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I’m not anti-holiday, I swear. I am all in favor of everyone else’s celebrations. I love to see happy people.

I’m not crazy about the unhappy ones, however, and this time of year, if you spend much time in a mall, you will see them. If, like I, you are employed in retail, you will not only see them, you will be obliged to make them less unhappy. This is not always possible. The only cure for the crowded parking lots, the lines at the register, and whatever else is aggravating these folks is mid-January.

But enough about them; let’s talk about me.

My attitude about the holidays, Christmas in particular, has fluctuated wildly throughout my life. I grew up with the same misty, romantic vision of Christmas as everyone else, and occasionally the Christmases of my early childhood met the ideal.

I’ve had good Christmases and bad, and I don’t intend to catalogue them all now. (although some of them may rate their own posts someday) I will mention, however, that I spent a Christmas alone at age 26, and found it quite pleasant. I read all day long. Alternatively, I’ve struggled (unsuccessfully) with attaining the “perfect” holiday, stressing over family dynamics,  cards, gifts, entertaining and everything else.

This Christmas is the one that counts. Due to my little job, I’ve had Christmas in my face (in a very tasteful way) since before Halloween. As much as I enjoy looking at the decorations at work, I can’t get too worked up about replicating them at home. There’s time- I may bust out a few trinkets between now and next weekend, but we’ll be passing on a tree. Time permitting, I may find an evergreen  wreath, just to get that gorgeous smell in the house. I will fill stockings for The Kid and Dr. T, and I can trust him to make a ridiculously great meal when the day comes.

And that’s about it. Anything else will be bonus.

Happy Holidays to all, and remember this:

1) Your holidays are YOUR holidays, to make as much or as little of as you choose.

2) Those people who are trying to help you as you do your shopping are doing their best; they don’t make much money, and their feet probably hurt. Try to be patient.

We can get used to anything. For the past five years or so, I have gotten used to chronic, severe pain in my neck and shoulders. It’s not constant, but it is something I have been waking up with almost every day, and noticing off and on while I am awake. I’ve attributed it to many things: “stress,” aging, too much computer time, and most recently, tensing up over the low computer/cash registers at my little job. I was resigned to the prospect of life with this pain.

And then…

I went to a new dentist. “Do you clench or grind your teeth?” she asked. I didn’t think so. She asked a few more questions, poked around a little more, had me open and close my mouth a few times. She was pretty sure I was a clencher, and that this habit was responsible for the current sorry state of my teeth. No cavities, but vertical fractures.

Since I don’t eat rocks or use my mouth on household projects, I had to consider her suggestion seriously. I promised to be mindful of how I held my mouth (always a good  practice, really.)

My upper and lower teeth were hitting each other in all the wrong places.  By resting my tongue against the roof of my mouth, I could maintain my bite properly. I paid particular attention to this when I went to bed that night.

I woke up pain-free yesterday morning, and again today. I am elated.

I share this because it might be helpful to someone else, and also as an example of how we harm ourselves, obliviously and unintentionally. If only it was always so easy to find and fix.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (

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