As with so many things, I find the holiday season particularly fascinating, but (as with so many things) not in the ways in which you would imagine.
Year after year it's the same thing. Hoards of shoppers, agony over what to buy for people, the struggle of how to pay for it all and the (seemingly) endless bombardment of advertising directed at us in an effort to make the season "happy", as though it all equated with happiness somehow.
We think that all that junk we wheel out of the store, wrap in cheap paper and place under a dead indoor evergreen tree will translate into gratification and (eventually) happiness, when all it really does is make us want more junk that subsequent years will bring. While that stuff may bring happiness, it is fleeting and the financial measure is what really matters sometimes. The shallow among us compare what we spent versus what they spent and use that as a gauge for the level of love. The spirit of Christmas is measured by what is in the box.
I wonder what would become of the retail industry if they didn't have these 32 days at the end of the year to reconcile their books, keep their stores open for 18 hours at a time and remove otherwise needless merchandise from their inventory? Give thanks for the capitalistic holiday season, because it's part of the reason prices are low the rest of the year.
We drag religion into it (or religion dragged itself in - I don't know which) and pretend that it is Jesus' birthday. Whether or not you believe that is irrelevant, because the idea that this nonsense has anything to do with religion is so far down the evolutionary ladder as to be completely irrelevant - as much so as patriotism has to do with a July 4th picnic.
Part of my fascination is that I see the same group of people going through the same nonsense every year. There isn't much of a turnover in participants - a few die and a few come of age - but generally it's the same mass of people doing all the same things they did last year. Sometimes, they vow "never again" - like the drunk that comes home from a night out and winds up with his head in the toilet bowl - only to repeat the same behavior next Saturday night. It is learned behavior and difficult to stop.
As children, we were told this fairy tale about a fat guy with a beard who had Caribou who could fly, and somehow he made it all the way around the Earth in less than 12 hours, dumping gifts on us. We believed it because our parents wouldn't lie to us. We ask for some odd trinket because we've been "nice" all year (there's enough lying to go around) and sometimes it was waiting for us, neatly wrapped in cheap paper under our slowly dying rootless tree.
God forbid it wasn't, because that would mean that Santa had forsaken us and the shame would be too much to bear. I suppose that's why parents all over America run around like chickens with their legs cut off and spend money they don't have. They can't bear the shame of disappointing a child on this most sacred of holidays.
As adults, we learn to deal with disappointment, heartache and disenchantment, but things like that can scar a child for life. Spend, spend spend. Your kids need ... er ... want that PlayStation 3. When they have their own children, they'll be right there with the rest of the sheep doing the same things. Psychologists might call it repetitive stress syndrome. We call it a holiday tradition.
In the words of Eric Cartman, "This is pretty fucked up, right here."