It won’t be a Happy New Year on Wednesday unless we have provided ourselves with one essential life-enhancing item: an appointment book. Some people call them agenda books, or diaries, but I don’t have an agenda and gave up keeping a diary years ago when I realized that everything was repetition. I always buy the same kind of appointment book, not so small as to reduce my life to insignificance and not so huge as to suggest an excess of self-importance. Five by seven inches is about right, with seven days visible at a time. One week we can manage.
At this dark, cold time of year, when the Holidays seem to promise some extra leisure time, and the Holiday specials on television make it too painful to watch television, it’s comforting to think that we still have the old-fashioned option of sinking into an armchair by the fire and enjoying a good long read. That phrase "A good long read" was often spoken with nostalgia by my busy parents. It was something they dreamed about, but rarely achieved except around Christmastime and on summer vacations.
Nothing grabs our attention quite like the weather forecast. The bad news from Syria or Washington may be important, but the bad news from right over our heads is much more compelling. Weather is real, and it becomes even more real at this time of year. We listen with horrified fascination to hear when and how our lives are going to be disrupted by various combinations of snow, ice, flood and wind.
Almost every culture in the world has an elaborate system of gift exchange. Anything can be a gift: seashells, brides, animals, and even intangible things like prayers or blessings. There's the Native American Potlatch ceremony, the Kula ritual in New Guinea, and of course, the greatest gift-giving jamboree of all, Christmas, symbolized by the bountiful figure of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of pawnbrokers, a.k.a. Santa Claus, or Father Christmas. Whatever his real name is, he has no grasp of basic economics.
The Holidays are upon us, and I often wonder whether that word "holiday" is really an appropriate description of how we live at this time of year. The dictionary says that a holiday is "A period of rest and freedom" and "A day on which no work is done." Yet never are we so stressed and harassed by too many things to do as during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year. The holiday comes later, when everyone has gone home and the decorations have come down.