Right about now your mom is pulling out her collection of holiday themed sweaters. At Starbucks, they've got the pumpkin spice latte back on the menu. At Macy's, they've been playing Jingle Bell Rock without a break since November 26th.
Everything looks and feels different. I call it the Yuletide Twilight Zone.
Some of these changes can be frightening. Many of us awaken this time of year to find that our wallets have mysteriously grown thinner. Folks are busy stuffing the space under the tree with mountains of toys made as well as paid for with plastic. Many will be adding debt consolidation to their list of New Year's resolutions.
Meanwhile, at work, productivity is down since folks have already mentally switched into vacation mode. I witnessed this firsthand recently when I walked into a large office building. It was the middle of the workday, but the reception area was deserted.
I had made the mistake of stopping by during the company's Christmas party. I found only one woman at her desk. Was there anyone available to assist me, I asked? No, she answered, quite unconcernedly.
Weird behavior like this is normal in the yuletide twilight zone. After all, customer service feels a lot less important when there are piles of candy cane-shaped cookies in the break room.
Weird is Good
There is one other thing that feels very odd this holiday season: For the first time in a very long time, America is no longer waging war in Iraq. This fact is something all of us can be thankful for.
No doubt it will take some time to get all our troops home, but we have begun to withdraw in earnest. As our troops return, they will experience a twilight zone of their own. The children they left behind will have changed and grown older in their absence. The joy of reunion will be tempered by the pain of time lost.
For others, the holidays will be a time to reflect on the memory of the fallen -- those who never made it back. The scars will stay with us. Ten years is a long time. There are college students today who cannot remember a time when their country was not at war.
For years now we have enjoyed a deceptive and, no doubt, temporary peace here in the homeland. The feelings of fear and urgency that overwhelmed us immediately after Sept. 11 have subsided. The drama of terrorism and war no longer feels as urgent as it once did, even as the fighting continues in Afghanistan.
The battle images we watch on CNN have grown strangely and troublingly uninteresting -- as if we were merely watching an episode of a TV drama that we have seen a hundred times before. I'm ashamed to admit it, but, like many, I stopped paying attention to the death tally a long time ago. It's a dangerous thing when a nation becomes used to war.
As I celebrate Christmas this year, I will take time to appreciate the usual things: family, friends, good health -- as well as the twilight zone things like holiday hip-hop albums, fiber optic Christmas trees, and fruitcake.
If it feels odd to think that the Iraq war is over, that's one more weird thing to be thankful for. Here's wishing we could go back to the days when it was not being at peace but being at war that felt peculiar.