Turning the holidays into too much of a good thing

Are we stretching the most wonderful time of the year beyond recognition?

A few years ago, we wound up about 20 driving hours from home the day after Thanksgiving.

Destined as we were for a lengthy car ride, I thought I would brighten the drive by locating holiday-song-only radio stations and flipping from one to another, making this an all-holiday-tunes exercise, something my family could look back on and fondly remember someday.

Well, I’m happy to report that we do look back on this trip, but the word “fondly” isn’t part of the story.

All I was doing was replicating my personal pattern between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, when I give my daily diet of Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen and Boston a six-week rest in favor of holiday tunes. It’s a plan that seems to keep both genres fresh year-round.

But there’s a difference between listening to holiday tunes for 20 minutes at a time and listening to them for 20 consecutive hours. As we wound through the hills of Missouri and Arkansas and across the relative flatness of East Texas, it dawned on me that there are only about 30 actual holiday “favorites,” and once those have been played, the radio stations start looping them again. And again. And again.

Given enough repetitions, even Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” begins to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife or sons, who spent a good portion of what should have been a restful drive for them (after all, I was behind the wheel throughout) complaining so loudly about this cruel and unusual punishment that I finally gave in and switched the channel.

We survived, of course, although one son still barks irrationally when a holiday song dares flash its title on the radio screen. But that ill-conceived idea says something about the unintended consequences of the ever-expanding holiday season.

We all know that within minutes of clearing the shelves of Halloween candy, many merchants fill their stores with holiday stuff. It still seems odd to find Santa waving hello when Thanksgiving is nowhere in sight.

I’m not pointing a finger at stores that start the holidays early; they are entitled to do whatever is best for their bottom lines, particularly in these curious economic times.

But I do wonder about the cumulative “damage” we’re doing to ourselves by allowing the holidays to become an overexposed part of our lives.

Our pastor used the term “extravagant generosity” during a recent sermon, and his point seemed to be the importance of giving generously to others from both our pocketbooks and our time.

The holiday season, more than any other, is a time when most of us feel an emotional pull to dig a little deeper to help each other.

Yes, we should feel that way every day of every year. But sadly, most of us just can’t operate that way. We need a special time to give in a special way, and the holiday season offers that opportunity.

Or at least it did. Now, with the season stretching from Nov. 1 to Jan. 2, that’s a long time to keep the flame burning without scorching someone, most likely ourselves.


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