Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Christmas Hangover

There's a lot I like about the Christmas season. Festive decorations. Guilt-free gatherings of friends and family, complete with foods and beverages that are, strictly speaking, not good for one's body. The sense of excitement in the air. And, for Christians, a celebration of a Very Important Event.

Despite this, the season is one that generally fills me with dread. Let me count the ways: first, there's more to do and yet no additional time in which to do it, which increases stress. Second, repetition of seasonal songs, in a mind-numbing number of versions, usually performed in a perfunctory manner, inflicted on an unwary public. (One of our discussions this year was "Holiday songs I never want to hear again," which occasioned a great many variations on "Wonderful choice!") Preparing for guests to stay over. Preparing to drive, usually through heavy traffic, to visit relatives. The hassle of shopping for people who either have everything they need or want nothing more than the universal gift certificate. (Watching people open gift cards is a dull activity, matched only by receiving such a card when there's no way to spend it until the next day at the earliest.)

Lost in all the shuffle are the normal things one would do over the course or a week or two. Most of those things are not important, but some require a certain amount of sacrifice. To wit: as I type this, I have yet to see the Christmas episode of Doctor Who, "The Time of the Doctor." I have had to avoid all discussion of the episode. I'm told some guy named Capaldi shows up in it, but I have no direct knowledge of this. The things I sacrifice for the sake of the season!

Lest anyone think this is merely a litany of complaints, I hasten to add that I genuinely enjoy the company of my relatives. If any of said relatives are reading this, yes, I mean it, and I'm not just saying so for the sake of smoothing some feathers come next Christmas.

Christmas is also the time when, over a few drinks, friends and relatives are liable to share the more interesting, not to mention embarrassing, pieces of gossip. Items that would never be forthcoming over the telephone or via mail (electronic or otherwise), and certainly never hinted at in the Christmas letter that stays resolutely chipper, come lightly off a tongue loosened by liquor. Little Bobby's close encounter with law enforcement after running that red light, or the explanation for why Uncle Fred is not with us this year (still in rehab). One is reminded of the foibles of one's nearest and dearest. My stepmother, a genuinely warm-hearted person, is also increasingly deaf and staunchly unwilling to do anything about it, so she'll take opportunities to turn up the volume on to the point of distraction on the television, and is unaware that the Christmas tree that plays nothing but a tinny version of "Jingle Bells," over and over, is a seasonal version of water torture. My uncle mercilessly baits the woman. And so it goes.

Which brings me to the Christmas Hangover. Oh, you thought the title was a metaphor for the post-holiday letdown? Perhaps it is that as well. But the CH is a genuine phenomenon. Extracting gossip requires not only plying others with drink, but keeping up as well. I'm also convinced that trying to pay attention to multiple conversations, all held at high volume, causes alcohol to be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream.

This year, my best efforts were destroyed by the confluence of two kind gestures. Back in June, Uncle J__ bought his brother a bottle of Sauternes for the latter's 80th birthday. Said bottle was saved until Christmas, when all of legal drinking age assembled could have a glass of the sweet dessert wine. A temporary madness descended on me, and I forgot my vow forsaking all sweet alcoholic beverages after an unfortunate episode involving Rusty Nails. (To this day I cannot look at a bottle of Drambui without feeling slightly ill.) One glass and - bam! - the next morning was a sad occasion. In fact, I missed most of December 26. If I could have regenerated, I might have done so.

So let this be a cautionary tale to young people with strong constitutions and poor judgment: one day, that strong constitution will be gone, leaving only the poor judgment. When that day arrives, woe betide you. Until then, I envy you.

And now another Christmas has come and gone. For now, only the cleanup remains, itself another form of post-holiday hangover in which decorations return to their cramped little boxes, furniture is moved back to its normal location, and the trash and recycling bins bulge under the onslaught of wrapping paper, boxes, and the remains of that casserole that no one really liked. And in just 51 weeks, we do it all over again.

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