Last Christmas Eve, my wife sent me to the local supermarket to pick up something she’d forgotten to buy. The parking lot had one empty space, but I was in the holiday spirit, so signaled a woman to take it. She saw me in the dairy aisle and stopped to thank me for being so kind. I told her it was nothing. We chatted for a moment, wished one another a merry Christmas, and then I went on my way, feeling good about myself, basking in my altruism. Until it occurred to me later that if it had been December 26, I probably would have acted like I hadn’t seen her and taken the spot myself.
Several years ago, in preparation for a sermon I was giving at our church, I asked a number of people their favorite day of the year. Most everyone said Christmas. At one time, I would have said the same thing, but now December 25 has worn a bit thin for me — the crush of relatives, the pronounced jollity, the tension of gift-giving equity. Now my favorite day is December 26, when the next Christmas and its attendant pressures are beyond the horizon, hidden by the curve of Earth, out of sight. I can be nice only for so long, and by the 26th, I’m exhausted by benevolence and eager to be done with it.
“I wish it were Christmas all year long,” the woman in the dairy aisle told me. “Everyone’s so nice.”
I’m all for nice, but nice is a lot of work, and I’m not sure we can sustain it the whole year round without dire consequences. I have a theory about nice. Those people who go berserk and start shooting up places, when we talk with their neighbors to find out what they were like, always turn out to be nice people. “He was a nice guy. He always said hi to me, and once he even changed my flat tire.” I think the pressure of niceness got to them until they finally exploded. If they had released the steam gradually — an insult here, a snort of derision there — they would have maintained emotional equilibrium and been just fine. It was niceness that set them off.
My mother is the sweetest woman God ever made. But once a year or so, when I was growing up, she’d blast off from the launch pad and hit the moon. I could see it coming days away — the twitches, the tics — and always made sure to be far away when she finally blew. My father, on the other hand, let the pressure off each day, stomping around the house for 5 or 10 minutes, railing and ranting, releasing his bile, then afterward was sweetness and light.
None of us are so good that we can sustain a high level of decency all day every day. Not even the pope, who probably cusses under his breath now and then.
Indeed, the venting of ire might be so important, we should set aside one day a year, preferably December 26, when we are perfectly free, nay encouraged, to tell people how they’ve annoyed us during the past year. Since everyone has the day off after Christmas, those who don’t wish to vent or be vented upon can spend the day in bed. At the end of the day, we’ll either be well rested or unperturbed, ready to enter the new year with a fitting frame of mind.
I’m typically modest, but I know a good idea when I have one, and this one’s a doozy. Yes, holidays should be evenly distributed throughout the year, but Vent Day (that’s what I’m naming our new holiday, it being my invention) should follow Christmas Day as naturally and obviously as night follows day. We can take down the tree and put away the ornaments on the 27th. First, let’s air our grievances, vent our spleens, and clear the air.
And I’ll start by asking my wife why she sends me to the grocery store on the busiest day of the year to buy eggnog when no one in our family even likes it.