Traditionally, Christmas was a twelve-day feast that started at sundown in Christmas Eve and went on through the Epiphany-- January 6th. People would hang out, eat food, sing to their neighbors, attend services, give a few simple gifts day by day, and generally have fun and take it easy.
Our consumer/capitalist culture has transfigured this very human affair into something with a very different time table. The first harbingers of the assault make their appearance in late August, just after the "Back to School" festival has ended. The first wave is subtle, after all-- the market days of Halloween and Thanksgiving are not to be eclipsed. Still the net is cast early, for every dollar is dear.
By careful orchestration, the festivities really take off the day after Thanksgiving, which now has its very own name, "Black Thursday". With this day of communal gathering at the local mall, the whole thing begins to ramp up to a fevered pitch that ends at precisely 11:00 AM on December 25th when all the purchases have at last been shorn of their concealing wrappings and an air of quiet disaffection begins to settle in.
Sometimes we extend the self-inflicted misery by volunteering to cook many complicated dishes for the Christmas meal. The stress causes us to become snappish and worried, the meal (however well executed) cannot make up for the deficiency of good karma. And then there is a mountain of dirty dishes to contend with. Fun!
The message here is mainly a negative rant. Fear no "Jesus is the reason for the season" agenda here. That particular blandishment really makes me wince. In a mere ten syllables it cheapens the whole thing just as badly as that awful image of a hatless Santa kneeling at the side of the manger.
My point here is simply this--- something that was supposed to be for us and for our benefit has been twisted into something that benefits a monstrous system--- and usually at our personal expense. It is hard to remain immune to its depredations.