Kirby: This year, a Christmas countdown cut short

This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Just two more shopping days until the end of the world. At midnight Friday, the Mayan calendar runs out and we all die. Happy Holidays.

Thanks to a countdown clock on my computer, I know when the world is supposed to end. I haven't been fearfully waiting for it as much as just keeping an eye on it.

My grandkids have their own dire countdown clock. It consists of asking every 21 seconds, "When will it be Christmas?"

Unfortunately, there is no way to answer the question to their satisfaction because, like dogs, kids only have two concepts of time: right now and never.

Telling kids Christmas will be "soon" is a waste of breath. Experience has taught them that the adult definition of "soon" is "when your butt falls off."

This doesn't stop them from asking, though. Approximately 40 times a day, my grandkids plead in aggrieved tones, "When will it be Christmas?"

Me: "Five days, eight hours and 41 minutes."

Them: "Ohh, no fair. When will it be Christmas?"

I remember asking my father this same question every year. Standing behind him while he drove, I would ask the back of his head 500 times, "How much longer till Christmas?"

Unless my mother could get me to shut up, a light would begin to glow from the old man's ear. It was not the welcoming light of a happy Christmas hearth but rather a furnace of rage.

About the time the old man was ready to pull over and dangle me off an overpass by my feet, my mom would encourage my siblings to have a sing-along. According to her, there was no better way to wait for Christmas than to distract yourself with Christmas carols.

Even as a kid I understood the idiocy of this logic. How was it possible to make waiting for Christmas easier by reminding yourself through song that it wasn't Christmas yet?

That was the Christmas I rode the rest of the way to grandma's house in the trunk of the car.

Eventually my parents discovered a way to make the time between the current moment and Christmas comprehensible. They put candy in a jar and allowed us to take a piece every morning.

It didn't take long for me to understand that the amount of time until Christmas directly corresponded to the amount of candy left. When there was no more candy, it would be Christmas.

One morning, I tried to speed things up by eating the entire jar. It didn't work. You can't time travel with stomach cramps.

My parents also tried a small pasteboard advent calendar. Behind a series of tiny numbered doors was a piece of chocolate candy on par with brown chalk.

This didn't work either because eventually my parents had to open the doors and eat the candy one at a time themselves, otherwise my siblings and I would do it in one sitting.

Finally, there came the Christmas chain. We made one of these in grade school; 25 paper links in a long red-and-green countdown to Christmas.

I screwed this up by insisting that the count factor in the last day of school before Christmas vacation. The teacher lost track of which count we were keeping, got mad and tossed the chain in the trash.

It takes something really dire to get a kid to stop asking about Christmas. Last week, I told all my grandkids about the Mayan calendar and why there wouldn't be any Christmas at all this year.

That changed the subject. Horrified, they stopped asking, "When is it going to be Christmas?" and started asking "Then why can't we open our presents now?"

Robert Kirby can be reached at or