- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2006

The media has issued its annual alert to the nation: Holiday stress soon will overwhelm everyone and everything in its path. It’s not bell-ringing time. It’s hand-wringing time, according to cautionary press reports.

Oh, oh. The terrible trauma of cookie baking. Oh, the pain of shopping, gift-wrapping, family dinners, twinkly lights, snow angels. Oh, the tragedy of it, oh the humanity.

But it has gotten worse. This year, we’re all on the cusp of “holiday rage,” at least according to ABC News and other networks, which suggest that America is about to lose its cookies, sugar and otherwise.

“The happiest season can spur holiday rage,” ABC helpfully explained recently.

The syndrome meshes rather nicely with all the other newly designated rages — “holiday road rage,” which is common near shopping malls, and “retail rage” for those special moments when we exhibit dangerous maniacal tendencies in the checkout line.

Holy Toledo. Is the nation headed for a full-blown case of (fill-in-the-blank) rage? Look out, that guy over there has doughnut rage. Uh-oh. Is Mom about to fly into lunchbox rage? Yipes. Maybe the dog has that kibble rage I’ve been reading about.

Meanwhile, would-be counselors are falling all over themselves to explain our seasonal malaise. Holidays breed discontent and dread, says one pop psychologist. No, no, they cause sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, irritability and substance abuse, claims another. Wait. Holidays are isolating, alienating, abusive and invasive, counters a third. They cause inferiority complexes and sibling rivalry, chimes in a fourth.

Why, holiday stress can drive us mad, they warn. We’ll become depressed, overwhelmed and possibly catatonic right in the middle of the baked goods aisle down at Safeway because we either have done too much or too little of something.

We stand dithering near the fruitcakes in the throes of a true identity crisis because, as Boston psychologist Gerald Koocher recently put it, our visiting relatives see us not as some fine upstanding professional, but “frozen in time as ‘little Bobby who wet his bed at age 3.’ ”

Heavens.

It may help to add some perspective, though. Just imagine the stress right about now in the Claus household, where Santa and his wife, Beulah, must somehow have a productive dialogue over the fact that in approximately 168 hours, he gets to spend the whole night out and she can’t say a word. It might not be so harmonious in the Frosty, Rudolph or Scrooge households, either, come to think of it.

Meanwhile, the myriad commercial suggestions for coping with the stress and trauma of all that tree trimming and dreidl spinning is enough to cause stress and trauma in itself — from “holiday forgiveness training” to a $20 Holiday Stress Solution Package.

And while Americans are coaxed to fret about their chances of developing some esoteric form of holiday stress, it is important to pay homage to some hard public opinion numbers at this time. These were all released within the past two weeks:

According to a new Harris survey of 2,429 reasonably sane adults, 71 percent said they “most” looked forward to spending time with their family and friends during the holidays. A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 adults found that 93 percent of us will celebrate Christmas, 60 percent will do so at home, and 51 percent agreed that we are experiencing the “most joyful time of the year.”

Gallup’s recent survey of 1,003 adults concurred: 55 percent of Americans still describe holiday shopping as a “joyful experience,” while 67 percent said the holidays “were not stressful.”

Here at the Reality Check Desk, we repeat that phrase — “were not stressful” — loudly, perhaps accompanied by Bing Crosby singing “Happy Holidays” and some of the noisemakers being held in reserve for New Year’s Eve.

“Actually, most Americans seem to be coping quite well with the holiday hullabaloo, even though the vast majority says Christmas is too commercialized,” notes Gallup researcher Lydia Saad.

Imagine. Americans actually are enjoying their holiday hullabaloo. Fancy that. Granted, there can be shenanigans — the giant roast beast falls on the floor during the big family dinner, Aunt Madge is in a snit, the kugel burned, Best Buy ran out of Xbox anything about 10 years ago, and the cat climbed up — and into — the Christmas tree.

Keep in mind that a neighbor once had two big dogs — a standard poodle and a Russian wolfhound — who got into a snarling, yelping, howling fight behind the Christmas tree. The family, the tree and the dogs all survived.

If everything seems to be unraveling, just remember Santa and Beulah and ponder the fact that whatever the family holiday — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Winter Solstice, Festivus, etc., etc. — it is a finite period.

“There will be ups and downs, just like the rest of the year,” says Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire. “It is possible for us to get through holidays with a sense of sanity and balance.”

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and doughnut rage for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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