We try to crowd everything in to a two-week time period.
MURRAY — For decades, the Burl Ives tune "Holly Jolly Christmas" has declared the winter holiday season "the best time of the year."
Is it really?
A recent poll of 1,013 people by the Consumer Reports National Research Center revealed that Americans have their fair share of holiday dreads. The top offenders: long lines, crowds, weight gain and accumulating debt.
"Seeing certain relatives" and "having to be nice" also ranked among the top 10, as were having to attend parties and events and disappointing gifts.
We asked Utah's own Santa Claus (his legal name, as affirmed by the Utah Supreme Court in 2001) to interpret the results of the poll. At first, he didn't want to. "Where did they do this poll, at a Scrooge convention?"
Despite the poll's findings, Santa, in an interview at North Pole Enterprises, offered his assurance that the spirit of giving and joy trump any holiday dreads.
"I see just the opposite of what they're saying," he said of the results of the poll, which was conducted to track the mood and shopping behavior of consumers nationwide.
The vast majority of people Santa encounters this time of year are in the holiday spirit.
"They're a lot more chipper. They're a lot more happy, more excited. I see people doing more for other people, helping out and putting themselves out here more," Santa said.
"If they're putting on a front, they're doing a good job."
Moreover, people have control over many "holiday dreads" revealed in the national poll, Santa said.
Getting into debt: "You don't have to go out and spend more than you have."
Gaining weight: "The stuff's in front of you. You just have to avoid it. I'm heavy but I really don't gain very much during the holidays. I maintain my weight."
Having to be nice to people: "I think people should be nice all the time, not just during the holidays. ... That one should be carried on throughout the year."
Having to attend holiday parties or events: "I don't know anyone has to attend them." Santa said he and Mrs. Claus attend about 15 parties a week and most attendees appear to be having a good time.
(He concedes: "I'm sure there are some people there because their wives told them they had to be.")
Seeing certain relatives: "You can choose your friends but your relatives are your relatives."
Mary Talboys, a licensed clinical social worker at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, attributes the holiday dreads to unrealistic expectations.
"It's the expectations we put on ourselves," Talboys said. "We try to crowd everything in to a two-week time period."
Americans are also bombarded with media messages "that tell us how we’re supposed to act, how we're supposed to feel, how we're supposed to dress more so than any other time of the year. Those cause stress," she said.
Families need to have frank discussions about their holiday expectations, particularly during the economic downturn.
If holiday traditions become too burdensome, it's alright to let them fall to the wayside, Talboys said.
"Is it going to matter in five years? If not, let it go."
To avoid some of the holiday dreads, people need to take better care of themselves by sticking to exercise routines ("That helps reduce stress, too," Talboys said.), eating well and doing activities they enjoy such as listening to music or taking bubble baths.
The holidays can be particularly difficult for people who are coping with loss or other setbacks, Talboys said.
"It's OK to be sad. For some people, it's a legitimate time to remember a loss. It's not our place to try to make them feel better. Allow them to be. Accept people where they're at."
Mostly, people need to remember that the holidays are about spending time with and appreciating the people they love most.
"Just enjoy one another," Talboys said.
And enjoy the season, Santa says.
"I look at it more through children's eyes than adults' eyes. That makes a big difference."
1. Crowds and long lines: 68 percent
2. Gaining weight: 37 percent
3. Getting into debt: 37 percent
4. Gift shopping: 28 percent
5. Traveling: 25 percent
6. Seeing certain relatives: 24 percent
7. Seasonal music: 23 percent
8. Disappointing gifts: 19 percent
9. Having to attend holiday parties or events: 16 percent
10. Having to be nice: 15 percent
11. Holiday tipping: 12 percent
Source: Consumer Reports National Research Center