The Christmas season is perhaps the clearest example of the malleability of time. As a child, I found that the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas stretched on and on, seemingly into infinity. Like Bill Murray's character in the film, Groundhog Day, I awoke each morn, only to find that no time had passed. Christmas was still eons away. My grandmother provided some reassurance with an annual gift of a Nativity calendar. These featured little windows that were to be opened, one a day, therefore giving a sign to an anxious lad that the days were indeed passing, that we hadn't unknowingly entered some alternate dimension where time stands still. One glance at that calendar proved that, yes, at least a few of those two-and-a-half dozen sunsets that stood between me and the day of days had indeed come and gone. We might just get there after all.
What I didn't know then and learned too late is the lesson that the late Harry Chapin articulated thusly: It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good. I say I learned this too late because now that I'm an all-dues-paid, card-carrying member of the secret society of grownups, time plays an entirely different set of tricks on me. Nowadays, I go to bed on Thanksgiving full of turkey, pumpkin pie and White Grenache and wake up the next day to discover that it's Christmas Eve and I've purchased not one of the several dozen gifts that are expected from me. Not a card has been mailed, no lights strung, no decorations hung. And I'm expected at three holiday parties in the next four hours.
I've been endeavoring to pin down the precise moment in the course of a lifetime when this compression of time takes place. There's much study and resaerch yet to be done in this arena but early evidence clearly suggests a link between the length of an individual's gift wish list and the duration of the Yuletide. As a lad, the only problem I faced when compiling my list was gathering enough paper to accomodate my catalog of demands. Now, when I asked what I'd like for Christmas, I affect a selflessness of Mother Teresian proportion, decrying the notion that I might have given thought to my own needs and desires in this sacred season. "Oh, I don't really need anything," goes my usual protest. "I'm sure I'll love what ever you choose." Of course, the truth is, this stance is less a matter of selflessness than surrender. None of my loved ones can afford to provide me with a Mercedes convertible, a month in Tahiti or a loft in Tribeca so why make them feel inadequate?
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