The past week and a half has been a whirlwind of department parties at the fiefdom in which I work. I haven't had to buy or pack lunch in all that time. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a blur of consumption: beginning with the feast on Thursday and the orgy of spending on "Black Friday," we really enter into a month of altered consciousness. The stores, which have been selling Christmas since before Halloween, become part of the celebration: workers wearing holiday hats or vests, decor either trimmed with tinsel or full-out swapped for red and green motifs, Christmas muzak piped through the all-encompassing store sound system. If anything is the "reason for the season," it is this: many stores make between 20 and 30 percent of their sales during this annual gorging.
On Christmas, those of us who celebrate the festivities will face a surfeit of gifts both given and received and then again to the table where we will engage in a feast to rival Thanksgiving. And only one week later there will be perhaps our culture's greatest international display of debauchery, New Year's Eve (Mardi Gras is perhaps the most debauched celebration, but it's really localized in this country).
New Year's Eve is a holiday expressly designed for partying. Whether it's in Times Square, a hotel ballroom, or someone's apartment, the only rite of New Year's Eve is a party. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. It's only an observation, not a judgement.
Freud said that there was "something savage about the very nature of a holiday"* due to its excess -- that it overwhelmed mores and took us out of our normal lives, and not necessarily in a good way. We are certainly outside ourselves during the holiday season: we spend more -- much of it on credit cards -- and we tend to eat more.
With all of this excess comes a return to responsibility and guilt, hence the New Year's Resolutions and the advertising blitz by health clubs trying to capitalize on the bloated post-holiday body.
*Richard Wright quotes this segment of Freud as an epigram to his book Savage Holiday, a "whiteface" novel about a man forced into retirement.