In one week if you can believe it Christmas will be over.

In one week if you can believe it Christmas will be over.

The tree will be sitting in the corner like a leftover, over-dressed dinner guest. New gifts will be displayed underneath it, even though the only objects that look truly appropriate under a Christmas tree are wrapped packages.

The turkey carcass but you don't want to hear this now, do you? You're still in full Christmas mode, humming carols, pausing now and then to pop a warm sugar cookie or a fudge square in your mouth, and hanging your Christmas sweater by the chimney with care, in hopes that it will dry before the relatives arrive.

The fact that Christmas is only one day, strictly speaking, is scarcely acknowledged in the weeks leading up to Dec. 25. An outsider observing all the rushing around, the frenetic preparations, the planning, the list-making, the racing back to the store for one more pound of butter, would naturally assume that the Christmas holiday was like Carnival in Brazil five days of uninterrupted observance, at least.

But no. It's one short day, and I do mean short, because even if you have children who get you up at 4:30 in the morning, it seems like no time before you need to wrestle the turkey into the oven, after which comes the rest of the meal the potato mashing, the stuffing-heating, the rolls-browning and so on, followed by the gathering around the table and the cleaning up. Then it's bedtime, even if it's only dusk and everyone else has turned off the Christmas music and turned on Jeopardy!, to argue with Alex Trebek and call him names.

Speaking of the turkey, when I mention wrestling it into the roasting pan, I don't, of course, mean that I insert a live bird into the oven, though what with all the trouble of washing it and patting it dry and reaching into its icy cavities to find its giblets, its neck and other personal items, it might just as well be alive alive and extremely irritated, which as I understand it is a turkey's baseline temperament.

Most years, I plow ahead with the bird in spite of the deep-seated willies its preparation inspires in me, but this Christmas, my husband and I decided together to forget the turkey in favor of an enormous beef roast, to be accompanied by a Yorkshire pudding. Some years back, we enjoyed a Roast Beef Period which might be compared, artistically, to Picasso's blue period and we seem to be embarking on another one.

My point, though, is that when you and your family are alone again and you have collapsed, arms and legs flung in all directions, you begin to marvel that Christmas is over. Over! Finished! You feel like you missed it.

Wouldn't you think, after all that build-up, all the running around and the panicking and the last-minute shopping for decent wine glasses or decent dish towels or enough forks that the holiday would linger for a long weekend, at least?

Of course, for many people it does. People with several family groups schedule Christmas celebrations with each of them. If the family groups aren't picky about celebrating on the exact date, Christmas may begin the weekend after Thanksgiving and continue until Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

On the other hand, families who get a hurt look around their mouths at the thought of going an entire Christmas Day without seeing every last loved one must be accommodated to the tune of running around frantically on Dec. 25 proper, from pre-dawn to long after dark, in order to squeeze in a Christmas breakfast, a Christmas brunch, two full Christmas dinners and a Christmas supper.

Some people no doubt consider these arrangements the very essence of Christmassy fun, but others, I suspect, dread the whole business. They'd insist on spreading it out, if they didn't have to return to work on Dec. 27.

Which is why Christmas should be made a legal three-day holiday. Or better yet, a 12-day holiday, to match the 12 days of Christmas. We'd risk making Christmas12 times wackier, but maybe just maybe the celebration would begin to live up to our expectations.

Meanwhile, our one-day Christmas isn't over yet. Have a lovely holiday. And what's that I smell? Could it be burning cookies?

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at mbartlett@