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A couple of days ago, early in October, we went down to our Job Lot store to pick up some things. As we meandered through the store, we saw plenty of Halloween items and fall decor supplies. We saw new displays of warm socks, space heaters and sweatpants. I thought we were in the clear, bu no, on the far side of the erstwhile garden supply territory lurked big red bows and snowman-bedecked bags. Christmas was already in evidence. Why do we rush the holidays?
Long term problem
I’d like to say this was a new thing but it’s not. In fact, over thirty years ago, I walked into a department store in August, when you’d think back to school would have been enough of a deal. But no, I was surrounded by Christmas trees!
Back in the depths of time, Christmas waited till after Thanksgiving. But today I got a Christmas catalog in the mail. It’s definitely here.
Christmas isn’t the only holiday, of course, that jumps the gun. They all do. And it’s commerce that drives it. The stores push out Halloween candy weeks before Halloween, knowing that if you stock up early, you’ll eat into the stash and have to buy more before the Big Night. And the kiddoes need to have time to decide what costume they need to have Mom buy, after all. But a month ought to be enough. Here it crowds out Back To School, which starts after the Fourth of July.
In fact, from Halloween to Easter there is a glut of candy in this country. We not only have our usual candies around but also seasonal favorites and specially-packaged treats. Some of those treats change shape; others, just packaging.
Christmas is the granddaddy of all gift-giving holidays, of course. The story comes with mention of gifts, after all. But nowadays, we are encouraged to give extravagantly on days when kids used to make tacky little greeting cards out of construction paper in school. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day are examples. Once they were opportunities to pig out on library paste. Now, they are all excuses for extravagant gifts from jewelry stores.
Grandparents’ Day may not even have existed then. Now? I dare not look. Lots of these things start with greeting cards and then run amok.
Even the days that aren’t triggers for interpersonal appreciation, such as Thanksgiving, are put out of proportion. Instead of putting together dinners for lonely people to come together in thanks, the trend among the well-meaning is to make sure that people who can’t cook get a bird to roast. The accent is on the material aspect of the holiday, and not the spirit of the thing.
Nowadays the Thanksgiving feast, however elaborate, is scheduled so that football fans don’t miss their games and shoppers get to the stores for Black Friday deals. The original idea is an afterthought.
And then there are the sales holidays. Some get the day off because they’re federal holidays but few do anything reflecting the meaning of the days in question.
Many places, Labor Day is just the holiday that marks the end of summer. People go to fairs, do late-summer picnics, close up their summer homes, and store their boats. Labor Day was to honor organized labor but people now don’t belong to unions in a big way and never think about why they were needed to begin with. But if there is a sale, there will be buyers.
St. Patrick’s Day now celebrates drinking green beer. Some places have parades. Columbus Day, or increasingly, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, might have triggered a parade if there were enough Italians in the area. Perhaps Indigenous Peoples’ Day will bring us meaningful events, or guilt trips. But I think the sales will continue to be the big draw.
Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Presidents Day are prime-time car sales days. Why these days of national introspection are conducive to trading vehicles is beyond me. It is more likely the car companies could explain it in terms of their model years and production and such. Handy, though, to have all those people out of work for the day, with nothing better to do than buy a car.
So why do we rush the holidays?
We Americans are trained to respond to advertising and marketing stratagems. We are getting primed to spend more when stuff shows up early. The idea is to buy early and often so we don’t lack anything for the Big Day when it shows up.
After all, what’s more tragic than not having boiled onions at Thanksgiving, or not having a strand of Christmas tree lights aglow on Christmas Eve? Everything has to be perfect. Everyone has to be thrilled with all sorts of presents. Stockings must contain not just fruit and nuts, but small trinkets.
All this material perfectionism is just exhausting, to be honest.
If it’s fun to decorate, by all means decorate. If you love making batch after batch of cookies, as I do, then knock yourself out. But if you’re juggling jobs, home and home chores, it’s OK to throttle back on the extras. Really. And make a budget, gift lists, and set some limits on these holidays so they don’t break you.
After all, holidays that let people out of work and school mean you can have more time with loved ones and friends. What’s more important than that? Do things together that you love to do. Uphold some family traditions. But just because you can shop for Christmas for three months doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay eventually. Same with the car sale-a-thons. Visit an historical landmark instead or just go fishing. Have a good time and make some happy memories.
Take the rush out of holidays.