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By Taylor Armerding
Now that we (thankfully) have dispensed with our obligatory giving of thanks, we can launch into our month-long orgy of conspicuous, unrestrained consumption.
One of the reasons we now call it the Holiday Season is that the religion of America isn’t Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or any other traditional faith. It’s shopping.
Just don’t expect any unrestrained happiness to result from it.
So if you are reading this on a Sunday and you haven’t already shopped ‘til you dropped for three days, you need to get with the program. Black Friday is so last decade. We’re well into Green Thursday or some such color to signify forsaking dinner and time with family to hit the malls. The early bird special ain’t turkey any more. It’s a gigantic flat-screen TV or something similar on sale Thanksgiving afternoon (or morning, for all I know) at your all-American big-box store.
But, in keeping with my curmudgeonly tradition, I’m here to remind you that while the Muzak in the department store may be trying to lull you into thinking this is the “most wonderful time of the year” it is really the most frightful, both to your body and psyche.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Don’t blame me. I’m just a messenger. And don’t blame WATCH, the Boston-based World Against Toys Causing Harm that is out once again with its annual “10 Worst Toys” list. They’re just messengers too. And don’t blame any of the multiple psychological groups issuing mental-health warnings. They’re just reminding us that if we’re feeling bad, we can spend even more money telling a highly trained professional how badly we are feeling.
I guess there is something comforting about the familiarity of it all. Every year there are different toys on the WATCH list, but the theme is the same. They are deadly weapons – guns, swords, darts, slingshots – disguised as playthings that will choke, puncture or poison our vulnerable children. Did you know that children are our future?
Some of them are stealthy about it. The Shakespeare Disney Princess Backpack Fishing Kit seems safe enough until you find that it contains lead.
These lists make me realize my parents were way ahead of the curve. When I was a vulnerable child and the future was the Sixties, a major portion of the juvenile TV diet was Westerns. Every kid in the neighborhood had a pistol and a cowboy hat, except for me. My dad, who had served in the Navy in World War II and was still in the Reserves, was politically correct way before his time. No toy guns. Pretend violence would lead to real violence, he declared.
And he did have one stark example: The back of my head. One afternoon, playing Cowboys and Indians (sorry, Native Americans) in a field behind the house, one of the other kids bonked me on the back of the head with the butt of his toy pistol – just like he’d seen on TV! It took a stitch to close it.
That’s my one major regret about growing up in such an era – not that I suffered a minor injury, but that I didn’t become independently wealthy as a result. Today my folks probably could have sued in my behalf for assault with a deadly weapon, pain and suffering, bullying, psychological trauma and whatever else a skilled litigator could think up.
Interestingly enough, however, the kid who hit me grew up to be a rather prominent physician and, by all accounts, a peaceful, healing presence in his community – heck, he probably stitched up other kids’ heads with injuries like mine. I suspect he is playing with his grandchildren this weekend, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that play included video games featuring deadly weapons.
Holiday dangers are not confined just to toys or fights at the mall, of course. Over the past decade, this has become the high season for consumer cybercrime as well.
You must be vigilant – wary of fake websites run by “typosquatters,” who misspell just one letter of your favorite sites. You also need to check to see that the sites use encryption, that they don’t share your personal information.
You should never shop on an unsecured wireless connection – hackers are saying a thankful “Ho, ho, ho” to everybody who does, as they casually steal their credit card numbers. If you click on an attachment or a hyperlink in an email from someone you think is a friend or a vendor, you are likely to end up with an invasion of malware.
And on and on. It’s just another flood of reminders that there are thousands or even millions of your fellow humans out there hoping to benefit from ruining your holidays.
Given all that cheerless news, it is no wonder that there are also the usual warnings making the rounds about the “holiday blues.” It seems you cannot escape them no matter what you do. Being without family and friends can leave one depressed and fatigued. But then parties, family reunions and houseguests can lead to headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, and difficulty sleeping.
The only thing sadder than all that is the post-holiday letdown – I guess that’s a depression caused by too much depression.
I think there is a somewhat simple cure for all this. Lower your expectations. Then, whatever good happens, as it surely will, will be a happy surprise.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at email@example.com