Every year, I am blindsighted by holiday panic. It creeps up on me, entering my body along with all the usual stresses, invading quietly. All of a sudden, I am nearly paralyzed with indecision, overwhelmed with what to do, for myself, for others, for the universe. I have this moment when I feel amazed that I am in such a dither, where I stop and wonder, 'how did life get so crazy, so much crazier, even, than usual?' And, then, I remember. It is an AHA! moment every year when I realize why I might feel suddenly so much more inadequate even than usual, when I feel even more as if I am well behind where I should be, that I should be doing so much more.
I am, sometimes, a rational person. But the holiday season is the ultimate marketing campaign, one that has worked on people for centuries. Even though I wrote about marketing's insipid ways for a decade, it still works on me. I still find myself standing, dazed and confused, in the middle of a holiday bazaar in Union Square, imagining that life will be as it should only if I buy the perfect, beautiful gifts and put them under a perfectly decorated tree as I bring out a variety of delicious home-baked cookies and egg nog to my guests in front of the fire. It's all wrong, the image. I'm Jewish, I have no tree, no fireplace and egg nog doesn't really do it for me. But, still, this is the kind of pressure that was working on me the other day as I shopped. I got nothing accomplished. I was just acclimating myself to the annual discrepancy between fantasy and reality, to the idea that, indeed, all I could hope for was to share a few small tokens of appreciation and, ideally, time with family and friends this season. The less pressure the better.
Last year, when I ran into the umpteenth woman looking as harried and hazy from holiday stress as I, when I heard the thousandth tale of intended cheer turned to chaos, I laughingly suggested I should set up a booth where I could administer some sort of serum to relieve the stress, to happy the sad. I wasn't yet giving out gold stars. It may not be as effective as some specially-devised holiday serum, but I get a new shipment of stars on Wednesday, mercifully. I'm still considering setting up a therapy booth, like Lucy in Peanuts, though I can't imagine charging even five cents since people's purses are already open far too often this time of year, adding to the stress.
It was so hard to focus the other day on shopping, I just wandered the Union Square bazaar in a daze imagining that if I were to find the perfect gifts, place them under a beautifully decorated tree around which I served home-baked cookies and egg nog to appreciative family and friends around the fire, all would be well. The image just shows how marketing works, how easy it is to succumb to the marketing of the holiday season, even when it doesn't even vaguely apply. I am Jewish, after all, I have no tree and egg nog just doesn't do it for me. Even so, I had to work hard as I meandered around with other freezing, hopeful shoppers, to separate fantasy from reality. I bought nothing, except my favorite sesame chicken salad at Union Square Coffee shop. I contemplated, instead, what I would buy.
I had exactly a few hours yesterday to shop for my kids for Chanukah, just enough. Any more and additional hundreds would have been spent on useless items my marketing-addled mind told me would matter. As it was, my kids loved their gifts, we ate home-made latkas with pork chops (a nod to both Jewish and Wasp roots in our house) and enjoyed one another immensely. I tried not to be too hard on myself that it took 'til 8:00 to serve dinner, that presents weren't wrapped at all let alone beautifully much before then, and that the few paltry decorations I'd picked up at the last minute from the picked-over quarter-aisle the major drug stores devote to Chanukah weren't even put up. Oh well. I'm trying. It's all I can do.