But the worst thing about the holidays actually occurs after December 25. What I really abhor is the malaise that settles in the day after everything is over. As bad as the hustle, rush and melodrama of parties and other gatherings are, it's even worse when it all comes to a sudden, jolting halt.
I guess it all comes back to science: things (and people) in motion prefer to stay in motion. Once you start doing something, you tend to want to continue the activity. In this case, we spent over a month preparing for the holidays. I saw Christmas displays up before Thanksgiving, of course. That's over a month spent getting ready for a day that is over so quickly in a day, in fact. On December 26 everything simply grinds to a stop. Usually, you're tired from all the rush of the holidays, plus you ate way too much at Christmas dinner, so you don't feel like doing anything. All you can do is sit around and contemplate the wrapping paper bits that didn't get swept into the trash and the bowl of red and green M&Ms that didn't get eaten.
No wonder the post-holiday blahs are almost universal. We are caught in a vicious cycle of hype and letdown. Each year it's exactly the same, like we're trapped in a Star Trek space anomaly. Yet, this cycle of expectancy followed by anticlimactic depression isn't solely holiday-related it's a part of our human existence, from insignificant minutiae to life-changing experiences.
The first Batman movie is a clear example. At least, I hope Batman didn't change anyone's life. Reflecting on my early years, I realize that this was probably the first truly anticlimactic experience of my life (excluding my actual birth, of course). You may remember the huge marketing blitz that preceded Batman (sorry, Gen Y and Zers). There were ads, trailers, promotions and merchandise to the point of craziness. But what could have lived up to the grandiose expectations that the year-long marketing campaign inspired? Michael Keaton is a terrific actor and Tim Burton is a fine director, but even they couldn't keep Batman from becoming the most anticlimactic movie in history. Well, maybe except for Waterworld. If you watch Batman today, you'll discover that it's not a bad movie. It just wasn't what it was hyped up to be. Or if you watch Waterworld today. . . on second thought, don't watch Waterworld today or ever. You don't want to waste any more of your life watching that movie.
And even though it clearly ranks in the life-changing experience category, especially compared to Batman, giving birth is also as anticlimactic as Christmas, at least as far as I can tell. People who actually have kids talk up childbirth and child-rearing like they're mood rings and hula hoops that will never go out of style. So childless young couples, inundated by the baby fervor of their friends, family and colleagues, often decide to go ahead and give parenthood the old out-of-college-we-hope try. They spend nine months (possibly even much longer, since people who want to get pregnant have a much more difficult time than do 14-year-olds with no prospects) getting ready for the blessed event. They go to Lamaze classes and buy cute baby clothes and plan out what college the baby's going to attend. They buy those books on choosing baby names you see in the grocery store checkout line.
Finally, though, the big day comes and what do you have? A tiny, red-faced, squirming thing that screams all the time. Talk about anticlimactic. The new parents don't use the Lamaze classes (it turns out the baby sort of pops out on its own), the clothes (babies squirm too much to wear clothes), the college plans (the baby is so dumb that it keeps poking itself in the eye) or even the name (everyone just calls it "the baby" for the first year or two). With all of this to contend with, it shouldn't be a shock to anyone that new moms often come down with postpartum depression. They planned and planned on something that was supposed to be cool, but it turns out it sucks. For 18 years.
The first thing a new mom diagnosed with postpartum depression should do is call up all of her friends, family members and colleagues who told her how great babies were and curse them out. Maybe this will make her feel a little better. But once she's done with that, she needs to begin the healing process by calling her friends who don't have babies and telling them how great babies are. Misery loves company.
But maybe in some strange kind of way, thinking about these other types of anticlimaxes can help you recover from the post-holiday doldrums. After all, you may be exhausted and broke, you may be fighting with every relative you can name and several you can't and you may be 15 pounds heavier than you were in November, but thankfully you don't have any kids. Unless you do. Even if you have children, you can be glad that you're not watching Batman or, God forbid, Waterworld.
Well, here's to us all recovering by February. Just in time to suffer from post-Valentine's Day depression once we realize that nobody loves us. *