I originally penned this little holiday rant a few years ago. But as most people take the holiday season to lavish in thankfulness, I thought I’d speak for those of us with a healthy love-hate relationship to the holiday distractions…sure, I might burn in hell or come back as a goat for this piece…but hey, entertaining you is worth the risk.
If you are an American writer, then any writing that you achieve deserves a lot of credit. Because in the land of public religion, there is little time to write. Authors in other countries probably have their writing obstacles, but here, celebratory requirements imposed by the U.S.’s public religious calendar..or as some people call it…The Holidays. . . are a unique kind of distraction.
In truth, the average American novelist only has about eight to ten weeks of writing time.
Follow along, and I’ll explain…(more dramatic pauses).
As a melting pot of people and religions, Americans seldom miss an opportunity for celebration or consumerism. And there is no shortage of holidays on our calendars. Although our public holidays are important to national identity (and fully embraced by the Church of Consumerism), their frequency creates a very real obstacle to a writer’s focus.
Since I don’t want to take sides or embrace any particular religion, let’s just use the Pagan calendar as a point of chronological reference to discuss these “holiday” distractions. For pagans, the year begins on November 1st and just three Thursdays later we encounter the first of many public religion holidays - Thanksgiving.
Our friends across the pond who booted the pilgrims out and should bear at least some of the responsibility for this holiday, but don't. Instead, they have already had ample time to holiday shop and put up their Christmas lights. In the US, however, it is morally corrupt to put up Xmas decorations before Black Friday unless you live in rural Kentucky. So, we Americans dutifully spend the month at the grocery store, cooking, deciding if we should decorate in Fall Turkey Themes, which cumulates in our first dose of stressful “family time.”
Immediately following a day of binge eating and rationalizing that it makes more sense to begin our diet later, we have to start preparation for the next holiday - usually by shopping, going to the movies, and planning out our Hallmark Christmas Special Schedule. Due to the turkey coma and the need to get up at 4 am to catch the best deals, there is little point in writing and little energy to even consider it.
The Christmas celebration, however, is not reserved for Christians. I have Jewish and Hindu friends who do every bit as much celebrating, spending, and eating as the rest of us. Christmas is, after all, a public religion in the US sponsored by Wal-Mart and Amazon. It is a month long event that ends in incredible credit card debt and another reminder of why we moved away from our family. During this period there is almost no time for writing anything but holiday to-do lists.
We end the festive period on the last night of December with the time-honored practice of drowning our overspending sorrows by overspending on champagne, more carbs, and paper hats. Intuitively we avoid writing with the knowledge that “drunk writing” is a mistake both for novels and text messaging.
A brief six-week period of rest occurs, and a writer can get back to work. Planning goals, outlining, maybe even penning a chapter or two, and investing in charities like Gold’s Gym and Planet Fitness.
Soon after, however, the Celebration of Hallmark, Roses, and Restaurants is upon us - A traditional festival that takes place on the 14th of February. And although it would make more sense for it to occur say, the second Saturday, instead it must be observed on the 14th...even if that's a Tuesday and regardless of the inconvenience involved in going out after a long day at work.
The Holiday of “Materialism Proves You Love Me,” is marked by a series of product price increases that defy known the laws of economics. A dozen roses that cost $19.99 for fifty-one weeks of the year blossom to $49.99, and the average $35 dinner for two increases to $100. If you are in a relationship, your beloved will hand out punishment for any failure to participate. I know tight-fisted chief financial officers who succumb to the pressure and throw off all financial logic on the 14th. The upside for the married participants is that the odds significantly increase of seeing your wife exchange sweat pants for lingerie. And statistically speaking, there are more births in the month of November than any other…I’ll wait while you do the math.
The arrival of Cupid marks the beginning of a perpetual cycle of Hallmark celebrations. Valentine’s is followed by the green beer drinking homage paid to St Patrick in March, followed in March or April’s (depends on some secret religious code no one can decipher) by Peter Rabbit day, which is sponsored by the American Candy and Egg Association. And again we find no time to write. Being either too drunk on green beer or too hyper from all that Easter candy.
In May, we again return to the dictates of our religious leaders at Hallmark and American Greetings Company, which by the way is owned by Canadians who laugh at our consumer folly.
Because celebrating your mom’s birthday wasn’t enough, rather than writing her a book, you must now engage in further gift buying, dinners, trips to the salon, and count off another lost weekend. While it is important to celebrate mom’s value, it is also important to note (and then dismiss) that the majority of the mother’s day tab is picked up by dad - simply because five-year-olds don’t have jobs. The fact that dad already covered all this when he celebrated her birthday, their anniversary, and romanced her on the 14th of February is neither here nor there. (Men if you know what’s good for you, you will not apply this argument to any discussion with your wife or girlfriend). This is, after all, the celebration of motherhood and it requires time and money and Hallmark Cards.
A few weeks later we honor the memory of those who served in combat (which is somehow different than Veterans day although I don’t know how since Veterans Day is technically a floating holiday and requires no action or understanding on my part).
Memorial Day provides us with a Monday off. Free time better spent enjoying the late spring than writing anyway. And to honor those who fought for our freedoms, we cook hot dogs, go to parades, and are allowed to consume beer before noon provided we have at least one flag present.
Writers without children can now enjoy a few weeks at their craft. Those with kids are too busy with end of the school year things and figuring out summer daycare or activities to keep the kids busy for eight to ten weeks. And because all of that is not enough…
Hallmark presents Father’s Day.
A tradition where Dad’s must sacrifice their regular, fun weekends and commit to a full day of direct interactions with his off-spring, engaging in another cook out and paying for the gifts their little one’s “bought” them. Unlike Mother’s Day, there are no flowers, no day at the spa, and no trips to a nice restaurant. Apparently, Dad’s perfect day involves hanging out in the backyard wondering, “who are these small creatures that keep asking me questions? I’m pretty confident this “holiday” was a woman’s idea as a form of delayed punishment for forgetting Valentine’s Day.
Our next celebration arrives a few weeks later when we honor the birth of our country. It is important to note that the Rebellion of the Colonies was the result of a 2% tax on tea. According to that logic, we should probably overthrow Starbucks for their coffee prices. The 4th of July or as I call it, The Twilight Zone Marathon Holiday is similar to Memorial day in that it has parades, hot dogs, and beer. But to distinguish between the two we get to play with explosives manufactured in China where they are well known for their safety standards.
4th of July is partially sponsored by the American Association of Emergency Room Doctors and by Attorneys who specialize in DUI defense. So even if a writer wanted to write and hadn’t lost a few fingers during the celebration, the noise would probably prevent the practice.
There is then a brief period for writing at the conclusion of the 4th. Assuming a writer is not taking a vacation, he or she has a few weeks until the critical celebration of Back to School. Once the Back to School holiday begins, however, there is far too much to do. Shopping must be completed (warming up the credit card for Xmas), the student writer must deal with Add/Drop lines, and there is, of course, the obligatory Labor Day cookout. Labor Day, however, is a beautiful time when we appreciate all those minimum wage workers who ring up our back-to-school supplies, and our last minute beer, ice and propane gas purchases. The celebration serves to punish people who haven’t obtained a salaried position outside of public service or retail.
Smart writers need to capitalize on the next few weeks following because soon the calendar gives way to America’s second biggest holiday - Halloween.
In fact, if you added gift buying to the Halloween celebration in America, it would surpass Christmas in consumer spending. Costumes, candy, decorations, parties - those cost exceed the money spent on the same categories at Christmas. It is the best month for a horror writer, but with all of the activities, one cannot be tied to a desk writing, one needs to be immersed in the spookiness.
Halloween marks the end of the Pagan Calendar and we once again prepare for Thanksgiving.
If you have written a book in the midst of all these distractions then take a freaking bow - you deserve it. If you haven’t, don’t feel bad. With all the holidays who could blame you. You have little time for writing with the obligation to perpetually support our public religion and foster the economy for a better tomorrow. And if you need to point some blame then direct it at that writer Charles Dickens. He did, after all, single-handedly create this holiday consumer chaos when he wrote The Grinch Who Stole Christmas… or maybe it was the Christmas Carol. Well regardless - Happy Holidays!