Amid the ongoing onslaught of Christmas music and—worse—Christmas shoppers, I have realized that this season just isn’t fun anymore. In fact, in many ways, it’s gotten downright unpleasant.

It’s nothing against the Christmas holiday itself, or even the gift-buying and jaunty tunes blaring from every speaker within listening distance. It’s definitely nothing against getting to see family and friends, having some time off work, or the religious festivities celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. All these things—to varying degrees—are still a part of the season, and can still be enjoyed.

But the Christmas season used to be a time of year when the general populace treated each other with an extra bit of courtesy and kindness. If you have spent any time on the roads or in a mall lately, you’ve probably noticed that this ‘Christmas Spirit’ seems to have died a brutal, violent death. In its place, there is a new ‘Christmas Rage.’

I’m sure you’ve all seen what I’m talking about. Everybody has a story (or two, or two hundred) about the dangerous highways as regular commuters mix with psychotic Christmas Ragers on their way to either shop or leave town for the holiday. You’ve all been to an overcrowded mall and fought the long lines and had angry shoppers elbow you or stomp on your feet and then scream at you to get the f*** out of their way. This has become a standard hazard of the season.

It’s really no wonder, either. It’s hard to remain in good spirits when the two-or-three-week stressful Christmas shopping season has been expanded into a two-or-three-month hyper-commercial holiday juggernaut. Where young children used to be content with plastic soldiers and die-cast Matchbox cars that cost a few dollars each, they now demand Xbox 360s and iPods (and parents comply). As if all this wasn’t enough, the radio has been mocking us with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” since three days before Thanksgiving.

And “Joy to the World” just doesn’t have the same ring to it when you’re being elbowed in the ribs or cut-off on the Interstate.

This is all very disenchanting—a fact that hit close to home when I found myself muttering “I hate Christmas” not long ago. I don’t hate Christmas, of course, but the diminishing good of the season has gotten so tangled up with the bad that it’s easy to generalize it that way.

I do see little glimmers of hope amid the chaos and darkness. Two years ago, I discovered Christmas decorations on display at a local Target store in mid-September as part of the trend toward a longer holiday season. This year, most stores showed a little more discretion and waited until Thanksgiving week.

There is also a growing effort in some circles to put the focus of Christmas back on the actual holiday—and its religious meaning for Christians—rather than on the cultural/commercial spending orgy it has become.

But Christmas Rage has not gone away; it’s as bad this year as it was in the last. Driving in the D.C. metro area is usually running the gauntlet, but the level of aggressive recklessness over the past weeks is mind-boggling. To avoid being assaulted by psychotic shoppers, I will not even drive into a mall parking lot—let alone set foot inside! In fact, as a desperate act of self preservation, I have tried not to leave the apartment lately except to go to work.

Merry Christmas, eh?

So do me a favor: Don’t get caught up in the insanity. Make kindness and courtesy your primary missions this season. You can make the choice to behave with good, old-fashioned Christmas Spirit rather than succumbing to Christmas Rage. You can choose to smile and let others go ahead of you in line instead of elbowing them out of the way. You can decide to be the better person.

Have a blessed and wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha (I know it’s a bit early), or something else entirely.