I was scouting the aisles in a local big box store, doing some general stock-up shopping, when I caught a glint of sparkling color at the far end of the store. This was back in late October. My heart jumped: Christmas “stuff!” I bee-lined towards the shimmering silvers and robust reds, ribbons and bows, ornaments of all colors, stockings and stuffers, wreaths and trees, snowmen and Santas. I really love Christmas. Yup…even in October.
(photo - me, 1950's Christmas, Eaton's Dept store)
I’m aware that I’m going against the popular grain here, but the onslaught of retail Christmas paraphernalia doesn’t strike me as an ostentatious display of capitalism. Instead, it’s a ticket back to the magical toylands created by the big-city department stores of my childhood. Christmas displays make me nostalgic, even though nothing today can compare with a 1950/60s Eaton’s (Canada) Department store Christmas.
We’d start with their spectacular window displays, then head inside. I’d try not to fidget on elevator ride up to the toy department. The gloved attendant would open the doors, creak open the gates, and there it was: a holiday wonderland resplendent with animated displays, towering stacks of toys and dolls, and a child-size train that wound through a veritable Santa’s workshop.
Despite the richness around us, our own lists to Santa were modest and reasonable. That’s just the way it was back then. In the midst of all this kiddie-land wonder, we were instilled with the practice of giving. At the tender age of five or six, with money tucked into my small purse, I was let into a gated shopping area designed specifically for children. A child-friendly clerk helped tiny shoppers select perfectly priced gifts for parents and friends. Was I being indoctrinated into consumerism, or was I being taught about the joy of giving? That’s one for the psychologists, but to this day I love shopping to find just the right gift for someone.
But, back to my first sighting of Christmas weeks before Thanksgiving dinner had even been digested. Once I roused myself from an indulgent bout of reminiscing, I had an epiphany of sorts. I decided that we have been looking at this all wrong—this Christmas-too-soon thing.
Around the rest of the world, there is no conflict. Christmas decorations appear in most countries in late September. Even in Canada, where Thanksgiving is celebrated as well, the holiday falls during the harvest season, in October, before Halloween. So, here’s my thinking.
Maybe we should simply view the holiday season as a whole unit, a play in three acts. Act 1 - Halloween and/or All Saints Day, when we give treats to strangers and remember those who have passed; Act II, a national day of Thanksgiving to prepare us for the season of giving; and Act III comprised of Winter Solstice/Chanukah/Christmas. Each person/family can emphasize whichever of the three acts speaks most directly to their hearts. If we all just focus on enjoying the holidays, being thankful, and balancing our “wants” with giving, why should it matter when we or the retailers haul out those boxes of holiday decorations? Just a thought.
But, before we start mailing our letters to Santa early, maybe we should all look in our garages. Okay, socks wear out and must be replaced, but in general, most of us have enough stuff. If the retail holiday craziness offends you, hark back to your Thanksgiving thank-you’s and rethink. Celebrate Act III as a time to make memories with friends and family; give much-needed financial add to an animal rescue and/or give a homeless dog or cat their forever home, be extra polite and courteous to that harried retail worker, and tip wait staff decently, create Christmas memories for the needier children in our community and hit up those retail stores for Toys for Tots. You can make it work without grumbling. And don’t forget to give the best gift of all, the gift of your time.
Happy Act II Thanksgiving to all of you.