It is the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we are well into the Christmas Season. It started especially early this year because even though there are exceptions, the full-blown commercial Christmas Season typically doesn’t start until Thanksgiving. And, since the first day of November was on a Thursday, Thanksgiving fell on the 22nd of November, a full week earlier than it will occur next year. Last year (2011), Thanksgiving came on the 24th of November, and the year before, it was on the 25th. So, even though it is only by a few days, I know I’m not crazy thinking that it started earlier than usual.
It goes without saying that Christmas seems to start earlier every year, regardless of the date it occupies on the calendar. And, as with “celebrity death watch” and other cultural waiting games, we begin around Labor Day watching for the first Christmas ad or commercial, the first appearance of Christmas merchandising at the drugstore, the first sound of Christmas music on the airwaves. I saw Christmas paraphernalia in stores prior to Halloween this year; heard 24-hour Christmas music on the radio the day before Thanksgiving; and, don’t watch enough television to qualify as a reputable monitor for early signs of Christmas advertising in that venue.
Ostensibly, the economy, and by extension everyone who hopes to benefit from a stronger one, depends upon the commercial success of Christmas. So, although I gave up Christmas shopping years ago, I do not begrudge a positive collective bottom line, if in fact that is going to make a difference in people’s lives. Can’t say that I am completely convinced of this. But, I am convinced that people need Christmas in their lives. Desperately, deeply, people need the comfort and assurance that their ideal of Christmas inspires. People need to exchange the vitriol of a harsh election year for warm handshakes, sincere hugs, and hearty Christmas greetings that transcend political and religious differences and convey only peace on earth and good will toward everyone. People need to look at the person in traffic and see a smiling face rather than one wearing road rage. People need to see lights and colors and shiny things and evidence of plenty and abundance even if it is for just a few weeks out of the year. And, people need to share with each other – favorite holiday memories, plates of decorated cookies, brightly wrapped gifts – and to give and receive exclamations of thank-you.
This afternoon as I strolled with a friend across the grassy western bank of the Missouri River at historic St. Charles, Missouri, we talked about the annual Christmas traditions that were taking place up and down the cobblestone Main Street ahead of us. There, as every year, costumed Father Christmases held forth with eager crowds gathered around to learn about the era represented by each; a fife and drum corps marched in precision step, playing carols; horse drawn carriages gaily festooned in holiday gear ferried happy travelers; quartets of Victorian dressed carolers stood singing on street corners to the delight of hundreds of shoppers; and, numerous other traditional and literary characters associated with Christmases from many countries and many periods in history performed street theatre in full character, spreading their infectious joy. The streets were crowded with groups and individuals taking part in this annual shopping experience. Yes, as we both agreed, for better or for worse, Christmas is more and more commercialized. But, I can honestly say in all that huge crowd of people that I did not see one angry face, I did not hear one harsh word. It reminded me of the lyrics to Jerry Herman’s “We Need A Little Christmas” from his Broadway musical “Mame”:
Haul out the holly;
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking,
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry;
So climb down the chimney;
Put up the brightest string of lights I’ve ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake;
It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For I’ve grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older . . .
Maybe something in the American soul has been so bruised and beaten down that it needs to be revived with the annual total immersion into all the joy and hope we can cram into the days leading up to Christmas. Maybe that is why we allow the Christmas season to start earlier every year. Maybe we need it for more than just a Black Friday kick-started positive bottom line. Maybe there’s another way to live in that same joy and hope that does not depend upon the illusion of prosperity created by the frenzy of holiday shopping. Maybe we can find a way to truly make the pursuit of peace and good will toward everyone last all year and let Christmas really return – not a day earlier or later – to its place on the calendar.