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The day after Christmas

Monday, December 18, 2006 | Read Comments

The day after Christmas

Before the Christmas presents are opened, they're full of wonder and possibility. Anticipation combines with imagination to create a sense of great curiosity of what might be hidden underneath the ribbon, behind the wrapping paper, inside the box.

But all that wonder and imagination collapses at the instant when the removal of the wrapping paper reveals the identity of the gift. And whether the gift is a desired one or not, its definitive presence (ahem!) eliminates all other possibilities of what the gift could have been. And so, just like the act of observing an atom's electron cloud causes all possibilities to collapse into a measurable state, the act of observing the opening of a gift eliminates all the visions of what the gift might have been.

An unwrapped present is very much like Schrodinger's Cat, to borrow a well-known physics conundrum. And sometimes, depending on what the gift turns out to be, the whole thing was far more interesting before it was unwrapped. When its identity was uncertain, at least, there was always some hope that the gift didn't suck. But now, after opening it, everyone can plainly see the gift sucks. (Or, if you're lucky, the gift doesn't suck.)

This comic attempts to capture that moment right after all the presents are opened. The gift wrapping is strewn about the floor, the children have hit an energy slump, and there's a quiet but awkward moment where everybody realizes, "Well, that's it! Christmas is over!" Sort of like that moment after the July 4th fireworks finale when you realize you have to pick up all your lawn chairs, blankets and soda cans and pack it all back in your trunk where you get to brave ninety minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic due to everybody leaving the scene at once.

It's in that moment that people realize there's work to be done. The wrapping paper has to be cleaned up, the children have to be distracted with something else (food?), and eventually, the whole tree and all its ornaments have to be disassembled and packed away for another eleven months of uselessness.

The energy that goes into Christmas is, coincidentally, shaped like a Christmas tree with a crescendo of pre-Christmas effort peaking at the moment the presents are opened, then waning in the lazy, lethargic and sometimes alcoholically-impaired hours where it all becomes post-Christmas cleanup.

And then there's the rapidly declining value of the presents to deal with, too. Within minutes, it seems, at least one toy is broken or inoperable. Batteries are missing. Assembly requires a part that was not provided. Clothes don't fit right. Or some idiot gives you a Christmas fruitcake.

The value of, say, a $50 gift actually has a life cycle that starts and ends at approximately zero. When the manufacturer first makes the item, they use raw materials that cost almost nothing. Once the item is made, it's sold at wholesale for something like $20, where it's shipped to distributors or retailers.

At the moment of purchase, the retail price peaks at $50. When the gift is wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree, it has a potential value of anywhere from $10 - $100, depending on the imagination of the recipient. The moment it's opened, it's suddenly worth $50 again, and within 60 seconds -- after the packaging is ripped apart -- it's worth maybe $10 on eBay. Three days later, the gift is usually lost or forgotten, once again placing its value at near zero.

Of course, there's a lot more to gift giving than the monetary value. There's the value of friendship or generosity, and those are invaluable. It's a good thing, too, since all the physical crap we give each other ends up practically worthless within 72 hours following Christmas Day!

Of course, most adults have hopefully figured out that Christmas is not about the stuff anyway. But they still buy the stuff, wrap the stuff, give the stuff, receive the stuff and eventually throw away the stuff anyway, all while claiming, "It's the thought that counts!" So then why don't people just leave THOUGHTS under the Christmas tree? For a population that claims to be focused on the "spiritual" side of Christmas, there sure is a lot of STUFF changing hands.

Brain teaser for the day: Is a Christmas fruitcake worth MORE or LESS after being eaten? Think about it...

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