CHICAGO — 'Tis the season to be crabby!
I'm not kidding -- this has turned out to be the grumpiest, most anxiety-ridden holiday season ever.
It's not some perennial "Christmahanakwanzika" observation because someone was rude to me on the cutthroat turf of a mall parking lot -- now a 365-day-a-year custom.
No, a pervasive sense of boredom, dread and resignation just seems to be all around like never before. Usually it's me -- the absolute, all-time Ebenezer Grinch of the Cepeda family -- who goes around bah-humbugging the holiday spectacle, already weary of premature Christmas sales, carols and cookies long before Thanksgiving.
This year, I've been bombarded with data seeming to corroborate a feeling summed up by a tweet I ran across last week: "Plagued by first-world problems today. Taking deep breaths. I hate the holidays. ... I want to remove myself from them forever."
Is it any wonder that Google has made it so that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number appears prominently in search results when phrases such as "how to kill myself," "suicide" and "I want to die" are typed into the box? And Facebook just implemented a new reporting service that allows users to report friends if they post a message similar to the one I saw on Twitter -- vaguely, if not specifically, suicidal. A counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is supposed to try to contact the sad friend through a chat messaging system.
Days after shoppers were pepper-sprayed in a Thanksgiving-night tussle over an Xbox and we were all still contemplating whether the almighty consumer should have the right to shop "Black Friday" sales during the early-evening hours of Turkey Thursday, a Poll Position survey reported that 61 percent of Americans feel we've started celebrating the Christmas season too early.
The only reason that number wasn't higher is because 44 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds didn't agree. I imagine they can't remember a time when Christmas decorations weren't displayed in craft stores during the month of August, and "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" were not much-hyped retail phenomena.
There are so many explanations for being unmerry this year, not the least of which is that the economy is still in the dumps and, for many, this will be at least the fourth year in a row that the bounty under the tree will be more meager than it was the year before. A lot more people won't have to worry about feigning delight about getting an ugly Christmas sweater -- chances are there won't be one.
Consumer Reports magazine's recent "Holiday Jeers" survey found that "35 million Americans actually despise 'having to be nice' during the holidays" -- and that was only No. 10 on an 11-item list of holiday exasperations.
"Seeing certain relatives" was No. 6 and my email inbox is stuffed with guides for traversing the canyons of familial ire during endless visits to rarely seen acquaintances and family. I have articles and story ideas about ways to "put the joy back into the holidays this year," how to politely ask guests to not take phone calls or send text messages during sit-down dinners, and tips for talking about racism, immigration, recent coming-outs and other topics that can ruin holiday get-togethers.
On the bright side there is at least one free, non-alcoholic method of letting off some of the steam that will inevitably build up over the next two weeks' worth of office parties, family get-togethers and next-to-impossible lavish and/or romantic New Year's Eve expectations.
A study published in December's Journal of Pain backed up prior research showing that swearing produces a pain-lessening effect for many people, especially those who don't usually pepper their speech with this kind of language.
As far as I can tell this leaves out great swaths of the population. But for those who usually keep their putrid thoughts to themselves -- and those who will spend too many hours reining in their tongues around bosses, elders and kiddies -- give controlled swearing a try.
When you finally get overwhelmed, slip into an empty bedroom and head for the pillow, cower in the bathroom with a hand towel wadded in your mouth, or, better yet, "take the garbage out" and let 'er rip.
Fa la la la la, la, la la la la.
Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at email@example.com.