27.11.18

NOT THE HAPPIEST SEASON OF ALL?

Thank you, Franklin Roosevelt, for setting Thanksgiving as the third Thursday of November (thus as early as the 17th and no later than the 23d)  the better to allow more shopping days until Christmas.

It's long been not enough for merchants to open the doors as usual on Friday, choosing to open at midnight, or even to open late on Thanksgiving itself.  (That might allow for ample shopping time before watching a Mid-American Conference football game, that conference having abdicated Saturdays to the power conferences.)

It's all too much for Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative.
Black Friday itself should become an afterthought during the Thanksgiving weekend—not because shopping can’t be fun, but because Black Friday itself offers only bleak pleasures to its celebrants. It presents holiday shopping at its worst: filled as it is with a mad glut of humans worried about discounts, charity and grace all too often fall by the wayside.

Should we really spend a day talking about what we’re grateful for, sacrificing time and money to set a bounteous table for kith and kin, only to spend the following day in a greedy and chaotic race for things? How can virtuous celebrants of family and harvest turn into clutching consumers in less than 24 hours?

The simple answer is they can’t. If we turn into marauding discount monsters as soon as the clock strikes midnight, we haven’t taken Thanksgiving seriously. The holiday is an empty one for us, more about the comforts of sweet potato casserole and football games than about gratitude and contentment. The alarming violence and rancor of Black Friday should prompt us to ask who we really are: grateful celebrants or voracious shoppers.

It could be that less of the blame for Black Friday lies with Thanksgiving than with Christmas. After all, the consumerist Christmas we’ve built up for ourselves here in the United States is focused more on presents, immaculate trees, and glorious light displays than it is on joy or peace. We’re often so worried about getting our son or daughter the perfect gift—that toy they’ve been wanting, or the latest iPad—that we lose perspective. Homemade gifts have become faux pas, small gifts (or no gifts) taboo. Advertisers convince us that we need the big, the flashy, and the expensive in order to make Christmas “special.” Their rhetoric is hard to resist, no matter the price tag.
Some years ago, the extended Karlson clan (such as it is) dialed back on the Christmas spending, and we've dialed back the holiday traveling as well. Thus nobody got caught out in Sunday's storm.

But as overshadowed as Thanksgiving has become with the onrush of the Christmas rush (can we Make Thanksgiving Great Again by restoring it to the fourth Thursday?) the Christmas rush is too much for National Review's David French.
I can’t remember exactly when the phrase “Christmas season” started conjuring in me a vague sense of dread. I think it was likely in my young professional days, when I looked at the calendar and saw it filling up with professional responsibilities — how many client holiday parties did I have to attend? How many client gifts did I need to purchase? When was I going to find time for family shopping? What was our budget for gifts?

And late Christmas morning, when the kids had opened all their presents, we’d attended all the parties, and it was time to carve into (according to my family’s tradition) the Christmas ham, was that joy I felt? Or was it also more than a little relief?

The silly culture war around Christmas — “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays”? — is a reminder not just of the frequent pettiness of our polarization (really, can a well-intentioned holiday greeting offend?) but also of the loss of faith that we Christians rightly lament. It’s as if once per year we’re reminded that our nation is changing in ways that should cause believers in Christ deep distress.
Once upon a time, Christmas was a minor holiday that Puritans banned.  It was the Germanic influence that brought lighting candles rather than cursing the extended darkness into the popular culture.  The secularization of Christmas that Mr French laments surely affects the stress level that accompanies the season.  Meredith Willson might joke about Mom and Dad anticipating school starting again.  But Christmas break is anything but a break for people in the education enterprise.

1 comment:

Dave Tufte said...

I was OK with the ASSA meetings being the last week of December. But I could see the reasons to switch.

I also remember my undergraduate years (with projects) and my graduate years (with grading) at SUNY Buffalo. Being a commuter probably didn't help, but I was there on every December 24th until about 6 pm.