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'Happiest time of the year'? Yes, for masochists

Date published: 12/1/2012

Barbara Holland (1933-2010), a Washingtonian, moved to Bluemont (pop. 200) in Loudoun County in 1993 and wrote "Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences." A manifesto for enjoying the unsung, out-of-fashion, and slightly disreputable joys of life, the book was a defiant rejoinder to the Puritan spirit that variously possesses religious crusaders and radical feminists, fitness fanatics and subdivision covenanteers, vegans and workaholics, and all the other grim tribes of Scold Nation whose purpose is to make us feel bad about feeling good.

With the permission of Barbara Holland's publisher, we are excerpting chapters from "Endangered Pleasures" on this page each month.

We do not necessarily endorse every indulgence profiled by the author. But by golly she does make them sound good.


BECAUSE Christmas is generally accepted as pleasure's pinnacle, the happiest day of the year, it causes widespread and sometimes fatal depression. Many adults look forward to it and its aftermath as to dental surgery, but somehow, even if no bright-eyed tots expect it of them, they continue to go through the motions, some for religious reasons, some simply because it's the custom, and some, with ethnic roots in northern countries, because their genes insist on marking the winter solstice.

Even though we now know with fair certainty that the sun won't desert us forever, leaving utter darkness to swallow the land, the returning minutes of daylight flood us with secret relief. As Solomon put it, "The light is sweet, and it is delightful for the eyes to see the sun."

So, doggedly, we keep on celebrating.

The most hellish aspect of the modern Christmas is its crushing burden of travel. Due to the decline in American family values, when we marry we no longer add a bedroom to our parents' farmhouse and stay there forever. We no longer go over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. Indeed, we may be expected, like Santa Claus himself, to visit every state in the Union at precisely the same moment.

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