As we head into Thanksgiving week… everyone take a deep breath.
Fall and winter used to have a certain stately holiday pace to them: first came Halloween, with its witches and goblins, skeletons and black cats. The venerable pumpkin and the reds, yellows and oranges of Autumn rolled smoothly into Thanksgiving. There used to be actual Thanksgiving decorations: turkeys, pilgrims, Indians, cornucopias. People gave the holiday their full attention as a time for family gatherings, feasts and – well – giving thanks for their blessings. The first whiff of Christmas, for many years, was the arrival of Santa at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. There seemed to be a sort of unwritten rule that Christmas decorations couldn’t appear before then, and the day after Thanksgiving used to be the unofficial start of the commercial Christmas shopping season. Candy canes, holly, and evergreen garlands would appear in time for people to spend a fairly civilized, leisurely day of shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Every holiday had its due.
No longer! For years, some of us have lamented the ever-earlier appearance of Christmas-season commercial marketing, and its deleterious effects on the holiday. The first casualty, I think, was civilized behavior, which fell to the Cabbage Patch Doll craze back in the 1980s. Parents virtually rioted over what had to be the World’s Ugliest Doll. But at least back then, the public and the media had enough shreds of good grace to express dismay over such meaningless, selfish violence. Since then, customer melees have become commonplace, even encouraged by retailers. “Door-buster” sales have resulted in crowds actually tearing doors off of hinges and even trampling employees to death, but rather than pausing to ask ourselves “what the hell are we doing?” we instead drive on with the glorification of selfishness, offering more enticing deals earlier every year, inspiring more mobs, more herd behavior, more mindless stampedes in the crazed hunt for a few bucks’ worth of savings on something we didn’t really even need. Last year, one woman even pepper-sprayed her way to success in her Black Friday deal hunt, and arrests are becoming more commonplace for anything ranging from fisticuffs to gunshots. Joy to the World, everybody! The Lord is come! The Lord of Cheap Crap, that is. No need to be on good behavior here, we’re all about saving dollars, not souls.
Indeed, it seems the more removed from Christmas Day that the holiday merchandising starts, the less it seems to have anything to do with Christmas at all. I saw the first in-store Christmas decorations and merchandise before Halloween this year. It wasn’t a lot, but it crosses a line, doesn’t it? And now there are plans afoot to roll Black Friday right into the Thanksgiving holiday, making it Black Thursday. Instead of reflecting on our blessings over a pleasant, leisurely feast with friends, now we can bolt our turkey down while feverishly reviewing the sale flyers, then steel ourselves for possible hospitalization and head out into the war zone. Retail employees, those front-line warriors who have been forced at times to save themselves from door-busting, stampeding demon wildebeests by climbing on top of vending machines, are pushing back against having to give up their own holidays in exchange for risking their lives at these semi-organized riots. I’m on their side; it doesn’t seem like a real great trade for them. Alas, their protests are too often ineffective in the face of the Almighty Dollar. Cheap deals for the herds; more dollars for the retailers.
Lila will not attend. I value my life and limbs too much to fling myself into a stampeding herd, and I value traditional holidays too much to fling Thanksgiving into the stampeding herd, either. Thankfully, this year some retailers are leading the charge to keep their doors closed on Thanksgiving, and their employees safely at home with their families. Ah, a grain of sanity at last.
Here’s Lila’s proposal, although it will never fly: The Christmas season should start with ADVENT. Does anyone remember Advent? Ever seen an Advent calendar? It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, but the reusable calendars usually just go with 1 December. This marks the season of anticipation of Christ’s birth. You know, Christ, that guy whose birth is supposed to be celebrated on Christmas. You may have heard of him – he’s the one who preached a lot of stuff amounting to “Can’t we all just get along?” Oh, and something else he mentioned: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15.
Now, I am not saying that Christmas should be only for Christians, but I do think it’s a little shameful how far astray our culture has gone from the intent of the holiday. It would seem far more appropriate, and in keeping with the season, to let our anticipation start to bubble around 1 December. To gently bubble. And let the other holidays have their place.