In fact I wonder whether the insane stress of the season and the spit-polished brass of the whole thing don't testify to our fear that such hope is not real enough to celebrate on its own. As the liturgical season of Advent wanes in our culture, "the holiday season" only grows more punishingly significant. Our economy, our charitable appeals, our social calendars, and our cultural institutions all depend on it. There are worse things. Our world would be worse off without these six weeks of obligatory largesse, I suppose, a dreary circle of months broken up only by taxes and patriotic holiday barbecues. All the sadder, then, that this time of year seems to amplify the unhappinesses to which we are all given.