Only 54 shopping days left until Christmas!
Remember when the phrase “the holidays” referred to some vague period in December centered around Christmas and New Year’s Day, with a nod to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah? If you asked someone thirty years ago, “What are you doing for the holidays?” they would have understood you meant that time.
In 2010, the period of “the holidays” has stretched to include Thanksgiving, and Halloween is in danger of being consumed as well. A friend of mine even wrote a song about it, celebrating the rise of a new mega-holiday called HalloThanksMas Eve.
We tend to blame this shift on greedy retailers, aided and abetted by the advertising industry. We watch Thanksgiving become just a wide spot in the road rolling toward the big day of December 25. We bemoan the loss of “the true meaning of Christmas.”
Being a fully functioning member of the consumer culture, I am all for the success of the retail industry in the United States. Some of my best friends run retail stores for a living. Advertising used to pay my own rent. Selling items at retail and advertising are not evil in and of themselves.
What is really going on here? Do we ever question our own role in the creation of this holiday monster?
It’s a demonstrated principle of psychology that behavior that is rewarded is repeated. If advertising works to get us to spend more and more at Christmas, why wouldn’t it continue? If we buy into the notion that happiness can be bought, especially at Christmastime, aren’t we as much at fault as the retailers? They are just trying to make a living. What are we trying to do?
Does the idea of a perfect Christmas conjure up images of a close-knit extended family gathered for a feast around a beautifully-set table? Are candles and a fireplace glowing while snow falls gently outside? Does an evergreen tree sparkle with lights and ornaments, with piles of gaily-wrapped packages topped with fluffy bows piled underneath? Are the children’s cheeks rosy and their eyes dancing with anticipation? Do we have peace in our hearts because we have contributed to the well-being of the less fortunate?
Have you ever encountered a scene even remotely like this in your real life? Or is it a fantasy conjured up from an unholy melange of Charles Dickens, Currier and Ives, Norman Rockwell, and the Coca-Cola Santa?
We do not have to buy what the advertisers are selling. Little Johnny will survive if he doesn’t get an iPad for Christmas this year. He might even be better off if he saves his own money to buy it for himself. We know this. In spite of the knowledge, how many of us will find ourselves pulling out the plastic to charge the iPad anyway?
It can be easier to be pulled along by the currents than to think for ourselves. If what we really want at Christmas is peace in our homes, love among our friends and relatives, with a bit of feasting and revelry thrown in, we must each consider how best to achieve those goals. It may take the form of choosing to cut back on decorating, cooking, and entertaining. Maybe you want to increase those activities because you enjoy them. It may mean disappointing the grandparents when you choose to stay at home for Christmas this year instead of traveling. Then again, maybe the grandparents will be secretly relieved to be freed of the obligation of hosting. Friends may be glad to find you want to end the annual gift exchange in favor of a festive weeknight dinner.
The point is that we are each in charge of our own minds and hearts. We do not have to define our way of keeping Christmas by the opinions of others, whether the others are selling something or just trying to guilt us into continuing to do things the way we always have in the past.
Today is November 1. There is still plenty of time to decide how you would like to spend the rest of this year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. I suggest thinking about it now and discussing it with the people who share your life. I highly recommend the methods in the book, Unplug the Christmas Machine to help in these endeavors.