Happy holidays! Welcome to the most stressful time of the year

Joe Tarica
Joe Tarica

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

At least, it will be … once we’re done with all the gift-shopping, tree-picking, light-hanging, house-decorating, cookie-baking and present-wrapping.

Despite what Madison Avenue may tell us, the official Most Wonderful Time of the YearTM really only lasts from about 8 to 11 a.m. on Christmas morning, that somewhat peaceful eye of the holiday storm when you can just sit cross-legged on the floor in your pajamas and watch the kids open their gifts while a fire crackles and Burl Ives croons in the background.

Everything before and after that tiny window of time is ruled by a whirl of magical December forces that defy all other common laws of physics.

To wit:

The theory of holiday shopping relativity

The number of gifts that eventually end up under the tree is controlled by a convoluted, exponential equation that defies all logic.

I’m no mathematician, but instead of E=mc2, think G=Ax/mt, where G, the number of gifts, is determined by dividing the number of options at by the amount of money in your bank account multiplied by the length of time you shop.

Because Ax may very well be a near infinite or at least highly irrational number, it’s all but impossible to ever know what the ultimate under-the-tree gift count will be.

I often experience this phenomenon in a lesser way, which is that no matter how early I begin stockpiling gifts, I never seem to have the right number in the right proportion per recipient by the time the Dec. 25 jingle bell rings.

I could start on Boxing Day, and nearly a year later, I’d still have 10 gifts for one kid, eight for the other and nothing for Cousin Merle. It never fails.

Holiday lights

We can split the atom and turn our faces into live emojis, but we cannot, for the life of us, create a string of Christmas lights that works for more than two seasons in a row.

Forget eggshells, there is nothing more fragile than the holiday light bulb.

Last year, I took our lighted wreath out of storage and plugged it in, only to discover half the thing was dark.

This year, I carefully extracted a lighted garland from its 11 months of hibernation and moved it from Point A (a box under the house) to Point B (the living room). Voila. Nothing.

If Kim Jong-un really wants to be a world power, he should stop trying to build a nuclear bomb and design a durable strand of Christmas lights instead.

The tree raising

Aside from Christmas morning, the second-most wonderful moment of the Most Wonderful Time of the YearTM is the day we hike several miles around the neighborhood tree farm, hack down an unsuspecting Monterey pine while sipping hot cider and re-erect it in front of our couch.

This should be a joyful exercise encased in its own bubble of holiday mirth, protected from stresses of the outside world like global warming and Donald Trump.

But no, invariably the process descends into madness.

First, I always forget to bring the $5-off coupon, the one I’ve been saving with care for the last month. This drives me crazy and will force us to turn around, which irritates everyone else.

Then there’s the search itself. One year when the kids were little, Grandma got exasperated with the selection process and told us to “just pick a f—— tree already!”

And almost every year, Mrs. Joetopia will stomp off in the middle of the ornament hanging for one reason or another, because we’re doing them out of order or the kids aren’t paying attention or one of the cats has climbed up the ladder and is about to leap at the little crystal star dangling ever so enticingly just out of reach.

We’re planning to get this year’s tree this weekend. Cross your fingers for us.

The relatives

We live equidistant between most of our closest family members, so they often like to come here rather than travel to one end of the state or the other.

This is good for us because I like my own bed, but it introduces its own brand of chaos and potential for hurt feelings.

We don’t have enough room for everyone to come at once, so we end up scheduling groups around each other in an intricate waltz of holiday comings and goings.

You can come here and leave by then. You others can come on this day but not until this time. You can sleep in this room or that room, but you are not inflating a mattress next to the tree on Christmas Eve. This is a hard rule.

Another hard rule: We try our very best to keep Christmas morning just to the four of us, here, at home.

I think that constant allows us to better manage all the other hustle and bustle, which, despite all the demands, really is full of joy and happiness … most of the time.

Hopefully it is for you, too.

Merry Christmas season to all, and to all a good month.

Joe Tarica: 805-781-7911, @joetarica

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