HARTFORD, CTAs the nation moves on from last month's family gatherings, churchgoing, and goodwill toward men, the annual post-Christmas readjustment process is proceeding on schedule, with millions of Americans forgoing their temporary generosity of spirit and resuming their petty, miserable treatment of one another.
Though the joy and glad tidings of the holiday season are mere weeks behind us, sources report that more than 85 percent of 2005's Christmastime lessons have already been forgotten, with that number expected to reach 98 percent by as early as next week.
"Christmas is a magical time of year when people of all ages and backgrounds put aside their differences and are reminded of the things that truly count: the joy of giving, the gleam in a young child's eye, and the sound of voices raised together in song," said James Samuelson of the Hartford-based Institute For American Cultural Mores & Values, which tracks the rise and fall of human love and kindness throughout the year. "Mid-January to early February, by contrast, is a magical time of year when people forget all about that stuff. This leads to mid- to late February, a magical time of year when people everywhere feel overpowering, soul-crushing emotional pain, causing them to hate their coworkers, their loved ones, and themselves."
Evidence of this phenomenon can be seen across the country, with Christmas miracles of universal benevolence and spiritual uplift degenerating into mid-January miracles of everyday banality and neglect. Corporations that donated generously to the homeless and various charities mere weeks ago have resumed their usual cutthroat, profit-driven practices. Children who learned the important lesson that it is better to give than receive are refusing to share their expensive new toys with less fortunate playmates, gloating over their possessions and berating the other children for being poor. And the many career-focused dads who made a major breakthrough during the holiday season, vowing to spend quality time with their wives and children, are systematically unlearning these realizations of what truly matters and returning to their dysfunctional workaholic patterns.
"I hadn't seen my ailing grandmother, who just turned 91 and lives all alone out in Arizona, in over three years," said Boston investment banker Carl Thompson on Dec. 27. "But then, the wife and I, along with several other members of our church, went caroling at the homes of various elderly shut-ins as part of our holiday outreach program. As I looked into the eyes of those poor souls, so happy to have visitors on this blustery winter evening, I learned a valuable lesson about life, about family, and about myself. It was hard to book a flight out to Phoenix at the last minute, but just when it looked like there were no seats left, a reservation was canceled, and I made it out there to visit Grandma in time for Christmas Eve. It was a Christmas miracle. I know that God wanted me to be on that plane."
When asked about his grandmother again Tuesday, Thompson said, "That old bag? Christ, she didn't call again, did she? Does she think the world revolves around her and her stupid heart-medication stories she drones on and on about all day and night? Jesus, I'm a busy man here."
Janice Frye, 34, a Los Angeles single mother, related a similarly moving story on Dec. 29.
"My 6-year-old son Brandon is a real handful, suffering from hyperactivity and a whole host of emotional problems. Sometimes the stress of taking care of him all by myself is just too much. But then, when I think of the little baby Jesus lying in the manger, I realize how special and wonderful Brandon really is. On Christmas Eve, when he gave me a drawing he made that said, 'I Love Mommy,' I knew he is the one true light of my life."
Less than two weeks later, the screaming and dish-throwing that typifies Frye's emotionally abusive relationship with her child had resumed. Neighbors reported overhearing Frye yell, "I should have had you aborted," and the child's antisocial behavior and poor performance in school have worsened.
Such forgetting-the-Christmas-spirit stories are not uncommon. According to Samuelson, the process is not only normal, but essential to preserving the special feeling associated with the holiday.
"The positive, soul-enriching sentiments associated with the holiday season are shared by almost all Americans, regardless of religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds," Samuelson said. "But it is only through our regular mean-spirited shallowness the rest of the year that the spirit of Christmas can, by contrast, move us so deeply, deluding the populace into thinking their lives are actually beautiful. If everybody behaved so kindly to one another all year round, Christmas wouldn't seem special at all. And then, the magic of Christmas would be lost forever, swallowed up by a year-round sense of basic human decency that would rob the holidays of their warm glow, ruining Christmas for all the little children of the world."
"If you think about it, the eleven and a half months of cruelty, selfishness, and disrespect exhibited by nearly all of humanity may, in fact, be the most precious gift of all," he added, wiping a tear from his eye. "It is this non-holy miracle of man's non-holiday inhumanity to man that is the true meaning of Christmas."