Christmas and I need couples counseling.
I’d tell the therapist how I come from a long line of holiday loons. One relative of mine took back a tree she didn’t like to the tree lot — removed the ornaments, stuffed it back in the car trunk like a mob hit and returned it, with wisps of tinsel in her hair.
Another loon in the family kept her artificial tree up all year just because.
Thing is, no matter how much you love it, Christmas can feel like a layered re-enactment of some ancient war. We make the same tactical mistakes, fall foolishly behind, rally, attack the mall, fail, then come to resent the season a little — the fatigue, the foolish obligation, the same emotional slush year after year.
So when I urge you to start your holiday shopping a little early, it’s positive change I’m after (as opposed to negative change, which covers most change).
I want you to put the gift buying behind you, so when the tree lightings begin and the ice rinks go up, you can enjoy the season more than ever.
Ready, set, snow!
OK, so no snow. But boat parades and surfing Santas … lights on the Long Beach canals. SoCal has plenty of holiday traditions, and you won’t have to worry about sliding through whiteouts and black ice. Here roads are rarely frosted, like that turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
After all, Christmas is about birth and rebirth. Like California. Like America itself.
If you shop early, you won’t spend mid-December fighting for a spot in the Zombie Parking Garage From Hell. Instead, you’ll be down at the beach, pondering the yule-log glow of a Pacific sunset.
Think of the winter songs you’ll have time to enjoy. The children’s voices. The Pentatonix specials. And perhaps the greatest holiday visual of all: a TV football game played in a blizzard.
Instead of making yourself groggy with a late-night Amazon session Dec. 23, you’ll be baking, or getting baked, or throwing little get-togethers. You’ll organize a night out, catch a Christmas play in Monrovia, stroll the lights in Montrose, tip a glass of grog in Manhattan Beach.
Start here with this gift guide, your holiday cheat sheet, your portal to a better and more-satisfying Christmas.
If you take the panic out of shopping, you might even be a better gift-giver, a little more thoughtful, a little more engaged.
For years, I was a lousy gift-giver, and it began to wear on me, the looks of disappointment, or worse, the false enthusiasm for something kind of lame. In 40 years, I’m pretty sure I never bought a piece of clothing where the recipient didn’t — at least internally — think really?
Yet, they’d hold it up, smile, say the thanks they didn’t mean. That can really wear on a guy.
I’m still not great at gifts but getting better, because I’ve started dorking out with lists on my phone — of sly new authors or great concerts coming up. I’ve found that tickets are a terrific gift for teens and 20-somethings. Or ski passes. Or surf lessons.
For older kids, think experiences, not things.
Whatever you do, just don’t tell your friends about your early-bird shopping. And never ever gloat — they’ll just hate you for it, suggest that you’ve abandoned your long-established principles of procrastination and dysfunction. They’ll feel they no longer really know you.
“What child is this?” they’ll ask.
To be safe, you might want to appear a little frazzled, moan about the traffic.
Hey, no matter what you do, the holidays will never be easy. But by wrapping up your wrapping early, maybe you can treat yourself to perhaps the best December indulgence of all:
A nap beneath a soft blanket, beside a snoring dog.
Find more of columnist Chris Erskine’s work at latimes.com/middleages.