're doing us all a favor, practically performing a public service, to keep us from getting SAD (seasonal affect disorder). We should be applauding these people, not sending investigative reporters to their homes to embarrass them on air.

These next few months are rough, particularly on northerners. There's snow, which loses all of its appeal the second it turns to slush, to say nothing of the blackened piles that congregate curbside. (You ever look at the charred snow and realize that soot is there, hanging in the air, all the time? We just can't see it without the white background.) The worst of the temperatures are still to come. Cabin fever will run rampant. Most of us will hunker down in our homes, no parties to go to, no reason to change out of our sweats or emerge from under our Snuggies. Wouldn't it be nice to have a little Christmas?

I don't mean all the presents and expense. I mean reveling in the child-like innocence of "Rudolph," and the frosted sugar cookies and the gatherings with family and friends. The tree, standing in the corner of the living room, a beacon of light and hope.

They say Ebenezer Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas all year long. So why can't I? I found a box of chocolate pudding hidden away in the back of a kitchen cupboard. It's no lemon wreath (and definitely not a cake ball), but it's a start.


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