“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.”
Coolidge wasn’t kidding when he said Christmas isn’t a time or season. Nominally it’s December 25th, but beyond its designation as a federal holiday, that date doesn’t have much to do with Christmas anymore. How could it? By October 25th this year retailers had Christmas displays in place and the shopping centers were sporting faux wreaths. On Halloween a kid showed up at my house dressed as Santa Claus with his younger siblings decked out as tiny reindeer. My head is still spinning. At this rate Christmas will soon enjoy a year-round season—kind of like the NBA. Even churches—who often complain that the “true meaning” is being subverted—are getting confused. You’ll find most of them closed on Christmas Day. Drop in on one and the only carols you’ll hear are those performed by crickets. (Watch out for tumble weed blowing down the aisle in western locales). Hard to believe that within living memory of many, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marked the start of the shopping season. Word on the street is that next year Macy’s is moving it to Labor Day. But why is this happening? What’s behind the pell-mell expansion of the Christmas season? And what do we do about it?
There are two reasons. The first is obvious—Christmas is a lot of fun. It’s all about gifts, parties, family, friends and good will toward all. It’s purely festive and so, as the Cajuns might say, “laissez les bons temps rouler!” The best part is that this merry making is available to everyone because Christmas as we know it is a secular holiday. For more than 1,800 years Christmas was just one of many holidays on the crowded ecclesiastical calendar. It might have remained that way if Charles Dickens hadn’t invented our modern Christmas when he published A Christmas Carol. The story of Scrooge, ghosts and Tiny Tim electrified those sentimental Victorians and their American cousins. While conceding, “the veneration due to its sacred name and origin,” the novella tells a tale that would be at home in any 21st century self-help book—but without any unpleasant introspection. And that’s the point; there’s simply nothing unpleasant about celebrating the Christmas spirit.
The other reason is even more obvious—it’s a money maker. The National Retail Federation projects that Americans alone will spend more than $600 billion this Christmas. That’s a lot of tinsel. For many store owners, Christmas is a make-or-break season. A bad Christmas means they’ll be living off legumes by mid-summer. Stretching the season improves the odds of decent vittles in the future. Who could complain about that? Sure, some folks gripe about the rampant consumerism of Christmas but they need only be reminded that the un-reformed Scrooge was a tightwad while the enlightened Scrooge spent lavishly. Which Scrooge would you like to be compared to?
Christmas is a juggernaut and it’s headed your way—like it or not. But really, what’s not to like? It’s a holiday with universal appeal. Dickens tells us to think of it, “as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.” So don’t be grumpy about it. Whether you’re a “Merry Christmas,” or a “Happy Holiday,” person, express the greeting with warmth and affection. If consumerism bothers you, spend parsimoniously but don’t begrudge the generosity of others. In the joyous tumult of the season, remember too, that Christmas is a state of mind. Coolidge added: To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. That is the spirit! —Ebert