Christmas season is a wonderful time - a time when houses are being
decorated with beautiful lights and are warmed by ovens which churn out
delightfully baked goods. Televisions are tuned to holiday specials
while the phone is kept busy making long distance calls to relatives.
Children giggle with excitement as they speak of the fabled old elf and
his bag of goodies. They press their noses against the window hoping to
catch a glimpse of the jolly fat man and his magical sleigh. Christmas,
according to children, never comes soon enough and never lasts long
enough. Everything is right with the world...

The paragraph
above is a good description of a Norman Rockwell figurine, but here in
the real world it's time for me to dust off the decorations and my bad
attitude that I get around this time because of holiday stress. My bad
attitude starts the minute I try to unwind the Christmas lights. I had
put them away neatly in a box last year, but they somehow have gotten
tied into knots that would impress even the greatest of Boy Scouts.
Houdini, himself, couldn't get out of these knots. The next forty-five
minutes are spent trying to untie these lights from hell while I
entertain the family with my extensive vocabulary of profanity. I
finally get them untied and plug them in only to find out that they
don't even work. So off to the store to buy new lights and do some
Christmas shopping.

I arrive at the store on the day of the "big
sale". Big mistake. The parking lot is full, and I used a half tank of
gas driving around trying to find a parking spot. Fortunately, I was
able to find a parking spot three miles away in a muddy corn field. I
enter the store and start pushing, shoving, cussing, and at one point I
brandished a weapon. All of this just to get a shopping cart which has
one wheel that won't roll.

I begin making my journey to the toy
aisle of this overcrowded store. I spot a G.I. Joe that my ten-year-old
son wanted. He had spent the last four months talking to me about this
well-advertised toy. According to him, it can speak seven languages,
pick locks, and if plugged into the internet, can fake passports. I
have to get this toy. It's not often that parents please their children
throughout the year. Christmas is a chance to make up for that,
although I know I'll find this toy two months after Christmas with its
head missing. I head down the aisle filled with people having a reunion
of some sort. The toy is right behind them, and when I say, "Excuse
me," they looked at me as if I'm speaking a foreign language. So I did
what any stressed out parent would do - I use my cart as a bulldozer
and pushed my way through.

I reach for the action figure
and think to myself how lucky I am because it was the last one on the
shelf. Before I can get my hands on it, some elderly lady swoops down
on the item like a starving buzzard does on road kill. "You'll have to
be faster than that if you don't want to look like a loser to your kids
on Christmas day," she says. My emotions take over at this point and I
challenged her to arm wrestle for it. The crowd having the reunion in
the aisle turns its attention to watch this spontaneous spectacle. We
make a makeshift table out of a large box of Legos and grasp each
other's hands. "This is going to be easy," I think to myself. A man
from the crowd appoints himself as the referee and says, "Go." The old
lady was strong. Veins are popping out of my forehead as my face turned
red from straining. She is winning and I have to do something, so I
poked her in the eye. The next thing I know, a security guard helps me
up from the floor. Apparently, the old lady played a little 'chin
music' on me and knocked me down. The security guard, chuckles, tells
me that he's going to escort me out of the aisle for my own safety.

black eye and I decide to look for a gift for my Aunt Margaret. I
really don't know why I would even put any effort into finding her that
perfect gift. All she does every Christmas is knit me another some
something-or-other that I'll never use. The back of my closet is
considered a purgatory for 'Aunt Margaret' gifts - they lay there
waiting, in a 'bad gift' hell, until the day she dies and I can toss
them out without fear of hurting her feelings. I know this lady means
well, but she should use her knitting skills for things that I would
actually use, like sweaters. Instead, she knits silly gifts for me
like: coasters, a "coat" for my remote control, and booties for my
doorknobs so they're not cold when I touch them. Have you ever tried to
open a door with a crocheted bootie on it? The thing just slides around
the knob. If a fire broke out in my house, I would burn up before I
could get the door open.

My Christmas shopping is finally done.
I head for the checkout register with my three items. Things go from
bad to worse at this point because there are about three hundred people
trying to checkout and the store only has two registers open. I end up
in the two-hundred-and-seventy-fifth place in line. It seems like it
takes forever, but I finally get to the register only to be there in
time for the clerk to close the register and go on break.

Day finally comes. The gifts are all wrapped, neatly, in beautiful
paper and bows. The tree is adorned with decorations and twinkling
lights as it stands tall above the heaping pile of presents. Armed with
a video camera, I try to capture the children opening their presents.
This illusive event is near impossible to record. It lasts three and a
half seconds, which is barely enough time for the videotape to roll
past the leader segment. The whole event is nothing but a blur of
flying paper and bows.

As quick as it comes, Christmas is
over. I get the snow shovel from outside and begin clearing a path
through the knee-deep pile of torn wrapping paper. I sit on the couch
while the children play with their new toys in their bedrooms. I
reflect upon some of the mistakes that I made during this holiday
season. I make a promise to myself that next year will be different: I
will plan better, I will shop earlier in the year, and, most of all, I
will be packing a small caliber handgun to make sure I get the last
G.I. Joe.