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This column first appeared in print on December 13, 2006 in that day’s issue of the Inter-County Leader.

I was sitting on the couch Sunday when it started.

“Slow Down!”
“Be Careful With That!”
“Crash!”

One of the things all parents have is a sort of superhuman sixth sense (kind of like Spiderman’s) that warns us of danger. Suddenly, mine was buzzing like crazy. So, even though the Vikings had the ball and were driving, I glanced up from the television.

The eight year old was unloading a red box labeled, “Christmas Decorations” onto the living room floor. The four year old was picking through the pile and spreading it haphazardly around the house. A porcelain snow baby rested on the edge of a chair. Santa’s glass cookie plate balanced on a barstool.

The wife was busy reading the sheet of directions that came with the new artificial tree the three had picked up at Menards the night before.

Each hummed a cheerful tune–totally oblivious that Brad Johnson had just thrown an interception.

The excitement of the holiday season is upon us—and forgive me when I say—so is the lunacy.

Last weekend, my wife and daughters went to Macy’s to see the Christmas scenes. They reported standing in line for forty-five minutes before finally reaching the display, which took another five minutes to see. And were happy to do it!

A few weeks before that, the wife and eight year old got up at (I am not making this up) 5:00 a.m. to hit the after Thanksgiving sales. They rushed from store to store, jockeyed for parking spaces, dodged carts, and strategically avoided long lines. When they finally returned late that evening, they were still flushed with the excitement of the day’s adventures.

Some people say I have no Christmas spirit, but personally—I just don’t get it. And I don’t think I’m alone.

A Silent Minority

Today I give voice to a silent minority. You know the type. We avoid social interaction, can’t decorate or bake, don’t understand the concept behind the annual Christmas letter, and to top it off we are terrible gift givers.

In an attempt to explain what society doesn’t understand (and to keep us quiet), we are labeled “grouches,” “crabs” or sometimes even “Scrooges,” or “Grinches.”

According to my own scientific research, however, people suffering from chronic holiday crabbiness are really not much different from the rest of the population. And the key to understanding their contrary attitude lies not in their mood, but their intelligence.

Secrets of a Dangerous Mind

Educational psychologists have actually identified eight separate “intelligences,” suggesting we each have a mix of all of them:

Linguistic (word smart)— writing, storytelling, speaking
Mathematic (logic smart)—doing math, accounting, science, computer programming
Spatial (picture smart)—map reading, art, decorating, designing and building,
Kinesthetic (body smart) — athletics, acting, (also used by surgeons and mechanics)
Musical (music smart) — composing, performing
Interpersonal (people smart) –counseling, selling, listening and understanding people
Intrapersonal (self smart) – understanding emotions and motivations of self
Natural (nature smart) – understanding macro and micro ecosystems

With all due respect to the experts, I’m pretty sure they missed one. According to my study (which I conducted by sitting in a chair and thinking about it), Holiday Intelligence (HI) is actually a seasonal intelligence stimulated by eating leftover Halloween candy. Since academic types usually suspend scientific research during Christmas break, it’s really no wonder they missed it.

A properly functioning HI gives people the knowledge and skills to confidently (often gleefully) plan for gifts, events, or pick out a Christmas tree that actually fits in the room for which it’s intended. A person with normal HI is then rewarded for his efforts when the brain releases natural (happy) chemicals such as dopamine and endorphin.

In some cases, the HI area of the brain becomes over stimulated, resulting in extravagantly planned festivals, dizzying amounts of baked goods, and properties buzzing with voltage–Christmas lights strung madly from roof to rail and on every bush and tree.

For those with stunted HI, however, it’s a much different story. We just don’t “get” it. For this person, the confusion and anxiety of finding the right gift, saying the right thing, or just the pressures of being nice can spark a “fight or flight” response.

Consider the behavior of somebody with no sense of direction as they try to navigate a rental car out of an airport parking lot. Or someone forced to take a test in a subject she doesn’t understand. The stress often creates a Dr. Jeckyl, Mr. Hyde effect.

The same is true for those with low Holiday Intelligence. Like the shopper who’s lost her car in the parking ramp, a person with low HI is really just “lost” in the environment of the holiday season. And it’s stressing him out.

If you suffer from low HI take heart. There are actually several painless (albeit risky) activities (such as smiling at children, making eye contact with others, or rooting for a winning football team) that can, in time, strengthen your Holiday Intelligence. You may never enjoy the rush of piling into a big box store at 6:00 a.m., but you might one day learn to appreciate the little things—the things that truly make this a special time of year.

Copyright © 2006 by Chris Wondra. All Rights Reserved.