Friday, November 14, 2008

Merry Christmas...Already?

Last year was the earliest it every happened to me. It was September 10th. I was in a Barnes and Noble looking for a certain Kerouac book and started humming along with a familiar tune. Half way through Jack's section when I realized what I was humming: We Three Kings. The date again: September 10th.

Was it a mistake, I wondered? But the following song was none other than Bing Crosby, crooning those famous words about snow and Yule. And it was in Houston where the average temperature in September is in the upper 90s.

Has the world gone insane? Do we really start celebrating Christmas right after the back-to-school sales?

The short answer is, Yes, yes it has gone insane.

This year the mall in our little suburban stronghold was fully X-massed out on October 29th. The decorations were up in "town square" (a ritzy shopping center made to look like a street) the same day. They built the gigantic Christmas tree there this past weekend.

Maybe I'd be more in the mood if I lived in Vermont where it has snowed already. Maybe I'd be more excited if we had to lite a fire in the fireplace to stay warm. Or maybe I'm wrong; just because we live in the hottest place in the States doesn't mean that Christmas must be absent, after all. Just because I'll be sporting shorts and a t-shirt on Christmas Eve doesn't mean Santa passes us by. And I'm no humbug, believe me. So it must just be too damn early.

I read somewhere that part of the blame of moving the holiday machine to the fore rests on the whole economy deal. Businesses are afraid things are going to get worse, and since Thanksgiving rests on the latest possible date this year, they want us to spend our money as soon as possible, without regard to what things will look like when the ball drops next January.

But we are trying to keep things simple. Not because we need to save money--though that's a nice benefit--but because we don't want to drown the specialness of the holidays in merchandise. Presents are a great way to highlight a celebration, and certainly something that I always looked forward to as a kid. But, to me, the holidays are about family, togetherness, happiness, and unity. It used to be a great way for a people to face the coldest and longest nights of the year with optimism, hope, generosity, and laughter. For my family, it's a time to invest in each other, to show care beyond routine, to practice putting each other first, to make a point to wallow in each other's company.

While gifts are a great part of that, I hope that they don't overshadow it. I read a great book last year called Unplugging the Christmas Machine and it spoke to me a great deal. I always think it sucks to hear people complain about the holidays being stressful. They're missing the point. I have never been and never will be stressed out because of the holidays. I enjoy going out and seeing shoppers frantically search for parking spots and presents--I hope I don't delight too much in their misfortune. But the crowds actually make me happy because I strain to see the other side of their consumerism and stress: some part of them is spending their life-energy to benefit someone they care about. Even if they miss the point, I relish in it.

When buying gifts, it helps that my daughters don't watch any TV commercials. It helps that my wife doesn't buy into the notion of gems and metals kept artificially expensive mean I care about her. I have found wonderful handmade jewelry for her in the past that speaks volumes more to her tastes and maintains social responsibility, integrity, creativity, and so much more. My kids delight in simple dolls, dollhouses, books, and tools for creative projects.

So take a moment this pre-holiday season to focus your family on what is important. Explain the meaning of the holidays as your tradition sees fit and focus on that. Speak to the meaning of gifts and make sure that you don't indulge in them so much that you get stressed, that the kids get too much clutter they don't really want, and you end up with too little money. Talk about these things now, before the season actually arrives.

No comments: