Christmas Creep… Or, I’d Like My Holidays Served Separately, Please

The anxiety’s picking up, debates are front and center, and posts on the topic have gone viral. It’s clear we’ve got a big problem and it ain’t about politicians, global warming, or radioactive sushi. What is it, you ask?

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Christmas Creep.

Yep. It’s big, it’s bad, and, frankly, it’s too late, cuz, odds are, it’s already taken over your town.

I know you’ve heard the protests; they’re loud, clear, and to the point. Pleas to hold off on the Christmas bombardment before we’ve barely retired ghosts and goblins. Entreaties to wait on carolers and candy canes until we’ve had a chance to fully experience pumpkin pie and a well-roasted gobbler. There’s even a petition going around denouncing stores that will be open all day Thanksgiving, thereby robbing employees of a chance to be with family in the retail rush to kick Black Friday off on Thursday.

Protest away, folks. There’s no stopping this snowball.

It may be inexorable, but it wasn’t always like this. No, there used to be a delicious timing to it all, a careful unfolding that drove us mad with anticipation but was all part of the fun. When I was a kid, the turning of leaves and quickening of the cold were signals that we’d left the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer to move into the next and most exciting time of the year: the much-vaunted, adrenaline-inducing, just-can’t-wait holiday season.

As it started and the various days of celebration rolled out like a cavalcade of stars, we’d ready with our well-marked boxes of decorations and the traditions for each that we knew and loved. It started with costumes and the dizzying sweetness of Halloween, rounded the corner into warm Thanksgiving gatherings, then, depending on religion and ethnicity, there was Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa to fill the month of December, with Christmas, clearly, the seasonal headliner. The slow, well-paced build-up allowed us to relish one flavor, so to speak, before moving on to the next.

These days?

It’s like sitting down to a six-course meal and having every single course dumped on the table at the same time. No consideration for the pleasures of each item and, sorry, palate cleansers not allowed. I saw Christmas decorations in a hardware store in September and by early October a few retail shops actually had decorated trees hip-checking the Halloween displays off center stage. Come ON, people!

I get being prepared, but isn’t there a limit? I actually have a neighbor who not only begins her Christmas shopping in June, but takes great pride in announcing to anyone who’ll listen that, “I got it all done, wrapped, and ready to go before Labor Day!” Holiday spirit as competitive sport. Thanks, but I’ll take my summers with lemonade and sunburn; you go ahead and get Santa involved.

While certainly this rush to rush things has been building over the years, somewhere along the line, like an unseen hitch in the rate of the earth’s rotation, it picked up speed, so much so that the notion of holiday differentiation is almost moot at this point. Look, I’m old enough to remember the creaky maxim about “no white after Labor Day” so this conflation of celebration does not go unnoticed. And when I see the Three Kings of Orient are at Costco before the kids have even stopped arguing about who’s going to be Buzz Lightyear, I feel a shudder in the time/space continuum.

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What’s odd about this acceleration is that most people claim they don’t like it. SOASTA, Inc., a leader in cloud and mobile testing, found last year that 75% of those polled didn’t want to see Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving, with 78% objecting to even hearing the music before then. This year?

In a survey of 2,038 Americans age 18 and older, in which data was weighted to be representative of the entire country, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of SOASTA, discovered that 81 percent of American adults think stores should not play Christmas music before Thanksgiving—up from 78 percent of American adults when SOASTA conducted the survey last year.

In addition, 77 percent of American adults think stores shouldn’t put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving—up from 76 percent last year.

A similar poll at NPR – albeit a non-scientific one –  found numbers skewed even higher when the question was asked about “Christmas creep” before Halloween: a full 82.11% of respondents said they didn’t want to see anything “Christmasy” that early in the season. There’s actually a Facebook page called “No Christmas Before Thanksgiving” where users bemoan everything from Santa’s early arrival to the latest transgression – Black Friday actually starting on Thanksgiving Thursday – and still, still, the beat goes on.

What gives? If so many people resent the rush, why is it picking up speed?

Macy's Christmas Balls_smWe all know, don’t we? It’s retail that’s the “industry behind the curtain,” twirling dials and ratcheting up promotions to get people the in the doors as early as possible. With holiday shoppers creating almost 20% of a store’s annual income, it’s not a hard formula to fathom: more days to spend money, more money spent. And this particular year, given when Thanksgiving falls, there are actually fewer shopping days than last year between the two holidays, and, dear God, that’s causing panic in the streets!!

OK, maybe not panic, but clearly retailers have made note of the deficit and are raising the stakes in response. I swear to God, if they could have gotten away with it, 4th of July banners would have been wrapped around Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Of course, not everyone hates this holiday hash. According to some, they want to get the heavy lifting done as quickly as possible so they can spend the true 12 days of Christmas wrapped in quirky sweaters humming “Little Drummer Boy” as they assemble the gingerbread house. Others just can’t get enough of Christmas cheer, whenever it comes. Me?

It’s not so much the rushing; it’s more the conflating. I don’t want my Halloween goblins pre-empted by Christmas trees. I want to enjoy the orange and browns of Thanksgiving before I see green and red everywhere. And once we get past turkey and stuffing, I want to, very slowly and selectively, relish each separate, specific element and tradition of our Christmas.

Since there’s little we, the people, can do about what retailers put into motion, it’s up to each of us to design our own holidays, cultural pressure be damned. If you’re okay with the rush, enjoy it. But if you’re like me and want to slow things down enough to actually experience one holiday before we steamroll onto the next, you’ll just have to set your boundaries. Which means putting on blinders and exercising serious self-control (a good Christmas cookie is hard to resist no matter what time of year!).

Around here, no decorations are pulled out until the previous holiday has been joyfully exhausted and packed away. We avoid Christmas candy until the pumpkin pie is gone. And don’t talk to me about Black Friday because we’ll still be reveling in the true meaning of Thanksgiving. (I’m not kidding… get away from me with that credit card and those wild-eyed sales schedules.)

It can be done. You can ignore what’s being foisted and partake only when and where you see fit. There is no mandate to march to the madness. They can dangle the decorations and crank out the carols but the power is in your hands.

I hope you had a delightful Halloween, I wish you a beautiful, warm, and appreciative Thanksgiving, but I’m not talkin’ any more about Christmas until next month.

The Autumn Leaves copy

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Christmas Isn’t a Bad Boyfriend

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I was in line behind a woman tightly wrapped in a Christmas sweater; strained eyes, pale face, the dry lips of a slightly manic and dehydrated overachiever. Panting ever-so-slightly, she hugged a packaged I-Pad to her chest and with an edge of madness, leaned in as if we were trench mates and announced triumphantly, “I got it! The last one! Thank God, cause I swear he’d flat out kill me if I didn’t get him one for Christmas!”

And there it was.

Christmas as a Bad Boyfriend.

Think about it. It’s an apt metaphor:

  1. Endless demands made and you best meet them if you know what’s good for you.
  2. He likes you in a certain mode of dress (that sweater, those ornament earrings!) and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it.
  3. The house better look “the way it’s supposed to!” (get those decorations up!).
  4. Preferred music (“Deck the halls with….”) loops endlessly for his listening pleasure.
  5. There’s a clear presumption of copious gift giving and general fawning attention (make sure those cards go out!).
  6. The list of favored food and drink is long and laborious.
  7. Much emphasis on “PAR-TAY!!!”
  8. Regardless of attempts to keep things calorically moderated, rich food is the order of the day.
  9. The big gut is pretty hard to miss.
  10. You must stay cheerful regardless of mood or exhaustion.
  11. No reciprocal demands are accepted.
  12. And of course, you clean up the mess after he’s done.
  13. Merry effin’ Christmas, baby.

Yeah…right back at’cha.

Face it, we do have a complicated relationship with this holiday. A love/hate conundrum. There’s grousing when public decorations come out seconds after the turkey carcass is in the can but there’s a skip in our step when we head to the mall for that first holiday visit. We complain about all the commercialization and consumerism, but there is no more energy or passion exuded than when shoppers get together to share Christmas deals they’ve found! The gift and task list is pages long, the depth of obligation grows larger every year and for religious folk the balance between sacred and secular is an ongoing challenge. And yet…if we had to admit it, there’s something kind of spirited about the whole exercise, isn’t there?

Oddly contradictory. Here’s my theory:

Quantum physics tells us time is an illusion. OK. Explanations of that theorem make my head explode but let’s go with that for the moment. Time is an illusion and over the eons of human existence, it became clear that without time management, people meandered; lost track not only of the aging process but the approximate moment to eschew summer whites. So wise ones who understood both science and human nature came up with the calendar, that corralling of time based on astronomy. We named time (months, days), we partitioned it off (years); part of time became the past, part was the future. The stuff in the middle, the present, was where we lived. Very organized stuff.

king_olav_at_christmasKing Olav @ Christmas

Since part of the mission statement of calendaring was to give structure and meaning to this passage of elusive time, one of the ways this was achieved was by marked events: traditions, holidays, cyclical rituals, those anointed and completely arbitrary moments we celebrate at designated points of the calendar. There have been many and they’ve changed and evolved over the centuries; some giving way to others, new ones occasionally popping up (love it though I do, is National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day really necessary?!).  The importance of these rituals and traditions was ascribed to their function of connecting communities, honoring days, people and historical events we deemed special; ceremony and circumstance anticipated and enjoyed by the collective. They marked the passage of life, rendered it meaningful, and, frankly, gave us reason to dress up in hats. We humans seem to appreciate that.

Certainly Christmas has been the most enduring of these time markers. Year after year it comes with its long, fluid, history – often debated and certainly controversial – and it remains one of the most pivotal shared events in the world. Celebrated with mind-boggling variety, and despite the baggage it carries (including its manipulation as a weapon in the cultural, political, religious “wars” (see No, Virginia, There’s No War On Christmas), it is quite universally beloved. It is also, in more contemporary times, unfortunately resented as well.

Christmas as a Bad Boyfriend.

It seems that the growing commercialization of Christmas has succeeded in corrupting its aura in ways that make the aforementioned metaphor convincing. But, frankly, this phenomenon is wholly avoidable. If you were my friend sitting at the table sobbing about your BB, all “what should I dooooooooo? He’s so mean but I LOVE him!!” I’d say the same things I’m going to say right now. So quiet down, take off that goofy mistletoe scarf and listen up.

You cannot be taken advantage of unless you allow it. That goes for Christmas as well. There is not one person on this earth who can blame anyone but themselves if Christmas has gone all BB on them. It’s a choice. Just as we’re taught to set our boundaries, hold our ground, and stand firm against unrealistic expectations in other relationships (needy friends, ex-spouses, PTA), we are capable of taking the same stance with this holiday. We can either design one that makes sense or succumb to the party line. You can either assess your ability to participate and move forward accordingly or you can capitulate to the commercial madness. Your call. It’s doable. If I can wrangle Christmas, anyone can. Here’s my Seven Commandments of Christmas, for what it’s worth:

  1. Only entertain if you enjoy it. I promise, no one will notice if you don’t. Entertain, that is.
  2. Attend business parties as needed but do your networking in the first hour so you can leave before smarmy mailroom guy or the new temp start hitting on you.
  3. Stick to crudité and avoid heavy drinking. Minimal weight gain and a consistent lack of vomiting go a long way toward a more enjoyable holiday.
  4. Decorate only when, and as much, as you like…and only with items that actually have appeal. Blow-up plastic Santas and those hideous front lawn snowmen are unnecessary and considered blight in some circles.
  5. Don’t be browbeaten into sending paper holiday cards. It’s a new world. A well-designed e-card sent with love and a sweet note is not only acceptable, it’ll keep a few thousand redwoods above ground and save you hundreds.
  6. Don’t travel unless you want to and can afford it. Both must apply. Obligation to fly the hell all over the place at the busiest and more stressful time of the year becomes counterproductive to holiday cheer. You can just as easily visit family on non-holidays and give yourselves permission to stay put. Or suggest – if you’re so inclined – they come to you. And remember that Skype makes face-to-face holiday visits doable without breaking the bank or your sanity.
  7. The deal breaker: GET VERY SELECTIVE ABOUT YOUR GIFT-GIVING. The mindless and burdensome expectation of “gifts all around!” is a Kool-Aid too many have partaken of year after year and there is no one single thing more responsible for the fear and loathing of Christmas. We max out our credit cards, drive ourselves crazy “finding the right thing” for people who need nothing, we overdo with children who are so bombarded they have no idea what to play with next. We gut-churn over not giving a gift as expensive as the one we got, feel guilty if we accept a gift when we did not give one, and the whole ridiculous exercise becomes as antithetical to Christmas as the Black Friday nut job who pepper-sprayed her way to a video game and or the frothing shoppers stepping over a dead man to get to the sales table. STOP THE MADNESS! This is NOT what it’s about. (And who but a Bad Boyfriend could’ve ever come up with Black Friday?)

I can already hear my sobbing friend caterwauling about how Bad Boyfriend will never stand for all that self-preserving, boundaried, sensible limitation. So a little primer about how that goes; make note for next year:

Long before the holidays roll in, make a decision about who in your family or circle of friends you’ll be buying gifts for. A short list. Then write a warm, loving email and send it to EVERYONE involved announcing your decision. Something along the lines of “In our effort to keep the Holidays as stress-free and financially manageable as possible, we’ve decided to limit our gift-giving to ___________ (i.e., Mom  & Dad, the kids in the family, etc.). We hope you understand and, of course, ask that you not send gifts to us. Cookies, however, are always welcome!”  As I said, this must be done long before the normal shopping season starts so no one gets huffy about jumping the gift-giving gun. Be prepared for some grumbling and criticism but hold firm. Over time and years of sticking to the program, the family will GET that you’re serious and eventually come to appreciate the reciprocal unburdening. But remember: even if someone violates the request and sends gifts, thank them but DO NOT change your policy. Ever. Break once and BB is right back, snapping his fingers, big gut resting on the table, wondering where the carols are and why isn’t the prime rib ready?

family-gathering

I love my friends, I love my family; I appreciate and respect my colleagues, associates and collaborators. And when the holidays roll around, I look forward to the rituals and traditions that make this time of year different from the rest; that marking of elusive time that comes with revelry, cheer and reciprocated appreciation. I get out the favorite decorations and make my Greek cookies. I acknowledge the holidays with artistic notes, maybe an open house, a holiday dinner with close friends, certainly those wonderful family gatherings where we simply enjoy being together, sharing a good meal and watching our select few open their gifts. It’s lovely; manageable, affordable, and there’s no weeping.

Just as a Good Holiday should be.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a really fabulous 2012 to you all!

Photography credits:

Christmas mannequin by Buzz Andersen @ Unsplash
Santa Gnome reprinted from www.timswineblog.com
King Olav illustration reprinted from www.gutenberg.org
Bad Boyfriend Doll: www.amazon.co.uk 
Candle and all family photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.