November 08, 2006

Ho Ho OW!

If the Season tries to greet me, it's going to meet my friend Raaalph.

I was sitting outside the gym, waiting for the bus, on one of the few nice evenings of the all-too-brief autumn, and I noticed the campus shuttle rollicking down the road past me, its banner reading ‘Happy Holidays’. Now, this was the day before Halloween, and the term is usually associated with the end-of-the-year holidays, but I shrugged it off, since there are various religious celebrations peppered throughout the winter, and the phrase conveys cheerful sentiment without having to commit to anything specific. The next few days alone would bring Halloween (the pagan Samhain), Dia de los Muertos and All Saints Day—and those were just the ones I knew of—so it was odd, but reasonable.

The morning after the party, I was halfway to work before I realized my car radio was playing a Christmas carol. On the station break, they assured me they would be playing only Christmas carols, from now until December 26th. Two months. Only Christmas carols. Now I start to get a little on edge, wondering if maybe they moved Chrismas up a few weeks and not told me.

This idea culminated in my viewing, on that very night, no less than three commercials flogging must-haves for the “rapidly approaching” holidays: The first informed me that Target just got all of its decorations in, and aren’t these snowflake candleholders just the cutest thing; Kohl’s wanted to remind me I needed new winter clothes (like I don’t know), which also make great gifts, and how handy that they’re on sale! The last commercial pictured a glorious spread of food, including a turkey, a ham, two pies, and so many side dishes the table was starting to bow at the edges; this one wanted me to order my Christmas ham early (unlike Target and Kohl’s, they hadn’t done their research before being broadcast into my semi-veg living room). The ads all had the same nauseating pageantry; the tinny reindeer bells, the desperate rapid-fire dialogue meant to arouse excitement, the women in knit hats jumping unrealitstically in unison with thrown fake snow, and the warbling Technicolor soundtrack that typically accompanies the consumerist nightmare known as the holiday season (which, when played backward, sounds a lot like ‘Buy wummwum Things Eat wumm Food wummr Creeedit Caaards’*). No two ways about it: Christmas(mania) has come early this year.

And it makes me nuts for a number of reasons; the first being that we have a whole other symbolic holiday to power through before we even get to the religious ones, and jumping the gun makes my OCD twitch. When I spent a fall semester in the UK I was shocked at how early they started decorating for Christmas, until I remembered that they don’t have a Thanksgiving sandwiched between it and Halloween, and since they don’t really do a whole lot for Guy Fawkes, it’s pretty much their only winter holiday. The little college town was decked out—store windows full of flocking, carols in the mall, Happy Christmas tags on every paper bag—on the third of November. But they have two months in which to think of nothing else, and the way they did it was festive rather than oppressive, and really more about celebration of the season than commerce.** If this reduction of “holiday stress” resulted from the lack of a second holiday, imagine the compound stress of intermixing green-bean casserole commercials with twenty-year-olds in elf costumes selling laptops; Thanksgiving is pretty harrowing on its own—hinting at the impending threat of Christmas isn’t going to make it any easier. The delineation of the calendar is unsettling to the consumer, usually resulting in the loud, emotional losing of one’s shit in a public place (i.e. the middle of the local Kroger’s, locked in the tearful fury of Maalox Deathmatch) at least once during the season. Can’t we get through one before tackling the other?

I know the logic behind the ploy, namely that those In Charge want you to start shopping as early as possible, as the past year’s economy has been a relative shite bucket compared to the Clinton years (let us all bow our heads for the Clinton years) and we need to get that spending money into circulation, and worry about the bills later. I got it; it happens every year. But it usually happens, oh, I don’t know—mid-November, with the traditional horrifying crescendo on Black Friday (where most mall employees either 1) quit, or 2) mysteriously catch that 24-hour avian-broken-leg-virus-pox so they will not have to get up at 5 AM and break up endless successive disputes involving foaming women and this year’s hottest dancing doll). First, there are the decorations: they go up early (or are left up year-round) because it’s only getting colder and those lights are a bitch to string up, and the tree goes up whenever is most convenient. Shopping starts as early as August, but most of it is online or impulse. But the traditional gear change from one holiday to the next starts the day after Thanksgiving (or arguably midnight, or as soon as you’ve finished eating, or after pie; the point is the transition is post-feast). That’s when it’s respectfully OK to start The Christmas Season.

So I shouldn’t have to hear Christmas carols on my radio until a modest period of time passes after Thanksgiving, even if that period is only a matter of hours. There are only so many Christmas carols out there (despite pop artists boosting their sales with ‘new’ renditions of the hoary classics, like, ‘Man, now that I have this new Destiny’s Child version of White Christmas I can chuck the Bing, because this one is definitive.’ Dream on, Beyonce) and if you start any earlier, you run the risk of burnout. I shouldn’t have to see commercials with ersatz Santas in them… well, ideally, ever, because it’s a twee and tired marketing ploy, but if I have to it shouldn’t be until November 25th. Until then, I would like some nice text-only commercials—no bells, no reindeer, no red and green flashy lights—just a white screen that reminds you to start thinking about Christmas shopping in the blandest of fonts, and then returns you to your programming. Extra props if they respectfully acknowledge that you probably don’t need the reminder, as you know this happens every year, just a formality, happy holiday.

But 11/1 is too early to inundate middle-America with That Christmas Feeling; give the turkey a chance to settle.

* That last one could be ‘Paul is dead,’ but that makes no sense.
** But, that’s Europe for you. Commies.

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