Holiday countdown: You’re probably already running late.

The retail industry treats Christmas as one big countdown. This year has been the worst yet: Black Friday seems to have lasted the entire month of November.

But right after Thanksgiving the real fun began: “Only 26 more shopping days until Christmas.”

I think it’s because as a nation, we love to be nagged. The phone company reminds us to call home on Mother’s Day. Florists fuss at you to buy flowers for Secretary’s Day. Jewelers warn men to buy bigger and better diamonds for each year’s anniversary.

Nagging works, too: The phone system is overwhelmed on the second Sunday in May. Administrative assistants smile as they load up the vases (even if they’re inwardly wishing they’d gotten gift cards, or raises). And wives all over America decide to hang in there for another year because the big lug actually remembered.

But this is not a cynical post about the commercialization of sentiment. Not this time, anyway. It’s about why “(however many) more days until Christmas” is too vague to be of any use.

That’s because it’s not a warning — it’s a snooze alarm.

The clock is ticking

Heck, I’ve still got (however many) days till Christmas,” we think. “I’m too busy/too tired to get online/fight the crowds. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Lots of us are too busy/too tired (or too lazy) to get all our holiday obligations done on time without a much sterner reprimand. We need our nagging couched in non-compromising, “OR ELSE” terms. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it address all its holiday cards on time.

But tell me that tomorrow will be too late to have done something and I’m a woman inspired. I’ll stay up all night licking envelopes to get the cards mailed before the official post-office deadline. I’ll shop till I drop to buy goodies for the office potluck that begins promptly at noon by the cute li’l tree on the receptionist’s desk.

What this country needs is a running checklist of things that it’s too late to start thinking about. The idea is to read each do-by date in advance. Then you’ll still have time to goof off until the last minute — because now you’ll know what the last minute actually is.

By DECEMBER 5, it’s…..

Too late to properly age your holiday fruitcakes. You can, however, start them now for next year if you’re feeling ambitious.

Too late to un-teach your kids the words to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells,” both of which have been sung repeatedly, and loudly, on every single car trip since Thanksgiving.

Too late to blow out the insides of enough eggs to decorate your tree with hand-painted Russian-style decorations. You were supposed to have saved them all year long.

Too late to change your birthday, if you were born in December and habitually get shorted on celebrating. (Note: Dec. 5 happens to be my birthday. It’s not too late to send me a present!!!)

By DECEMBER 9, it’s…..

Too late to revive last year’s poinsettia – it’s in a coma in the basement. Next year, remember that revivification takes at least 40 days.

Too late to wish you hadn’t let the kids spray the windows and mirrors with that fake snow-in-a-can. Ever try to wash that stuff off?

Too late to wish you’d bought all your gifts (or wrapping paper, or Christmas cards) at last year’s clearance sales. Pay up, and tell yourself that you’re contributing to the economy. Ho, ho, ho.

By DECEMBER 12, it’s…..

Too late to get your Christmas cards back from the post office after realizing you forgot to put on the Christmas Seals. Give the Seals to the kids to play with, like you do every year.

Too late to hide “The Chipmunks Christmas Album.” Stuff some cotton in your ears and hope for a power failure.

Too late to discourage your kids from making Christmas decorations out of Styrofoam, shell macaroni, paper chains and other messy construction materials. (Also too late to think of an excuse for not festooning your whole house with the stuff.)

Too late to take back your promise to provide three dozen fancy cookies for the office party. And no, they won’t be fooled by oatmeal bars with little bits of candied cherries on top.

By DECEMBER 16, it’s…..

Too late to cultivate a taste for breakfast-cereal party mix, which will appear at half a dozen gatherings in your neighborhood this week. Just practice picking out the peanuts and ignoring the rest.

Too late to make room in your freezer for the turkey you just bought. (Also too late to realize you shouldn’t have made those open-house casseroles in advance after all.) Up in Alaska some people just leave it in the trunks of their cars, even though that makes the food-safety people nuts and also leaves the spare tire smelling like poultry.

Too late to wish you’d bought a fake tree. Your toddler’s been sneezing and breaking out in hives ever since the Douglas fir went up in the living room.

By DECEMBER 18, it’s…..

Too late to have increased your daily exercise routine to compensate for all the holiday goodies you’re going to consume. Resign yourself to the fact that none of the new clothes you’re hoping to get are going to fit on Christmas Day. Look at it this way, though: You’ve got a built-in New Year’s resolution.

Too late to write and photocopy a long, newsy, clever Christmas letter for mass mailings to friends and relatives. Send a postcard instead. Brevity is the soul of wit. (Besides, think of how happy your friends and relatives will be not to have to wade through yet another long, newsy, clever Christmas letter.)

Too late to change your mind about those all-natural, all-homemade tree decorations – you already promised the kids. So now you’ve got to string acres of popcorn and cranberry garlands (damn the calluses, full speed ahead!) and bake at least five dozen Little Dummer Boy and Frosty the Snowman cookies. And remember: if you forget to put little strings for hangers in the cookies before they go in the oven, you have to start all over again.

By DECEMBER 21, it’s…..

Too late to mail first-class cards and packages for guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery. As a last and more expensive resort, there’s Express Mail or private carriers. And speaking of resorts, how about Maui? Only 4 more days until Christmas….

Too late to call the school board and ask them to revoke Christmas vacation. It started yesterday, in case you’re wondering why the first-person-shooter games went on until 1 a.m.

Too late to run to Target and buy one dozen Tinker Bell cologne sets for your Brownie troop’s Christmas party, which begins in half an hour. At your house.

By DECEMBER 23, it’s…..

Too late to rescue your bathrobe from the back of the 8-year-old shepherd who borrowed it for the Sunday-school pageant. Maybe it’ll make its way back home. Or maybe someone will give you a new robe for Christmas. (And bathrobes always fit, no matter how many cookies you eat.)

Too late to wish you hadn’t sent out those invitations to a Christmas open house. If you’re really desperate, turn the heat all the way down, put on a parka and meet your guests at the door with the words, “Furnace on the blink!” Maybe they’ll leave.

Too late to defrost the turkey you bought on sale at Thanksgiving – it can take up to five days in the refrigerator. How does your family feel about pizza for Christmas dinner?

By DECEMBER 24, it’s…..

Too late, if you did defrost your turkey in advance, to think of a suitable euphemism for turkey innards. Your oldest kid has told the others what “giblet” means, and nobody is going to touch the gravy tomorrow.

Too late to pose for a family-photo Christmas card. Besides, the dog needs a bath, your 6-year-old has no front teeth and your red-and-green hostess gown is in a trunk somewhere.

Too late to wish you’d tested the Christmas-tree lights in advance. Go out and look for a store that’s still open. And take lots of money – it’ll probably be a convenience store.

Too late to exchange all those toys on which you suddenly notice the fatal three words: “Some Assembly Required.” Get your tool kit and settle in for a long winter’s night.

Too late, if you’ve gotten this far, to say, “Bah, humbug!” So have a merry Christmas. And enjoy the pizza.

(Note: This article is part of the Go Banking RatesHolidays and Money” writing project, an ongoing project that encourages creative writing in the PF blog community once a month, centralized around a single broad-reaching subject. If you enjoyed my article, VOTE for it here as Readers’ Choice Favorite.)

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  1. We call it “white trashing it” when we use our car as a frig/freezer. Just thought you would need that bit of info. Hmmm, probably not.

  2. LOVE IT! Laughing all the way, Donna.

  3. That was a delightful read! It reminds me of when my kids were wee ones and my recurring nightmare (for real, I mean a literal nightmare where you wake up in a cold sweat and your heart racing) was that it was Christmas and I had forgotten to buy presents or stuff stockings.

  4. So, Happy Birthday on Sunday. Wishing you lots of cake and a lovely day.

  5. Dammit. That reminds me, I meant to do my Christmas cards over the long weekend. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

  6. Also a Dec. 5th birthday here. I have tried to note interesting people who share my birthday over the years. So far, my favorite is Walt Disney. What can I say? I’m six years old at heart.

  7. lostAnnfound

    Ho, ho, oh-oh! Too funny! I really like the one about the Christmas family newsletter. We have a distant (in terms of miles) friend that does these. Without fail we always receive the letter & picture of the kids (taken a few weeks before Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday madness) on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. She has it timed perfectly! 🙂 I just cannot seem to get the hang of that

  8. Definitely too late for Chanukah, which starts at sundown Dec. 1. Those of faiths and traditions other than Christian may be blessed by the perspective of the outsider. It makes it easier not to get sucked in by the commercialism and stress of Christmas.

  9. As we say in these parts, ain’t THAT the truth!
    Happy B-Day on Dec. 5th!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Catseye and Karla: Thanks for the b’day wishes. I’ll be using up my birthday freebies (Cold Stone, IHOP, Red Robin, Qdoba) over the next couple of weeks. Nothing like bad-for-me treats to make me feel good.

  10. Magislibri

    Your articles always make me smile. My birthday is also in December. I plan to stop by IHOP and stone cold creamery as well. Happy birthday!

  11. My Birthday too. Happy Birthday!

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