Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Christmas Day is two weeks from today.
For the last three or four weeks, I've been deluged with press-releases from public relations firms all over the continent offering to set up interviews for me with psychologists and other "experts" who will enlighten me – and you – about "new ways" to cope with an old story – the stress of the holidays.
Holiday stress has become an industry, I think. As viable and real as any retail venture offering "seasonal specials" at wildly discounted rates.
I suspect the "stress of the holidays" is a media event, to some degree.
Charles Dickens may have had a hand it, too.
Before I go one step further, let me be straight with you. I'm Jewish. My tradition is very different. But, I confess that I have been stressed about holidays in the Jewish calendar, like Passover and the High Holidays.
However, I do not believe I have ever had a publicist approach me and propose I interview a psychologist about Passover stress or Rosh Hashanah stress or Yom Kippur stress or Hanukkah stress. Somehow, these holidays don't seem to generate the same calibre of stress. Maybe they did and I was too young to be aware of it. Maybe stories about how to weather Hanukkah stress run in Jerusalem Post. I don't know.
More likely, it's simply a question of demographics. And business.
In the Western world, Christmas is everywhere. Big Business. No matter what your religion, it's Christmas and it's contagious. So, it seems, is its stress.
As I think back, way back to my childhood, I don't recall any sense of stress or anything like it. Anywhere. It was a beautiful time.
Christmas had no religious meaning for us though we knew its origins. We went to public schools and Christmas concerts were regular annual events – and great fun. I loved singing all the Christmas carols. Still do. Especially the way Diana Krall sings them.
We were taken to see Santa Claus at Eaton's downtown Toronto flagship store (below is a picture of me at age 5, in 1953), to sit on his knee and answer the question he always asked, "And what would you like for Christmas this year?"
I was precocious. A mite like the little girl Natalie Wood played in the classic 1947 Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street. I probably lectured him on why I didn't want anything for Christmas since we don't celebrate Christmas because we're Jewish. Then, I'd tell him that my parents would probably buy me some little things for Hanukkah.
Still, Christmas was utterly magical for me. We always went to see the elaborate Christmas windows at the big downtown Simpson's and Eaton's stores. Those stores are gone and I think those delightful moveable displays are long gone, too.
They're still a tradition in New York and other major U.S. cities. Selling stuff is reserved for inside some major store, to a degree during the holidays, like Lord & Taylor in New York. But not here.
It was a tradition for us to be driven around the twinkling, glowing residential streets of my grandparents mid-town neighhourhood or ours in North Toronto after dark. Now we don't have to drive far. We've dubbed our street "'Las Vegas North."
And, of course, there was The Santa Claus Parade.
We had holidays from school. All this often coincided, depending on the lunar Jewish calendar, with Hanukkah, which had its own lovely traditions and delicious foods – like potato latkes smothered in apple sauce or sour cream. Lighting the Menorah every night for eight nights and singing the Hebrew blessings. Playing the game of Driedel, which I have never understood and still don't, with gold-foil wrapped chocolate coins, that you could eat whether you won or lost.
I remember the early days of television. My grandparents had one. I was born in October 1948. Mass marketing and advertising were in their infancy. We weren't commercialized at the age of two and three like the phenomenon of Consuming Kids today. We also weren't as sophisticated and knowledgeable either.
I don't want to sound like an old fogey bemoaning "the good old days," but I feel sad that these holidays, which should be happy, are somehow so stress-laden.
My friend, Tufts University clinical psychiatrist Ron Pies calls them the Holiday Blues, With Some Shades of Grey in an excellent post on PsychCentral about the myths and realities of suicide and depression at this time of year, too.
So, I plan to muse about The Holidays over the next little while. Not in every post. Not all the time. It may be a cathartic activity for us. Therapeutic, perhaps. Mentally healthy.
I want to open a forum for you. Come and share some of your warmest memories of this season, no matter how you celebrate – even if you escape to the south, where Christmas is snowless and sunny, but still Christmas!
Let us turn "Coming Out Crazy" into a place of respite from the stress of the season. Come and vent if you wish, if that will make you feel better. It's open season during the holiday season here this year.
You know me. Ever the cockeyed optimist, even as I face mountains of essay marking. I'll find some hummable seasonal music to keep me company.
And tomorrow night, we have our annual family Hanukkah party. Mmmmmmm. I can taste those latkes!