Each year the retailers start pushing the holidays on us earlier and earlier. This year, the ads started showing up in September. The kids are already talking about what they want to get, parents are already putting up outside lights and decorations and planning big dinners and spending money like there's no tomorrow. Of course, I am talking about the biggest holiday of the year — Halloween.
Who doesn't fondly remember their parents spending hours hanging up fancy, expensive outdoor Halloween lights, addressing and mailing their Halloween cards, and buying "Lord of the Rings"-quality costumes for all their kids. Who doesn't recall with a warm glow downloading jack-o'-lantern patterns off the Internet and then having the images of Freddy Kruger photo engraved onto their pumpkins? Who cannot remember Mom buying bags of $2 candy bars for the neighborhood ghouls?
Yeah, me neither.
The way I remember it, we carved a pumpkin the weekend before. A big toothy thing, obviously done by enthusiastic but unskilled children, not something that looks like Martha Stewart spent a week on it. Hanging spooky holiday decorations in the trees outside our house never occurred to us. And when we went trick-or-treating, you were lucky if you got two or three candy bars the whole night. I think my mother gave out candy corn one year — one kernel per child. I don't remember anyone complaining.
Not that my brothers and sisters were there to see her dole it out; we were all long gone trying to score as much swag as we could. The good houses, the ones that gave away entire candy bars, we'd hit two or three times. I would visit first as a ghost with an old sheet over my head, then as a Roman senator in a sheet toga, and for a third time as Lawrence of Arabia with the sheet secured to my head Bedouin-style with a belt.
Halloween was the one day of the year when children could act like little devils and go around blackmailing adults into giving them treats, which is pretty much what we did every other day of the year, but without the costumes.
I don't want to sound like the ghost of Halloween Past, but when did this fun, minor holiday get blown up into New Year's Eve, Christmas and Thanksgiving combined? If the greeting-card companies and the retailers can do it to Halloween, they can do it to any holiday.
How long before we have to start buying our kids presents for the Summer Solstice? How are you decorating your house this year for Arbor Day? You say you don't have the time? Well, I don't have the time, either. I make the time.
How many people have you invited to your "People's Choice Awards" night feast? Have you sent out your Cinco de Mayo cards yet? What's the matter with you? It's only seven months away. Better get cracking.
And don't forget, if retailers have their way, you'll have to buy presents for every one of these holidays. Not just for your children, but for your spouse, for your siblings, for your in-laws, for your co-workers and your boss. Not just any old present, but something you had to obsess over for weeks and weeks.
If you give your sister the waffle iron for Groundhog Day instead of the neck massager she's been asking for, it could cause bad feeling for years. And isn't that the point of most holidays? Face it, if it's not stressful, is it really a holiday.
Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org