Holiday season almost lost in hanging chad

  • Ellen Goodman / Boston Globe columnist
  • Friday, December 15, 2000 9:00pm
  • Opinion

BOSTON — And so on Thursday morning, she awoke to the realization that the election was over. The little white things falling outside her window were not chads but snowflakes. The date was not Nov. 8 but Dec. 14.

Automatically turning on the TV, it gradually dawned on her that Tim Russert, Greta Van Susteren and David Boies were not really members of her family, though they’d been her significant others lo these many weeks. It was clear that the analyst on the screen talking about 2004 was a political junkie who must be taken to rehab immediately!

Turning off the tube and rising slowly from her convalescent mattress, the woman spied the corner of the room that was normally overflowing with gift-wrapped presents by now. It was, gasp, empty.

So with that bell jingling, she began her own interpretation of the last words from Al Gore’s concession speech, adding a personal kicker. "It’s time for me to go" … SHOPPING!

The 2000 campaign will go down in history as the election that stole Christmas. Thirty-six shopping days were devoured in an electoral ebb and flow that bore no yuletide. Now there is barely time enough to make a fruitcake — that’s the good news — and less time to turn from healing wounds to decking halls.

With this in mind, our exhausted correspondent has come up with the one bipartisan public policy proposal that will indeed unite, not divide Democrats and Republicans. What this country needs now is simply this: a Christmas extension.

You know all the analysts deeply concerned that the presidential transition has been cut short? Bush and Cheney have until Jan. 20 to get it together. The rest of us only have until Dec. 25. You do the math.

Admittedly, before this millennium our correspondent believed that Christmas was far too long. Her seasonal affective disorder came when the first catalogues offered Polartec for Labor Day. She long admired, but never emulated, Eleanor Roosevelt, who had her shopping done by Halloween.

But this year there are poll workers in Florida who haven’t yet finished their Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. There are lawyers whose children are still filing briefs for their wish lists. There are journalists who have been in Florida so long the only gifts they’ve bought are T-shirts saying: "My mom went to Tallahassee and all I got was a lousy Freedom of Information Act request for ballots."

As for the woman who has come up with the postponement proposal? She even missed the deadline for an overseas gift to a niece who has had the bizarre task of teaching a course on the American elections to university students in Paris. Comment dit-on "screwup" en francais?

Her life is so far behind schedule that her Christmas cactus is late. She’s even behind on her annual weight gain.

Of course, the proposal to change the date will be met with some opposition. A Florida legislator will insist that you can’t change the rules in the middle of the calendar. Some election commissioner will sneer that we knew all along when Christmas was and if we were so stupid as to fall behind it’s our own fault. But there are always people who prefer to obey the letter rather than the spirit of Christmas.

Nor is the Supreme Court a likely ally, though surely Swing Justice O’Connor is behind on her grandchild gift shopping. The court may decline to rule at all since they still — give or take a sudden retirement — believe in the separation of church and state.

But surely there is some wiggle room here. After all, there’s no historic basis for Dec. 25. Once upon a time, Clement of Alexandria rooted for May 20 as the birthday party. Even today some communities celebrate on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, Hanukkah is a moving feast of lights. And since we are all anthropologically African-Americans, we can celebrate Kwanzaa from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

All in all, our weary correspondent’s proposal for a Christmas extension is a perfect chance for conservatives to show compassion.

This is where we are in the waning days before the Electoral College meets. The country has just gone through a scorched-earth campaign. We need more time to come together on that one true piece of American common ground. Yes, Virginia: the mall.

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