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Christmas is without a doubt the best time of year when you’re a little kid. Yeah, this celebration is supposed to be about a holy baby in a manger, but children and all but the most devout Christians relate a lot more to Santa Claus. As I write this in mid-November, Christmas carols have already jolted my ears in a few public places. Such overkill is one reason why, even though it’s the most prolific of holidays, I can’t rank it as the best, except for kids under the age of 10.
As years go by youthful innocence gets hijacked by pubescence and its accompanying penchant for mischief. That’s why, just guessing, but I’d say more than half the population between the ages of 10 and 18 or thereabout ranks Halloween ahead of Christmas as the jolliest time of year. This trend has accelerated in the modern era as this quirky unofficial holiday has evolved from a single day on the calendar to take over the entire month of October. How puzzling it is why a surprising number of adults also have gotten into the spirit of a holiday that celebrates the macabre and doesn’t even entail a day off from work. Chalk it up to great marketing by candy and costume companies.
Speaking of which, Halloween IMO ranks second to Valentine’s Day as the most contrived of holidays. February 14 exists as a tribute not so much to Cupid as to the skill of modern marketers. Ostensibly it celebrates romance but a day that originated for lovers has morphed into preschool toddlers drawing hearts on cards for fellow classmates as well as Mommy and Daddy. Love is a good thing. But this curmudgeon views the curdled versions celebrated on Valentine’s Day as too much of a good thing.
People of all ages tend to have a good time on Independence Day. Patriots like me have not much bad to say about it, although one can take a dim view of commercial exploitation that tends to tip heavily toward fireworks that are illegal in many places and dangerous everywhere. Nonetheless, this holiday shines with almost everyone because of the opportunity to express patriotism, tap toes to Sousa marches while enjoying professional fireworks shows, and take part in fun-filled cookouts in the most casual attire. Too bad it’s such a fleeting mid-summer moment.
Memorial Day and Labor Day also are single-day events whose reasons for being are barely noted by most of the population anymore. They resonate mostly because they result in extended weekends for most people and, practically speaking, bookend the beginning and end of summer. We look forward to these holidays, but they do not register as high as the aforementioned on most peoples’ joy-meter.
Easter is a holiday that deserves honorable mention at best, being relegated mostly to Christians and not even generating a working day off. St. Patrick’s Day is nominally another religious holiday, in the same sense that dwarf tossing nominally can be considered a sport. Mostly March 17 gives college students and other amateur imbibers a more or less sanctioned excuse to get drunk.
As for New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, which for practical purposes can be considered a single holiday, well, that too is a time given mainly to a celebration of intoxicating beverages and not only for college students. Actually, the second part of NYE/NYD mostly celebrates hangover remedies. The best of NCAA football, too, which combined with a day off from work for most of us are reasons to cherish this holiday. However, a veil of gloom attends NYD in marking as it does the end of a lengthy holiday season and the start of a three-month run of dreadful weather for those of us living up north. NYD always feels to me like I’m sitting in a pleasant waiting room for a dental appointment.
As for the pseudo-holidays of Columbus Day, President’s Day and Martin Luther King Day, they are virtually meaningless except as an excuse for government workers to get yet another day off.
Veteran’s Day deserves to be ranked above the other government-only holidays due to its solemn heritage. It used to be taken more seriously when it was called Armistice Day to celebrate what was thought to be the end of the war to end all wars - the ultimate in wishful thinking. Now Veteran’s Day is indistinguishable from Memorial Day except without a break from work for people in the private sector.
Finally, we come to the one American holiday even I have trouble treating with cynicism. Thanksgiving is the purest of our celebrations, the least trampled upon by commercialism, the most embraceable by people of all ages, ethnicities and religions. As the name suggests, it is a time for reflection, peace and charity, and perfectly suited for celebrating with extended family and friends.
You have to be a real turkey not to love Thanksgiving. May yours be filled with love and happiness.