It’s Not a Holiday, It’s an Endurance Race

You’ve had better than 10 months to detox and slim down from the 2014 holiday season’s grueling endurance course of parties, good cheer, furious shopping, family dinners, and holiday treats. Extreme contests like the Alaskan Iditarod or the Death Valley Marathon may get all the press, but once you get through a packed holiday season, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.

Most reports say the average American will gain seven to ten pounds from Thanksgiving to whenever we run out of holiday leftovers. Southerners, when it comes to food and entertaining, are not average Americans. By the first week in January most of us are as exhausted as any long haul dog sled driver, in addition your clothes are tight, you’re broke, sick of most your friends and all of your relatives. So let the races begin…

As a warm up to the ensuing gluttony, my in-laws indulge in a pre-Thanksgiving feast of Jambalaya on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. Nothing reflects this diverse and unified nation like an Spanish Caribbean fusion dish from the least American state in the Union that no one north of Shreveport can pronounce correctly. Good people.

For most Americans, it is only fitting that the challenge at the starting gate is the ultimate “kiss & make up” event. Thanksgiving as we know it was created by the Lincoln administration in the aftermath of the Civil War. The idea was to bring to the national table produce from both the North and the South. Honest Abe, knowing that people hate to be lectured while they’re still bleeding, came up with a fairly unbelievable tale about European political refugees inviting Native Americans to eating lunch before killing them.

So we kick off the season with forgiving, or being forgiven, for things like “the Memorial Day Incident,” or your performance at the last family wedding. We must reconcile because to make it through the next six weeks will take teamwork. On Thanksgiving, from Savannah to LA, and Bismarck to Miami, the entirety of the great Republic does share a common experience, and I wouldn’t be much of a citizen if I didn’t as well. It is the most sacred ritual of Thanksgiving Americana: going into a tryptophan and red wine induced coma to watch the Detroit Lions lose to anyone they play.

You can’t nap forever. Between November and January, I have no fewer than 13 birthdays (including my own) to commemorate alongside a pair of Thanksgivings, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. The dangers of a December birthday are obvious to anyone who has one: get lots lots of festive holiday clothes, none of which will be back from the tailor until mid January, at which point the season is over and I’m too fat to wear them. It won’t bother me too much because, as any Southern December baby will tell you, you don’t need all that tweed when the space between fall and spring is about two weeks.

The recovery time on one feast is fairly quick. As the cavalcade of cocktail and office parties begin to gather steam, the defenses begin to wane considerably. I’ve worked in advertising and investment banking, two industries known for the terrifying exuberance of their office parties. It’s best not to go into details. My in-laws mercifully combine three birthday parties into one, complete with an exchange of gifts. Like a mini-Christmas to go with that spare Thanksgiving.

Christmas itself is a fairly wholesome affair, and like any other child’s birthday party, it really ought to be. Like a child’s birthday party, with wee ones running amok, it tends to wear you out. And over-consumption is still a problem, fatso. There’s so much ham everywhere, mountains of the stuff. It seems mathematically impossible that there are that many swine in the world. Then I remember the office parties.

If we could leave well enough alone, Christmas would be the end of it. With less that a week to recover, you’re dragging out the tuxedo for some New Year’s Eve affair. Be warned: it won’t fit. There’s no point in getting angry about it, the dry cleaners didn’t shrink it or send you home with mismatched pants. There is no sense in trying to diet because the only things in the fridge are holiday leftovers. What you are feeling pressing against the waistband are three turkeys, the Christmas ham mountain, more finger food that you’ve consumed in the previous 10 months combined, a gallon of gravy, and a lump of chocolate the size of a car battery.

My little brother’s birthday is the last day of the year, which was something of a holiday bonus for Dad who wrote his sixth child off for the entirety of 1971. The gift my brother gives himself each year is to refuse all New Year’s Eve invitations. If you haven’t got a built in excuse like that, then you’d better go ahead own up to the fact that you aren’t done yet.

If you are comfortable on New Year’s Eve, you are missing the point. It is only billed as the most fun party of the year. In reality it’s terrifying. It’s amateur night. Sure the full time drunks are out, but they aren’t the problem. New Year’s Eve is the night otherwise sober and temperate people will toss back liters of wine, crocks full of wassail, and half a case of unforgivably sweet champagne and then try to drive a 9000 pound Yukon Denali into my lap.

That scares me. It scares me because I want to live to pick up my clothes from the tailor. Being unable to squeeze into clothes that were roomy six weeks ago is a bit of a humiliation, but it’s a inspiration as well. I’ll lose that weight: I’ll buy a barbell and a jump rope that will look great in my hall closet. By midsummer I’ll be back to my old self, but by then I’ll just look silly in Christmas tweeds when it’s eighty-five degrees at dawn.