We've finally reached my favorite time of the holiday season. The last two or three days before Christmas. You see, working retail for what seems like roughly the last seven hundred Christmas seasons in a row, I've noticed a pattern as to how the Season usually plays out.
Stage One - The early roll-out
You know what I'm talking about. It's the week after Halloween and the grocery stores begin re-stocking Christmas themed candy. Stuff like Hershey's Kisses and red and green M&M's. Most stores aren't bold enough to drop the candy canes in yet, but you know it's coming.
Stage Two - Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the first Psychotic Break
This is the stage where retailer desperation mixes dangerously with a diminishing middle class fresh off feasting on hormone injected turkeys and copious amounts of beer and wine. The resulting commercial chaos is said to carry businesses over into the black for the year, but the resulting physical chaos of douche bags giving each other black eyes while fighting over half-price blu-ray players is much more fun to watch.
The other hallmark of stage two is the beginning of the utter deluge of Christmas music. Look, if you know me, you know how I feel about 99% of all the Christmas music ever created. It's not only hackneyed, overly sentimental crap but also incredibly familiar and overplayed. I guess it's kind of similar to the music of the Bee Gees in that regard. I'm sorry, but it doesn't matter what instruments you play or how well you sing, it's still just a song about a disfigured reindeer who finally gets in with the cool kids. And don't even get me started on all the songs about snow. There's only so many ways you can express how much you love snow in song, unless you're an Eskimo... Am I ranting? Sorry about that. On to...
Stage Three - Fever pitch. The last weekend.
The height of misery for most people, this stage is the result of people waiting to do all their shopping on the final weekend, with their last paycheck before Christmas. Because nothing puts people in a better mood than sitting down and figuring out what bills they are going to skip paying in December just so they can thrust themselves out into a retail meat grinder to find a Deluxe George Foreman Grill for their mouth-breathing cousin Cletus.
For customers and employees alike, Stage Three is a bloodbath. Scorched Earth commercialism. Anarchy with a debit card. All of the anger, resentment and cynicism people have unknowingly been hoarding all year long tend to bubble over during this stage and we often find ourselves screaming past each other in parking lots and in register aisles. We find ourselves working so hard to make the holidays happen, like they are just another chore that we need to get finished by the end of the day, and in Stage Three it is very late in the day indeed.
Which brings us to the calm after the storm...
Stage Four - "Cynicism Falls Asleep..."
Something seems to change following that last frantic weekend. Having expunged vast quantities of angst during our final fleeting hours of shopping, we seem to lapse into a cheerful aloofness. It's as if our holiday struggles have exhausted our capacity for frustration and irritation, bitterness and distrust, and all of the other emotional toxins that have built up within us over the year past. To quote a favored songwriter of mine, we allow our cynicism to fall asleep. And with sleep come dreams, and with those dreams comes hope. Hope that next year we can be better, and appreciation that we have people in our lives who make us want to be better.
It is this sense that pervades those final few days before Christmas and makes them my favorite of the season. To all of my friends and family, Merry Christmas.
P.S. - Be ready, because my cynicism is going to wake up bright-eyed and refreshed on January 1st.