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The Middle Ages: Trimming the tree of ambivalence

You know how in the middle of a giant sneeze, you think you might die? That’s how I feel about Christmas and other overindulgent holidays. Do we really love Christmas, or do we merely follow along, hoping it doesn’t kill us?

The canary in the coal mine is my lovely wife. Once a Christmased soul, Posh feels emotionally fleeced by the whole ordeal.

Self-tasked with too many things, she turns an ashen gray and goes about her business like a character in a Dickens play. Gloomy. Defeated. Develops a little limp.

“I’d rather race the Iditarod,” she said the other day.


“Fewer stoplights,” she said. “And the parking’s better.”

Posh is nothing if not a serious person, so I immediately go online to see if BMW makes sleds; I thought she was completely serious about taking up Arctic dog racing.

Besides, I keep insisting that as our kids “mature,” we both need to discover new hobbies; otherwise they’ll remain our hobbies. We’ll end up babying our children forever, and they will never develop into complete and well-calibrated adults.

“Like you?” she asks.

Good example.

Listen, the holidays have always been an excellent time to assess how we parent – too much, too little. Left unsaid, however, is that my wife has raised four children – three of them now adults – who all still believe in Santa. Or at least in the concept of Santa, as socialist caregiver who never sends a bill.

In a family, there are occasionally a few things better left unsaid.

For example:

The other day, the little guy tells me, “You should write about how you dress compared to other dads.”

He might have been referring to the Hessian general’s jacket, with epaulets, that I often wear to bed or to superformal occasions, like pro basketball games or bar mitzvahs. Nothing ostentatious. Nothing you couldn’t find amid the robes and whips of a decent Goodwill store.

My message: Life is too serious to take seriously. And that is never truer than during another bloated, amped-up American Christmas.

Let the reindeer games begin.

Look, no one should fret too much over this frantic, overcooked season. The holidays are a speeding train headed directly for the orphanage. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop the train, and there’s no time to relocate the orphanage. Because Christmas, a day devoted to birth and childhood, just makes the rest of us totally nuts.

’Round about August, when the first hundred holiday ads started to appear on a sweltering summer day, I vowed to break up with Christmas, to send it on its way without me.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I told the Apple commercial. “OK, it’s really you.”

Then I realized all the snide asides I would miss, all the ridiculous rum-scented get-togethers in too-warm restaurants, everyone pretending to be comfortable in wool.

Sunny Los Angeles – or, as I like to call it, L’Angeles – is generally a wool-free zone except for the two weeks leading up to Christmas Eve (it’s in the City Charter).

Oh, and what about the packed parking garages? Wouldn’t I miss those, too? You can circle for weeks without finding a space, eventually running out of gas while waiting on some pregnant woman pushing a double-stroller to load up and leave (a minimum of 13 hours). And there’s no better place to scrape a fender.

“Wow,” I thought. “I certainly would miss all that.”

But you know what I would really miss?


You, the picture of desperation, rushing into a department store late on a Christmas Eve, as if into the ER to have a bone set. Or the image of my wife with her knee on the last package, like a rodeo cowboy cinching up a calf in record time.


I’d miss the ladder on the lawn, the tree atop the car – every Clark Griswold moment.

I’d also miss the schoolkids on the last day before break, preferably with a little December in their cheeks as a chill rain falls. Children in my city, unaccustomed to rain, carry umbrellas like altar candles, as if balancing angels on a stick.

So here’s to all that, the silly and the sublime, and the kind of roaring good times that December always promises and occasionally even brings.

Yep, Christmas can get crazy – all the rushing and overeating, catalogs and cranberries. It really can be miserable.

But you what’s worse? January.