There is stuff to like about the holidays. There’s a lot of free booze around, for instance. It’s less socially awkward to crank down an entire tin of cookies in the middle of the workday than at other times of the year, so bonus there. But beyond these specific advantages your beloved The Clam finds much of the rest to be a massive pain in the dong. We would happily trade the month-plus pageant of consumption and groupthink for a compressed week of vapid hype culminating in an orgy of binge-eating/power drinking, making it tolerably more like every other week of the year for us. But trade or no, the point remains: The October-January extended “Festive Quarter” has gotten fully the fuck out of hand. It’s exhausting and unnecessary.
In fact, we find the encroaching holidays share many parallels with one of our favorite genres of literature: The Zombie outbreak narrative. Observe:
STAGE 1- September:
Walking into Costco you are shocked by the abrupt first flare-up, a full aisle of animatronic decorations just days out from Labor Day Weekend. Your avoidance response is identical to finding a mangey one-eyed raccoon on your back porch in broad daylight. “I want no fucking part of this,” you say, putting as much distance between you and it as is possible.
STAGE 2- October:
The outbreak is no longer isolated to select pockets and is developing more rapidly than anyone expects. Confusion reigns, with stores, pop radio and the inflatable holiday decorations on lawns around town showing a strange mixture of symptoms. Mostly it’s the increasingly virulent but generally harmless Halloween strain which clears up after about a week. But more and more you notice evidence of the much longer-sustaining early-onset ChristmasN2 mixed in with the otherwise benign pumpkins and skeletons. The sickness has obviously gained a foothold and won’t be going away.
The government seems powerless to respond. “Which holiday is that guy dressing as Santa for?” you ask in a climate of growing unease.
It’s now obvious something is seriously wrong. Going out in public is no longer safe as it’s become impossible to tell which locations have been infected and which remain clean. Example: You know from experience the bathrooms on board commuter rail trains are like a particularly nasty porta-potty bouncing around inside a giant maraca, so you pop into a nearby Dunkin Donuts to use the loo. Upon entering you are exposed to a full five seconds of “Wonderful Christmastime” at full volume. You retreat, realizing getting splashed with blue dookiewater is less risk than being subjected to an additional stanza.
Short-sighted local officials are making the problem worse by creating early infection sites where the sickness can take hold. Wreaths are going up. Public displays are being installed. We are told told not to panic, reassured most of the current activity is only the serious but survivable Thanksgiving Simplex which only tends to take out the highly emotionally vulnerable. “How is this all happening so fast?” is the question on everyone’s lips.
STAGE 4-Black Friday:
PUBLIC EMERGENCY DECLARED. Riots and deaths as the infection has broken out everywhere at once, seemingly from nowhere. The TV and Internet burst with images of victims thrashing wildly and attacking each other while store clerks and police stand helplessly by. Grainy security video shows a neverending loop of sufferers going stark raving bonkers over half price mass-market kitchen appliances, demonstrating the plague attacks neurological pathways first, assailing the parts of the brain responsible for maintaining social norms. To see a mother stomp on a child over a fifteen dollar Black and Decker waffle iron fills the world with horror. Also will not make pizzelle or crepes so not even worth it. Prayers go unanswered.
STAGE 5 -Early December:
Nietzsche once described hope as the “worst of all evils” because it can only serve to prolong inevitable suffering. It has become clear the possibility of a “light outbreak” with “maybe just a few family and close friends” was a fool’s fancy. We are now obviously engulfed in a full-blown Pandemic. Everyone knows at least one seriously infected person and observing their distorted behavior as the malady takes hold is wrenching. The only bright spot (Nietzsche notwithstanding) is the infected still tend to cluster together in retail centers where they are essentially contained. However there are frequent incidents where they break free and maraud through offices and schools in search of new victims. No one is safe. Your pleas for the military to bomb the worst-affected sites prompts only a “wellness check” on your residence from the local constabulary.
Can they not see how all forms of media have become dedicated to the epidemic? Society has been transformed, with everything functioning around managing the outbreak. Citizens mark their homes to indicate afflicted dwelling within and no neighborhood has escaped, not even Chinatown or Brookline. Residents struggle to cope but cannot keep up with the stretched infrastructure and supply demands of a population under siege. Suicides increase. Many turn to alcohol and drugs. Mental health resources are pushed to the breaking point. Your attempt at weakening the assault by introducing Shane MacGowan and Kristy MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” to holiday playlists has no observable effect. You feel like Gandalf in the Mines of Moria. “They are coming.”
STAGE 6- Late December:
All systems have succumbed to the sheer overpressure of the rampaging epidemic. The gravely infected have broken free and are running amok. What was once pity for the victims gives way to searing rage as survivors search for increasingly scarce sanctuary. Civil control has broken down, surrendering to the critical mass. The plague is now everywhere: Japan, the International Space Station, even submerged nuclear submarines on patrol have all reported levels of exposure. It’s ability to penetrate every defense defies rational explanation.
Survivors scurry from moment to moment trying to limit exposure. Mostly they stay inside cut off from the outside world, or take to the forests and hills on long walks to keep out of the path of potential vectors. Public places such as malls are no longer option as the newly infected now throng there and yet the military still does nothing. It’s like the flamethrower had never been invented.
Schools and offices are shuttered. Non-holiday commerce grinds to a halt. No sanity remains as “Dominick the Christmas Donkey” blares from speakers, cars sport antlers and red noses. The weakened strain of holiday pathogen used to inoculate Jews for centuries (much like vaccinating with cowpox to prevent smallpox) is now past, but the deranged still shriek “Happy Hanukkah” at them anyway, which is like wishing someone a happy Independence Day in August. Jews, ever the survivors, find their ways to safe houses and secret dining establishments to wait out the remainder of the scourge.
Mercifully it at long-last burns out. Nothing so hot or bright can sustain and first one by one, then as a mass, the hosts succumb. At last, merciful silence.
STAGE 7- Aftermath:
Society has been transformed. Not a man, woman, child or pet has escaped untouched. Citizens’ health and personal finances are in tatters. Relationships are worn thin. Waste Management trucks grind under the strain of hauling away the refuse. Nothing lies ahead but long, dark days of toil as we attempt to rebuild. Assurances of increased vigilance are made, “We’ll keep it small next year.”
You finally emerge into night to watch your cold breath against the stars. You have survived this round, who knows about next? You think of Camus: “All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”
You remind yourself not to read Camus.