Every year there’s a dam that breaks on the fourth Thursday in November. The leak in the dam has been evident for a few weeks, but when the dam finally crumbles the results are the merchandising equivalent of Shock and Awe.
I’m referring, of course, to the onslaught of holiday advertising that started on Thanksgiving and will be a part of our lives for the next 30 days.
It’s relentless. I dare you to try to count the number of jingling bells you will hear next week—unless you already have them on your sleigh, in which case you rock.
You can’t blame the merchants. Christmas is the marketing equivalent of a nuclear arms race. The other guys are blowing it out with multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Can you afford to do anything less?
And so the battle for our hearts, minds, and credit cards ensues. In America, a quarter of all retail sales occur between Thanksgiving and December 25. In some European countries the number inches towards 30%.
Canada is bit by the Christmas marketing bug even harder than we are. Christmas decorations and advertising launch right after Halloween, and hit their full stride on November 11, Remembrance Day.
I’m not suggesting that the United States is a picture of restraint. The size of our economy guarantees that. The average American couple will spend $1,200 on Christmas gifts this season. As you are reading this, some of you are saying, “that’s all?”
We’ve come a long way from a Nazarene barn where a Jewish woman was forced by necessity to give birth in unsanitary conditions. Who would have thought that within a few centuries Christmas would become, in the words of Scrooge, “a false and commercial festival, devoutly to be ignored.”
I’ve heard it said that the gifts we give each other for Christmas are in remembrance of the gift of eternal life that Christ gives to each of us. If so, then these gifts could rightly be as solemn in the giving and receiving as the bread and water/wine of the Sacrament.
Well, that’s not going to happen. So instead we have Santa, Rudolph, and the Grinch, all happily Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree as we go our Holly Jolly way.
Regular readers of this column have figured out that I’m a religious guy, but I also try to keep my eyes open. So I’ll risk some wrath in saying something that you all know is true.
Perhaps a few centuries or so ago, Christ was the primary reason for the season. Not any more. The season has been utterly overrun by the H*O*L*I*D*A*Y*S, which for all their warmhearted gaiety are a matter of deadly seriousness to national economies the world over. The enormous commercial infrastructure of the H*O*L*I*D*A*Y*S is like freeways and skyscrapers built in a massive, ever-extending circle around a tiny log cabin at the center.
Over time, most of us get to where we know the log cabin is there, but it’s too far a drive from our comfortable home in the suburbs. Maybe next year we’ll make the trip to the center of town. Or…not.
But if you are one for whom the center of the holidays is still important, good luck. That’s not sarcasm, by the way. You’ll just need to wear some very large ear muffs to block out the distracting noise, and develop thick skin to rein in your children as they innocently buy in, as children do, to the staggering distractions of the glittering world of commerce that swamps them.
And let’s not kid ourselves. There are two reasons for the season. The first, by comparison tiny and quaint, is religious, but the second enables merchandisers the world over to meet their bottom line so stock prices can go up and people can have jobs. Nothing wrong with that. And it’s bright and colorful and fun. But to expect the serious business of Christmas marketing to pay any more than faint lip service to the birth of Christ is like asking for a cup of frankincense to go with your burger. You can ask, but it ain’t gonna happen.