Text: Gert van der Ende
When as early as September the first December candy appears in the supermarkets, I am struck with the first fits of uneasiness. True enough, the sun is still shining, the temperatures are still fine, dinner can be served without also having to put on the central heating and the lights, but because the December month is looming once again, a minor depression creeps up on me. For nothing can be worse than December with its half-hearted warm atmosphere, revolting consumerism and way too short and way too dark days. Up until about a decade ago I could repress the thoughts of the worst month of the year for a while still. But if one – while going out to buy a bottle of Prosecco and some olives to make an unexpectedly warm September evening even nicer – is confronted with chocolate letters and ‘speculaas’, it just becomes undoable.
For a few consecutive years I tried light therapy in October in order to tackle the severe December depressions, to no avail. That therapy solely helps against seasonal affective disorder, the result of a structural lack of sunlight during the short, dark days before Christmas. However, this is of course not the cause of my slight suicidal condition in that period: Countless rather more prosaic reasons lie at the root of it.
December is a set of 31 days during which humanity gives in to an untamable shopping spree; crisis or no crisis, year in year out, shopping records are broken. This is true for ‘Sinterklaas’ shopping, Christmas paraphernalia, party food and, last but not least, fireworks. During a period of four weeks entire traffic jams make their way to the city centers 24/7, because the shops are open every evening of course, and on Sundays as well. In too crowded high streets plastic carrier bags are stuffed with rubbish and things no one really needs, all wrapped in paper decorated with black peets, Christmas trees and reindeers.
The churches remain as empty as the rest of the year however, while they actually manage the original core business of these days. But the birth of Christ has been pushed to the background for decades because of the ‘ho ho!’ of Santa Claus, instigated by media bombardments of Coca Cola-like advertising, allowing for my depression to go from quite bad to much worse. In other words: To me these are 31 terrible days during which I try to limit my shopping to buying just the necessary, like bread, but even then countless people are cueing in front of me buying December candy and pastry, chocolate letters and what have you.
Overdoses of Christmas lights
Leaving home in December in a city like Rotterdam is a sickening experience anyway, because long before New Year’s Eve there will be kids on every corner lighting fireworks left over from the year before, or wanting to try their fabricated experiments, or lighting heavy fireworks – illegally brought from Belgium by their daddies – right in front of you when you come cycling into your street, all wet and cold from the rain and a ferocious headwind, because a proper winter is something we haven’t had for years either. Fresh snow and shining ice have long degenerated into wintry remnants from the past. No, in its place has come a revolting reality consisting of overdoses of feeble Christmas lights; windows clad with flashy stars, window sills buckling under the weight of menorahs of which no one can recall its origin, gutters of houses lit by strings of lights, living rooms that have become some sort of disco cribs and semi important people with too much money having trees in their gardens full of lights that flicker in six psychedelic colors.
51 Times Gone with the Wind
An escape from the December madness is impossible. If I stay home for example and I turn on the TV, the ‘National Dictation’ is followed by the next science quiz; the year’s news round-up is followed by the next ‘sports in focus’, and in between we get to see ‘Sisi’ sixteen times, ‘Gone with the Wind’, 51 times, ‘The Sound of Music’ twelve times, and ‘A Christmas Carol’ 34 times. To top it all off there is still André Rieu who has been ‘in concert’ on some far flung continent. Even worse is New Year’s Eve when on numerous channels an ever crazier array of comedians try to be the funniest person on TV. On the radio the ‘Top 2000 ever’ has been rambling on for eight days by then, as well as the ‘Jazz top 1000’ and the ‘Classic top 573’. Reading the papers or a magazine is also awful: They are all specials with extra pages full of pathetic interviews with the same old shipload of well-known Dutchmen, alternated with a Christmas puzzle or Christmas Sudoku.
When I decide to venture outside, I end up in theaters with semi-enjoyable children’s plays or in cinemas that show feel-good Christmas movies for the entire family, which means being in one of the cinema theaters itself is hell already, and then ‘Home Alone 14’ hasn’t even started. Or a similar Christmas movie is shown, all of a dreadful, annoying Hollywood feel-good genre, which makes even the largest pop corn cup too small for me to spit all my venom.
At work normal routines are made impossible too, because in no time one’s pigeon hole is stuffed with invitations for drinks. A drink with the department, a drink with the neighboring department, a drink with the university, and there you are at ten in the morning – adorned with reindeer antlers – drinking too many gluhweins so as to subsequently not be able to concentrate during the rest of the day. And when you want to work in peace during the days in between Christmas and New Year, they close the gates to the university.
With my options running out all I can do is to take up all the days that are left over from the year and fill those with buying food for Christmas Day, because the parents will come for dinner, and Boxing Day because then the in-laws will make their appearance. Two dramatic days, because everyone understands that an overdose of calories, no exercise, a lack of oxygen due to closed windows and a fire in the fire place, in addition to a series of non-compatible spirits, cannot but lead to emotional explosions.
Clouds and mist
The last week of the year I suffer from the overindulgence of sausage rolls, ‘oliebollen’, rich Christmas bread and related food, which at Midnight may be quenched in entire bottles of champagne, while standing in the rain as the neighbor, host of the evening or even the very own spouse is attempting to shoot some fireworks up into the sky, which aren’t working anyway, because they have become too wet, and when that one rocket eventually does take off, one cannot see it because of the low clouds and mist.
After a couple New Year’s Eves this way, I thought – having learned from the previous experiences – I should escape in December. To leave Holland seemed an interesting option. However, this turned out to be a big mistake. A skiing holiday in the Alps offers little comfort. In the Alpine countries the Dutch warm-hearted atmosphere appears to fester even more strongly, which in combination with Austrian or German festive moods is plainly lethal. Roaming around on the ski slopes during the day accompanied by terrible music from loudspeakers, spending the nights in between alcoholic morons dancing the conga in the otherwise quiet mountain village. The Canary Islands are as much of a disaster as the Alps are. A similar, hopeless atmosphere prevails, decorated with palm trees rather than spruces and with fish instead of schnitzel. Costa Rico, Mexico, Thailand, Cuba, the same thing.
No, December really cannot be avoided, so in November I will pay a visit to my psychiatrist for an extra jar of pills. They don’t really help, but they smother my conscience just enough to make it feel on New Year’s Day as if it had all been a bad dream.
However, last year I stumbled upon the solution to my December syndrome: the flu. Once in bed for two weeks, delirious with flu and fever, I never noticed a thing. Too severe a headache to watch TV, listen to the radio or read a newspaper. Too miserable to get up, let alone going out onto the street. Simply the curtains drawn closed, lights off and a light cracker and cup of tea from time to time. Yes, I was briefly woken up from my feverish high by some mid-night rumbling on the last day of the year. But that heralded the end of December: Hurray! As you will understand, I did not go out for my Mexican flu vaccination this year, just to be sure. Happy New Year!