2012 years ago, the first Christmas commute began with a small family. Dad lead a donkey, and mom, carrying her precious cargo in her belly, sat on the passenger seat. Going was slow but safe as most of the traffic was pedestrian. Fast forward to now and the greatest threat is the hoards of Christmas commuters as they take to the road like lemmings on horse steroids, hooting, racing and often dying in commemoration of that fateful donkey trek.
It’s become a movement of populace on a stupendous scale and we’ve come to accept it as the norm. Every year, we load the car, bus or minibus taxi and steer into the stream of speeding metal often to meet a like-minded vehicle going in the opposite direction, a drunken reveller or dejected soul stumbling across the road at this, for many, the most depressing time of year. In truth it’s not about a kid born in a manger any more; it’s become a compulsory holiday as businesses shut down, schools close and marketers step up the holiday messaging. That it coincides with the height of summer means most of the worshipping is for the sun – a decidedly pagan ritual as beaches and braai areas beat churches for attendance figures.
But it’s hardly a holiday for anyone above the age of 12. Many people breath a sigh of relief when they return to work in the New Year. It’s a time of profound stress as office parties end in regretful trysts, travel and accommodation plans become trickier to make, destinations overflow with the very people one is trying to escape, family feuds are revived and money is spent in an orgiastic splurge as kids and spouses up their expectations, lusting after expensive gifts so well marketed you could pick them from trees like apples (pun intended). The Magi’s gifts for baby Jesus were actually appropriate: We all know the value of gold, and frankincense and myrrh were expensive spices used as scents by the very rich; but they were gifts for someone recognised as a king, and now we blow our cash in vain attempts to let our little princes or princesses know how much they are appreciated, and it’s not even their birthday.
It’s really the thought that counts, isn’t it? So here’s a thought: Stay at home this Christmas; work in the office and win those brownie points; take your holiday some other time (not Easter!), book into that place you have always wanted to stay, or visit your distant family when it is quieter – they might appreciate it more. Ultimately, avoid the lemmings, have a safer journey and a more peaceful experience. I am not religious, but I’m sure the big guy wouldn’t mind you taking a holiday from his holiday. Look at it this way: if he expected Joseph and Mary to hit the road these days, chances are far greater there wouldn’t even be a Christmas.