Rushing the Holidays
By Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I looked forward to the beginning of the holiday season. Just a week or two prior to Thanksgiving, my teacher would have us draw paper turkeys, using our hands as guides. Holiday specials would begin to appear on television. Snoopy and the gang would celebrate a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving while we sat mesmerized in front of the television set. The Thanksgiving Day plays would be rehearsed and performed a week before the holiday. All of us waited in eager anticipation for the Macys Parade on Thanksgiving Day.
The next morning, typically known as Black Friday, the day when retailers get their accounts in the black, would mark the start of the Christmas shopping season. The holiday ads would have appeared on television all week before the Friday event. The day after Thanksgiving was also known as the day when folks would start to pull out their Christmas decorations and deck the halls – some out of merriment and some out of a sense of neighborhood competition. Christmas television specials would appear and we would all prepare our Christmas lists for Santa Claus. We would either visit him at the local department store, or we would mail the letters out to the North Pole. If we saw Santa at school and in the department store on the same day, our parents would just tell us that one or the other was Santa’s Helper. I was amazed at just how many Santa’s Helpers there were!
Once Christmas was over, preparations were made for New Year’s Eve, usually celebrated around the television with host Dick Clark. Then, you would wait some months and prepare for Easter. There was a set order and a set time for each holiday.
Times have changed. Commercial interests have taken things to the extreme! Don’t get me wrong – these holidays have been commercialized for years. But things seem to have gotten out of hand of late. Growing up and becoming of working age, I found myself employed in a famous retail chain. The chain, which now no longer exists, prided itself in getting the “jump” on the holiday season. For us, Thanksgiving items were on sale weeks prior to the date. The same was true for other high profile holidays. However, we tried to keep things tame – never ridiculously early…just a week or two.
Since leaving retail, I’ve been noticing that the retail holiday season has begun earlier and earlier each year. I can see the desire to get the shopping started earlier. I, myself, begin to do my shopping in early fall simply because I loathe standing in line during the holiday rush, but lately, things are getting ridiculous. This year, I saw Christmas toy commercials in early October, way before Halloween! I found this mildly annoying, but the icing on the cake was yet to be seen. I was in a mall a couple of days after Halloween. What should I happen to see smack-dab in the center of the mall? Not an advertisement announcing the markdowns of Halloween candy, I can assure you. It was Santa Claus!!! I couldn’t believe it! At first, I thought that they had simply set up the scenery for the “Take Your Picture with Santa” display, but, no!! There were his elves, handing out order forms to parents so they could get their kids’ picture taken with the jolly man himself. Now, I must commend that particular mall on hiring a Santa Claus that looks and acts the role so well, but that’s not the point! The mall was completely skipping Thanksgiving and going for advertising the higher-grossing holiday!
And it’s bad enough that Christmas displays were set up in department stores weeks before folks were preparing to sit at their Thanksgiving Day tables, but do the neighborhood light shows have to start that early, too?! One particular house in my neighborhood was adorned with a tremendously bright and active display of Christmas lights on the first week of November. One almost wonders, with such an elaborate display, if the owner hadn’t set up the lights before Halloween, completely bypassing two holidays. And it’s not just happening in small neighborhoods either. This year, both Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center are lighting their trees on the last week of November. Every year prior to this, the tree lightings took place on the first or second week of December!
One week before Thanksgiving Day, I turn to 106.7FM to discover that they have begun playing 24 hours of Christmas music! A whole week before Thanksgiving! Unfortunately, I soon discovered that they were not the only station doing this. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas music and I am happy to discover a station that plays a variety of Christmas music for 24 hours. But, can we wait until the appropriate holiday? Can we at least wait until Black Friday?!
This mad rush to get the highest retail-grossing holidays begun earlier and earlier is a tad scary. I have no doubt that even before the last Christmas present is placed under the tree, stores will be setting up Valentine’s Day displays. When did the holidays become all about retail spending? Why are we rushing things anyway? Aren’t people going to spend the same amount whether the displays are up early or not? People know when Christmas is – it’s not like they can forget with all the advertising. But must the advertising start so early and be so overbearing that it becomes more like stuffing the holiday down people’s throats? Must we commercialize the holidays so much that people forget the true meaning of them? And I’m not talking about religious meanings here, although to those of the Catholic religion, Christmas is about the gift they believe the Lord bestowed upon His people, not about how much He spent at the local department store. No, I’m talking about the goodwill bestowed upon one another by acts of kindness conducted over these holidays. I’m talking about togetherness – people coming together and enjoying each other’s company. Yet, the folks in retail nowadays have chosen to make light of a holiday in which we give thanks for all of our perceived blessings and instead place emphasis on a holiday that never really had a dollar sign attached to its true meaning in the first place.
What does this mean for future generations? Folks my age and older remember what it was like to look forward to this time of the year with eager anticipation – for the goodwill it brought out in people, for the happiness and joy of the season. But much of the younger generation only pay attention to what material possessions they can glean out of relatives. When asked to donate to a charity, you’ll find that many of these people would rather spend $600 on a Playstation 3 than on one small toy for the Toys for Tots program. Thanks to all of the hype, people in department stores are literally trampling each other for the best deals, running right past the Salvation Army donation pot without a second glance. When you ask a kid what they are thankful for, they are more likely to say their I-pod, Playstation, cellphone, digital camera or some other such material item. Then, they might add a family member or friend as an afterthought. People are so intent on thinking about how much money they have to spend on someone to make them happy that they are too busy to be thankful for all that they have in life. To these people, the holiday season is something to be endured, not celebrated. They’ve lost the meaning of it all, because they haven’t been given time to notice it. Goodwill is substituted with pushing, shoving and glares – especially if you happen to pick up the last Tickle Me Elmo doll off the shelf.
Am I advocating picketing retail chains or boycotting holiday sales in an effort to get the stores to ease up on the rush-job? No. If I even thought that these things would serve to cause retail chains to rethink their “rush-the-holiday” policy, I would be highly deluded. Plus, good sales aid the economy. Instead, I advocate taking the time to enjoy each holiday and passing down to future generations their true meaning. Teach them that Christmas means more than the skewed retail idea that giving with a high price tag will elicit happiness. Teach them to take time to think about all they are thankful for – not the material possessions, but the people and places that make you feel blessed.