I trust that, for the past couple of weeks in this space, I've been appropriately merry and bright. But now that Christmas has come and gone, I think it's time to tell the truth, which might not be quite as glittery as the street decorations that suddenly appear in mid-November:
It's the most stressful time of the year. I suppose tax season (hey, there's something to look forward to) runs a close second, but nothing beats Christmas when it comes to stress and strain -- strain on the wallet, strain on our time.
I've thought more than once, over the past month, that if I had to find time for one more Joyous Occasion, I might just spend next year's holidays someplace where Christmas means nothing, such as Washington, D.C.
Of course some of the stress is our own fault, as we overschedule ourselves with misguided optimism. But much is unavoidable -- kids' school concerts, office parties, church dinners -- unless we just want to become hermits or social pariahs. I confess: there was a time, around Dec. 20, when becoming a hermit didn't seem like a bad idea.
The world does not stop for the holidays. When we're children, it seems that the whole world slows down for Christmas. Of course, that's because we're so anxious for the day to arrive that it feels like it never will. But there's no doubt that this apparent suspension of time is a large part of what makes Christmas seem magical.
As adults, we learn the truth: that life goes on, regardless of what the calendar says. We still have to work, in some case right up until Christmas Day or even on the day itself. Along with festive cards, we still get bills in the mail. Appliances still break down (usually, right before company shows up), people still have fender benders, the basement still floods. Christmas, however much we might wish otherwise, changes none of that.
Not everyone is joyous. Perhaps the most pernicious Christmas myth of all is that, at this time of year, we're all filled with love for our fellow beings. The truth is that Christmas is a kind of traumatic event, in some ways not unlike a natural disaster. And such events always bring out the best in some people -- and the worst in others.
Anyone who has ventured out in public since Thanksgiving already knows this. We've all witnessed acts of extreme kindness, but we've also watched people push and shove for a $5-waffle iron, cursed the person who zipped into that parking space we'd been waiting for, read about gifts being stolen out from under newly-decorated trees.
Next Christmas, we might do well to remember not only Christ's birth, but also the reason He came: to save us from our sins. That so many of those sins are in evidence during this holy season is perhaps not entirely coincidental.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.