Monday, October 22, 2007

Christmas Decorations Already?

Am I the only one appalled over the pre-Halloween appearance of Christmas decorations in stores? All of the "drugstores" and "big box" retailers have already put out their Christmas decorations, which are now nudging the Halloween fare (on the shelves since late summer) to the side. Christmas stockings, lawn displays, icicle lights, artificial trees, and toys are on display perhaps earlier than I've ever seen them. Naturally marketers are paranoid about having a good year and cashing in on the holiday season. And we've all seen the annual stories on the national news about how good numbers on holiday receipts can make or break an entire year for a business. But one wonders if the early appearance of the Christmas displays makes a difference in the bottom line. From just an anecdotal perspective, all I hear are negative reactions to the early Christmas barrage. Do the marketing experts ever consider this reaction and does it have a measurable impact on sales? Sounds like a thesis topic for an eager MBA candidate.

I remember when I was a child, one never saw Christmas decorations until the Friday after Thanksgiving. Santa bringing up the rear at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was like a signal: It's now officially the Christmas season! Shop and decorate to your hearts' content. Even then, people usually didn't decorate their homes until early December. (And I know in some more traditional homes, particularly those that observed a fairly strict liturgical calendar, the decorated tree didn't appear until Christmas eve and was thrown out promptly after Epiphany. For my grandmother and her family, there was the superstition that it was bad luck to leave one's tree up beyond New Year's day.)

There's an intriguing disconnect between our nostalgia for "Christmas past" - embodied, for example, in the growing popularity of the film A Christmas Story - and the degree to which we tolerate the base commercialism of "Christmas present." Of course, it's easy to engage in nostalgia as a psychological exercise. One needn't spend any money or do any mental "heavy lifting" to surround oneself in the warm firelight's glow of holiday nostalgia. It's the equivalent of tuning in to the televised "yule log" that a local New York City station broadcasts each Christmas morning. One just enjoys the happy memories - with a side order of kitsch - without the post-fire mess. Nevertheless, one can spend a great deal of money on a nostalgia trip. Just look at the ways retailers try to separate us from our money with images of Christmas dragged kicking and screaming from some idealized Victorian past. The reality, of course, lies a fair distance from the truth of Victorian-era Christmas celebrations, Charles Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge notwithstanding.

I'm left wondering what would happen if consumers revolted, and decided that "less is more" at Christmas? What if a large proportion of us realized that Christmas - and Hanukkah, for that matter - isn't about buying presents and besting our neighbors in a contest of decoration density? Don't misinterpret my remarks here: I love Christmas and have always taken great delight in the nostalgic trappings of the holiday, from Santa to sleigh bells. No doubt the memories of even my own childhood have been scripted with an eye to Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder b-b gun. Our family has tried to give my sons Christmas experiences that will serve as a happy foundation for later recollection, striking a balance between the commercial and the Christian, the stable and the shopping cart. Because whether or not one believes in the literal truth of the "virgin birth" and the miracles of Bethlehem, the values enunciated in that story - apocryphal or otherwise - are good lessons to inculcate. Surely we can learn to be more giving - of our time, talent, or treasure - without swiping our debit cards at Wal-Mart or Macy's in a frenzy of materialistic passion. To retailers this alternative reality represents heresy. But approaching "middle age" I'm beginning to realize that life is ultimately easier, and more satisfying, if I worry less about what's on sale, and more about what's at stake.

1 comment:

Isabel said...

Great Blog, Brian C.
Nina Bagley's Ornamental brough me here,and I will be sure to return.
I too noticed this craziness about starting Christmas in October. Last week, I mentioned to a friend that some stores in my area already had Christmas decorations, and that I heard an ad for on the radio with Christmas music in the background. Pretty soon there will be no Christmas season.
I for once am fighting this assault to the senses (and my pocket) by focusing on Christmas traditions instead.
Money can't buy us time with the kids gathering moss in the woods for the nativity set, or the scent of hot cider and cinnamon around the house as we decorate the tree we all help pick the first week in December. And then there are the Christmas stories, and the handmade gifts we exchange, and all the christmas cookies...hmm...maybe we can make some exceptions and have Christmas cookies in November...