The stress caused by the ‘Fruitcake Syndrome’ | VailDaily.com
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The stress caused by the ‘Fruitcake Syndrome’

Biff America

“You stupid, awful, boy.” Those words were shrieked Christmas Eve, and not by my wife as she opened the present of a throwing hatchet, which I gave her instead of the skis she asked for.Disturbingly, those words were screamed by a mother at her young son. The boy looked to be about 9, the mother in her early 30s; they had both just stepped out of a ski shop’s door as I passed by.The child was crying an apology, which fell on deaf ears. Every “I’m sorry” from the child was met with louder motherly condemnations. I got the impression that the boy did something that injured his mother, because she sat on the ground crying and held her foot. A tired-looking man, obviously the husband and father, joined them on the sidewalk and tried to console both child and wife.I continued on to the coffee shop where I was to meet my buddy Louie. We watched through the window as the man impotently tried to calm a hysterical woman and soothe a scared kid.We looked on as the child followed the parents to a minivan and climbed in the back before it drove away. Through the back seat glass, I could see a crying and traumatized little boy.”Why do we do it to ourselves?” was what I asked my buddy.Of course, I was talking about the holidays. How could we take a celebration with such pure beginnings and turn it into something that tests our pocket-books, patience and politeness?There is only so much stress a person can take before they stop behaving rationally. “Shell Shock,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” are just a few terms to describe what happens to the normal reasoning process when anxiety overcomes rational thought. When this takes place in a large segment of the population, it is sometimes called mass hysteria. Though not wishing to sound like Scrooge, I contend that, for many, “mass hysteria” is a fair way to describe America’s consumptive celebration of the holidays; I’ll call it the “Fruitcake Syndrome.” Christmas holds such wonderful memories for most of us. It seems many of us make a hopeless attempt to spend enough time and money to recreate that magic. As a child, I’d begin getting excited about the holiday just after Thanksgiving. I imagine that for my parents there was a fair amount of pressure back then, shopping for six kids and many relations. But I hold that those were the days when gifts were simply tokens of affection rather than an attempt to fulfill a bottomless desire of media-induced titillation. I have no idea what led up to that woman reacting to her child in a way that the boy will likely remember his entire life. It is very probable that, upon reflection, she considered her outburst as regrettable as those who witnessed it. But, like many of us, she was perhaps overcome with the unrealistic expectations that the holidays have saddled upon us. Couple that with the tension of travel and a strange environment and it makes it a little easier not to judge her too harshly.Having no children or family nearby, my mate and I are, if not immune, at least less vulnerable to the real world pressures. But in contrast we live in a resort community where at this time of year our work demands are increased, and it is as difficult to find a parking spot as a babe in the manger. When you couple that with the fact that both our birthdays fall a few days before and after Christmas, this adds some insult to festive injury. Of course, in a perfect world we would all focus on the birth of The Christ and disregard the pressure and hype. This is certainly a worthy goal that Madison Avenue is determined to thwart.Louie and I split a day-old muffin, drank some mud and watched the world walk by in a hurry. There were no more parental meltdowns, yet I didn’t see much joy, either. It was only a few hours later as my mate and I walked the dog. The stars were barely visible through the fast-moving clouds. We held hands and watched the dog roll in the inch or two of new snow. The night suggested peace and possibilities. We headed back to the house to open our presents. Trying to keep things simple, we both agreed to give each other only one gift. Ellen wanted skis, but I hope she would happy and surprised with her new throwing hatchet.Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.comBiff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.Vail, Colorado


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