By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper 1/2016
My grandmother – God rest her soul – had a holiday tradition that was not exactly beloved. EVERY Christmas – without exception – at some point on Christmas Day, she would say, “Well, Christmas is as far away as it ever is.” As I recall, one year she said it while we were still opening presents early in the morning.
Nana – well remembered with love to this day, but not a Christmas person.
As I type these words, it is Saturday, January 9. This morning, the Nativity set and decorations were taken down from the Foxboro common and placed back in storage. Right on schedule, the Saturday after Three Kings Day.
With a forecast of freezing rain, followed by torrential rain for the rest of the weekend, and vivid memories of last year and how fast the area was covered with 3 feet of snow for months, I figured that it made sense to get all of my outside lights back into storage at home as well.
By Saturday afternoon, my lights were down. But it’s time, and whether I like it or not, it’s January, the weather is turning, and Christmas is far away as it will ever be.
Without getting maudlin (I hope), I find myself once again wondering what happened to Christmas. To be clear, I had a wonderful holiday. Christmas Eve with Susan’s family was joyous, Christmas Eve vigil mass at St. Mary’s was a glorious celebration and so spiritually uplifting, and Christmas Day at Mom’s – with all the extended family and all the kids – was another perfect Christmas at my mother’s filled with laughter, turkey, great conversations, the joy of little kids opening their presents, and so much more – Christmas at Mom’s was perfect – as always – because my Mom is awesome and she goes out of her way to decorate the house so tastefully and beautifully, prepare a magnificent meal and open her home once again to everyone.
And despite a busy work schedule, and the usual challenges and wackiness life provides, the season was also filled with joyous activities like setting up the Nativity, the incredible light up Foxboro event, parties and gatherings with friends and family, holiday community events, and just enjoying the sheer beauty of the way people decorated their home with gorgeous Christmas lights. Foxboro – your homes looked exceptionally beautiful this year!
All that was wonderful.
But I’m sure I am not alone when I say that when Christmas was over, and the decorations were put away, I felt just a little relieved. It’s sad that when a wonderful time like Christmas ends, and you feel a little more relaxed – like you can breathe again. It’s not supposed to be like that, is it?
This column is not about right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas – that would be very presumptuous of me. I am also deliberately keeping the “religious” aspect out of this column. But no matter what you do celebrate on Christmas, it’s a big day for sure.
All that said, I keep wondering – what happened to Christmas, and why in the world do we need three months of preparation for one day?
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday – and I vividly remember and cherish my memories of the Christmas seasons past. And to be clear, Christmas was commercialized even when I was a kid – but it seems to get worse and worse every year, doesn’t it?
In my previous column, I quoted a line from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” from Lucy Van Pelt about Christmas being a big commercial racket. And you have to remember that beloved TV special celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 – so since at least 1965 the commercialization of Christmas was already a thing. But what I found these past decades, as impossible as it seems, the commercialization is getting worse. Earlier and earlier each year, we are assaulted by radio and television ads (not to mention the World Wide Web and social media) with pressure to BUY and SPEND.
I have a my own example that still bothers me — On Halloween night two years ago, we were driving back home from Salem, basking in the afterglow of the biggest Halloween party in the Northeast – and on the radio, a few minutes past midnight – I swear this is true – there’s a commercial with in jingle bells the background for some product saying that it’s time for holiday shopping.
Think about that. Literally minutes after Halloween has ended and the Christmas commercials have begun.
By mid-November, at least three radio stations in the area were running Christmas music 24/7. Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s and even Walmart had full displays of Christmas trees, every conceivable type of lights, inflatable decoration, and worst of all – music blaring from the loudspeakers – in OCTOBER.
And then, all throughout November through December, EVERYTHING in the media was geared toward buying that perfect holiday gift. The music was everywhere. All of stores – even the supermarkets – were decked out for the holidays in early November.
And in the biggest insult of all – no lie – on December 23, I was in the supermarket where the Christmas items were being pushed aside and a full aisle of shelves was filled with – wait for it – Valentine’s Day candy products. On December 23.
It wasn’t even funny. It made me very sad.
No wonder so many people are exhausted by the time December 25 has come to a close. After three months, your Christmas can be perfection, but it will still feel like a letdown. How can it not? We have all been barraged with CHRISTMAS since September – how can it possibly live up to the hype?
I know businesses are in the business of making a profit. It’s good for the economy and all that. But are people really buying Valentine’s Day candy on Christmas Eve? And is there really need to have the Christmas music playing on the radio before Veterans Day? And is there really a need to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s on a gorgeous October Saturday to pick up some paint and be assaulted with aisle after aisle of Christmas decorations and music?
It’s like those three months don’t matter. It’s October — Don’t you know it’s Christmas season? And sadly, there’s just no avoiding it unless you shut off the computer, the television, the radio, and stay out of stores – not an option for most of us.
I still love and cherish Christmas and the time spent with family and friends – but I’m betting I’m not the only one who felt just a little exhausted on December 26, and maybe just a tad bit relieved – it’s almost a feeling of “surviving” another Christmas season.
It’s not supposed to be that way.
And I’m not looking for the Christmases of my youth – as I said, Christmas was commercialized back then as well. I’m not looking for Currier and Ives or Norman Rockwell. That’s just fantasy.
I just wish the advertisers, and the stores, and the media would let us get through October and November first before unleashing the Christmas bombardment.
I feel like we all are missing so much of our lives in September, October, and November being distracted by all the outside pressures to buy spend and make it a perfect Christmas.
I don’t want to be thinking about Christmas in October – or in November for that matter. Because if I do that, I’m missing everything else — there is back-to-school time, autumn with gorgeous displays of foliage, comfortable weather, pumpkin flavored everything, then Halloween. Then Veterans Day. And work. And just living!
There is so much life to be lived between September 1 and Thanksgiving day – why spend three months focusing on Christmas – and worse, turning Christmas into a list of things that need to be done, things that need to be bought, tasks to be dreaded – 90 days before the event?
You know what would make me happy? If the Christmas season really did begin the day after Thanksgiving. THEN start the advertising, the media salvo, the music, and put up the decorations. Once we are comfortably ensconced in December, it is indeed beginning to look a lot like Christmas – but not in September or October or November.
I know I’m not going to win this one, the holiday madness gets earlier every year, but as I said before, it just makes me a little sad that such a wonderful time as Christmas has become a three-month barrage of advertising and frenzy when there is so much else happening that is being missed.
I am happy to say I had a wonderful Christmas 2015.
But my dear grandmother was mistaken about one thing – Christmas is NOT as far away as it will ever be – by early October 2016, the decorations and advertising will be in full force.
At this writing, there are 350 shopping days until Christmas – how are YOU going to spend that time?