Cheer for the new year

BEST exchange during a game of Password on Christmas night, when we mercifully turned off the television and the iPods and huddled around the dining room table on our elbows, trying to think of clues: And the Password was "China."

Someone had just guessed "Chinese," which, of course, is very close to China, so the next contestant leans toward his partner and says, "Coun-try," clicking off each syllable, as if talking to the town drunk.

Coun-try? His partner pauses, then says: "Asia?"

Now, as you know, the holidays are loaded with lots of good things. Generosity. Laughter. Booze. Gravy. Cheese balls. Amy Grant.

But somehow it is reassuring that, amid it all, a family gathering can still produce a comment or reaction so silly that the mere thought of it will warm you throughout the coming year.

"Asia?!" someone scoffs.

"A country?!" scolds the partner.

"Oh, shut up," says the contestant.

One outburst at a time, we're leaving the holidays behind, though our return to normalcy is never very normal.

We spend most of a day taking down the decorations, then storing them in Tupperware tubs in a corner of the basement where spiders spend weekends. Then, when all is tucked away and our energy gone, we discover some wreath we forgot, or a $1.99 cherub atop a toilet tank.

Solution? When your wife's not looking, just chuck it in the trash. Trust me, there are 3,000 more cherubs where that came from.

Then there is that poor, tired tree to be rid of. Now, even my buddies would admit that I am the most macho of men, with two giant Y chromosomes, which I wear proudly on my head like antlers. Yet the sight of a Christmas tree on a curb still sort of depresses me. One day it glows, the next it's getting a pauper's burial.

"Maybe we should burn it," urges the boy.

Nice thought. Or we could whack it with an ax. Kick it. Club it. Hurl it from the roof. There are all sorts of ways we could be rid of the little tree that was just the centerpiece of our holiday.

Instead, we wrestle it to the curb and lean it against the L.L. Bean boxes and an empty case of Myers's Rum. There is no good way to dispose of a Christmas tree. It's the last loopy guest out of the house -- though a few needles will remain under the couch forever.

Meanwhile, I got a lavender dress shirt for Christmas, which I wore to work one day thinking it was merely an odd shade of blue, dressing as I do in the milky morning light of the master bedroom, the warm glow of love all around.

Hours later, I walk into the bright men's room and realize it isn't blue. It's lavender, or worse, some lavender spinoff.

"I think it's heather," insists a coworker.

"Heather?" I gulp.

Great, now I'm wearing a color from the Martha Stewart collection. In hindsight, we jailed her for all the wrong reasons.

Such incidents are proof of what I've always believed, that there are far too many colors in the world, just as there are too many magazines, movie stars, bowl games, cherubs. There are too many of almost everything.

We could easily get by with eight colors: white, black, red, green, blue, brown and blond. That's seven? OK, seven.

Nature can have its crimson sunsets and its harvests spun of gold. But anything we make should be one of these seven shades. They could be glossy or flat, latex or oil. You could apply them with brush or roller, or with the tip of your fine freckled nose.

I'm no Nazi about colors. I just think we need only seven.

It's a new year, a good time to consider fresh ideas like this. By the way, have you noticed this about Christmas, that it has some contraceptive qualities that we may not fully appreciate -- that this season, centered around birth, leaves us no time for a handshake between spouses, let alone any kind of intimacy? Yes, Mrs. Claus, you look lovely in those flannel PJs. Now will you just come to bed?

So as you can see, our Christmas wasn't perfect, barely close. We spent too much on the kids and I made a mess of the wine on Christmas Eve, don't ask. Expectations were too high, the weather too warm. By God, Macy's was like a casino.

Each year, the holidays seem more over hyped and overpriced.

Yet, I'd endure it all again tomorrow -- the malls, the crushing debt, the mayhem -- for the chance to hear a 3-year-old explain Santa the way he did, gesturing madly, like a maestro summoning the trombones.

"See, Santa Claus lands up there. See?"

"No."

"Up there, see?" he says.

Yeah, pal, I see. Christmas is a bargain.

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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