The holiday season used to ramp up gently.
Santa would ride in at the end of the Macy’s parade. (“Hey, kids! Guess what’s around the corner?”) Within a week, you’d hear carols in an elevator or catch some stately seasonal reminder, like a Nativity scene or the Budweiser Clydesdales. The song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” harkens back to a yuletide that tapped you gently on the shoulder. Today, it hits you with the force and subtlety of a monster truck.
So it begins: Wives will cook and shop; kids will make lists and ogle toys; pets will begin the traditional process of eating, then regurgitating, low-hung ornaments. And men will provide that essential, yet overlooked, ingredient to every holiday season: ballast.
In many families, Christmas moves at the speed of Dad. This week most wives will find it takes a fair amount of pleading and a small-caliber weapon to coax their husband up the ladder to hang lights. That’s because men are holiday curmudgeons. The in-house Grinch.
The ones saying “Slow down!” and “Not yet!” We are the reluctant convert, the final chair pulled up to the table of holiday cheer. Until then, we’re Clint Eastwood, scowling and squinty, hissing: “What’s all this?” at Santa’s elves.
Sounds horrible, but consider the alternative. Without guys slowing the season down, the holidays would move at the speed of advertisers. These are the folks packing Christmas gear in stores before the first leaf of autumn turns. The ones making radio stations play carols before the jack-o’-lantern has puckered on your porch. In their desire to extend the holiday season (and the commerce it promotes), they’d hang holly on Jerry Lewis’ backside during the Labor Day Telethon if they could. But as it stretches out to nearly three months, the holiday season comes to look more like hockey season: a good concept that grows sour over time, culminating in huge brawls, lost teeth and an ending no one remembers.
The check against all this is Dad.
Men are the holiday border guards. By keeping observances confined to a short, discrete period, we ensure the holiday spirit doesn’t bleed out slowly over countless trips to the mall.
We play counterpoint to the fervor of children, because seasonal joy is a little more fun if you have to convert someone to the cause. And when the actual holidays are upon us and we do, finally, embrace the rituals of the season, it underscores how very special they are.
This is the value of what we do (or don’t do). At least, that’s what I’ll be telling my wife this weekend, when she wants me to hang Christmas lights.
Sometimes our stubbornness and inertia has a wisdom to it. And sometimes we’re just watching TV. How do you know the difference?
I’d tell you, but then I’d get to watch a lot less TV.
These are the mysteries of man.