I love this time of year for plenty of reasons, most of which have to do with Yuletide tunes and brightly-lit neighborhoods and Christmas programs kids put on for their churches, schools or loved ones during this time of year.
Directing the annual Christmas Eve Nativity play for my own large crew, Father Max’s wonderful Advent homilies and the “Hallow” app on my phone help keep me rooted to the reason for the season, which sometimes seems harder to do these days.
Which brings me to the one big grouse I have about the holidays.
I swear on my stack of Christmas cards — mostly just a bunch of family portraits already posted on social media — that the holidays come faster and faster each year.
Which is not exactly a welcome fact of life now that I’m solidly into my seventh decade of it.
It’s to the point I have seriously contemplated keeping the Christmas tree up all year-round, especially because it rarely gets taken down until three or more weeks into the new year.
That idea is not without precedent. I fondly recall walking into a lovely home on the West Side of Aurora, Illinois, for an interview this summer with the fake pine still proudly displayed in the living room.
“My mother just doesn’t think it’s worth taking down … we’ve gotten used to it,” said the adult son who seemed not bothered in the least by this touch of Yuletide in the air-conditioned room.
There are, of course, those who keep their holiday lights up on the rooftop far longer than the neighbors would like. I not so proudly admit I too have fallen into that category, which only goes to show how bummed I’ve become about the years flying so quickly.
Some experts say this passing of time is but a numbers game. A 5-year-old feels a year is awfully long because it makes up 20% of their lives, while Baby Boomers are looking at that same 12-month stretch as a miniscule fraction of their time on Earth.
Others say it has to do with the way we process visual information, which slows with age so we perceive fewer mental images that make it feel as if time is speeding up. In other words, days seem to last longer when we are younger because the young mind receives more images than older minds.
In my short afternoon of research, I’ve determined there is no consensus for the cause of this phenomena. While biology and physics likely are involved, they say it is a mystery yet to be solved.
There is, however, lots of research that’s being done, little of which makes sense to me because most has to do with neuron complexities and electrical signals and neurovisual memories.
Problem is, psychologists warn this perception can have a negative impact on your mental health. If you feel time is going way too fast, you tend to get anxious. And with gifts to wrap, holiday meals to plan and family drama to avoid, that’s the last thing most of us need this time of year.
So what’s an old brain to do?
My first thought was that perhaps big pharma could ride to the rescue. After all, if drug companies can come up with a way to slow down hunger, can’t they do the same with time?
Who knows. Maybe someday.
Until then, my research turned up a few more natural ways to feel as if we are stretching things out. For example, instead of lamenting the passage of time, keep a journal, which forces you to reflect on each day, and that, in turn, reinforces solid memories that we easily tend to forget.
Break out of your routine, which is harder to do the older we get. But shaking things up — taking action, increasing productivity, seeking novelty — requires our brains to process new information, experts insist, which expands our subjective experiences and can make each day not only different but a little more special.
Which segues nicely into this old standby: Take time to smell the roses … or the coffee or whatever brings you a little joy that has nothing to do with the 101 things you have to get done this week.
Rather than pat yourself on the back for being a good multitasker, practice something called mindfulness. Focus your brain solely on the task at hand. Be a good listener to what is going on in other people’s lives. (Sounds simple, but I am amazed at how few have mastered that skill).
And finally, try to view the world through the eyes of that 5-year-old. Embrace your inner child, for example, by retelling your entire day in breathless tones. Although some folks could start avoiding you rather than listen to 30 minutes of how your morning went getting the van’s tires rotated, I really like that last suggestion.
Kids are driven by emotion, rather than logic. What we see as mundane, they see as adventure. What we see as routine they see as magic, including that Christmas tree we keep dragging out of the attic at a faster and faster pace.
I don’t know if any of these suggestions can help, but I for one am going to try and incorporate at least one or two into my resolutions for the new year.
Until then, wishing you all a very child-like holiday season and looking forward to connecting again in 2024 (can you believe it’s here already?).
(Denise Crosby is an award-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune.)