Oh, you thought our Thanksgiving op-eds were bad? Gird your stockings for the least wonderful time of the year, when the merry gentlepeople of MEL attempt to outdo one another with the most heinous holiday takes we can unwrap. We can already feel the angry tweets nipping at our noses.
We’ve all got that one friend who just has to point out during the holidays that, actually, there’s no good reason why Christmas is on December 25th. Although there are competing theories for why we do, we all know that Jesus wasn’t born that day. And yet, we keep on celebrating Christmas on the 25th because, well, that’s just the way it is. What should we do instead: Arbitrarily change the date of the biggest holiday of the year? Some people wouldn’t mind that, especially during COVID, when a summer celebration might be safer than during the deepest of winter. (And, of course, some countries’ Christmas falls during the warmest time on the calendar.)
This year is an anomaly — it’s going to be a strange Christmas for most of us — so what I’m about to propose doesn’t make much sense in 2020. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense any year, because it will never happen for a million logistical reasons. But if this is a season in which wishes can come true, let me have this one: I think Christmas should be a period of time, not just one day. We’ve got a Memorial Day weekend and a Labor Day weekend. Christmas should have that but bigger. I think the Christmas holiday should start on December 15th. Then we should have the rest of the year off.
First off, let’s acknowledge why this wouldn’t work. For one thing, many, many people don’t have the luxury of taking two weeks off from a job. Everyone from mail carriers to truck drivers to retail employees are busy during the holidays — and, of course, think of our badly taxed frontline health workers, who are probably in for a brutal Christmas. There’s a lot of privilege involved in what I’m proposing.
But for the people lucky enough to get away from their jobs and be with their loved ones, December 25th can be a magical day where you don’t have to do a damn thing. But what sucks about Christmas is the mad rush to get to that day. COVID has changed this for 2020, but most years, you would currently be stressing about travel plans, last-minute shopping and all the other insanity that’s part of the build-up to the holidays. And on top of all that stress, you’d also be busy doing your job — although, I’d guess, probably not all that well. It’s only human nature: It’s hard to think about work when you’ve got dozens of little things to do before Christmas. (Every Thanksgiving, my wife swears this is the year we’ll send out Christmas cards. Every December 15th, we laugh that we thought we could pull that off with everything else going on.) Honestly, by the time you get to actual Christmas Day, you’re just exhausted.
That’s why making December 15th until the end of the year a national holiday is a lovely fantasy. For one thing, it would end the crush of fliers scrambling to the airport in the last few days before Christmas to get home. If everybody’s essentially “off” starting today, then people could have more flexibility in terms of when they traveled. In the past, depending on when Christmas fell during the week, you’d either have a decent amount of cushion between the start of your vacation and the holiday — or you’d be scrambling. Similarly, some jobs don’t give its workers much time off between Christmas and New Year’s, meaning that — after you’ve practically gone mad trying to make it to family in time — you then have to repeat the same crush at the airport on the way back. As reverently as we treat Christmas, the days before and after are such a nightmare that it can significantly dampen the fun.
Such a long holiday seems bizarre to Americans, but it’s not so crazy in Europe, which practically shuts down every August for vacation. There, it’s a culturally-agreed-upon period when work slows down and life gets a little easier. The Christmas holiday is basically like that in America, except we still try to cram in work those last few days before we jump on the plane. It’s ridiculous. What if we all just… decided that things could wait until we got back? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
All of this is connected to an idea I have about what this time of year represents, which has nothing to do with presents and a tree. It’s about simply collecting yourself, taking a breath and refocusing yourself for what’s to come — presumably around folks you actually like.
The rush and stress of the Christmas rigamarole — that time crunch that ensnares all of us during this time of year — will eventually return once the pandemic is in our rearview mirror. But in a way, the 2020 holiday season offers a pseudo-tryout for my proposal. Those who aren’t traveling in order to help prevent the spread of COVID may find this a lonelier Christmas than usual. It also, though, might provide what I value most out of Christmas — the chance to pause and reflect and rejuvenate.
Lots of people are out of work. Lots of people have loved ones who are sick, or who have already lost loved ones. An extended national holiday won’t do anything to help that. But maybe, someday, things will get a little better, and get back to “normal.” Even more reason, then, to think about the impetus behind my proposal. After going through a pandemic, we’ve all come to appreciate the importance of other people — particularly those we’ve been away from. It would be great, even post-pandemic, if the world stopped making it so hard to see them by giving us so little time to be together. The whole rest of the calendar is devoted to what we have to do. Let us have the last two weeks of every year to reconnect with the things and the people we need.