It is the season for holiday celebrations, for holiday shopping, office parties, family get-togethers. Everyone is expected to enjoy their time off work and their travel to holiday destinations. We all get a break in the routine of day-to-day life.
But that underlying routine of life is precisely what I miss.
Most of the year we are moored to society by a scaffold of routine. Days and weeks are much the same: the commute to work or classes, checking e-mail and social media, attending meetings, running errands. Days may vary in the substance of what we write or teach or do, but the structure is familiar. Whether driving our own cars or riding our regular trains and subways, most of us inhabit a relatively small geographical and institutional space. We see the same people, watch the same channels, listen to the same radio programs day after day. We have our lives organized efficiently to get us what we need — a string of pleasant days.
The holidays disrupt this calm routine we have built our lives around. Not being at work can be disorienting in itself. Work is central to our lives. Many of us experience the paradox of thinking we want time off from work, but really missing it when we cannot go to the office.
We may also find our home routine disrupted during the holidays by visiting family members who require attention, special food, entertainment. They want to argue about last year’s election; they get on our nerves. There is nothing to watch on TV as our favorite programs are either all reruns or disappear for a month, replaced by predictable holiday shows.
Likewise with radio. Music stations turn to “Feliz Navidad,” “Last Christmas” and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Talk radio is all “The best of ...” or repeats of old programs. Even news programs cheat by rerunning segments they showed us “ … back this summer” or filling the time with reports of awful weather and snarled traffic and crowded airports.
It is as though suddenly nothing is happening in the world.
Magazines and periodicals for December and January shrink to half their size, are combined into one issue and are filled with the year in photos, lists of celebrities who died in the past year and countless other lists of what happened in the past 12 months.
It is the actual holidays themselves that break most with routine, even in this 24/7 world, as many businesses and stores either close or shrink hours. The streets are almost devoid of traffic; everything seems to have shut down. All is quiet. Everyone seems to be enclosed within a house somewhere with all of their relatives, cars parked in driveways. There is almost nowhere to go, no place open to do errands and shop, no crowds to be lost in, no hustle and bustle of crowds on the street. Boredom sets in.
So in spite of the joys of the season, I am always happy somehow when they are over, and I can return to that day-to-day routine where most of life is led.
Rebecca S. Fahrlander is an adjunct professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Nebraska.