Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Which Is Not About Christmas. Really.

Charlie Brown: "I've never been so mad in all my life! I went down to the store to get a Halloween mask and they were all out of them!"

Patty: "Aren't they going to order any more?"


--Peanuts, Oct. 23, 1959.

Charles M. Schulz made that timely observation over fifty years ago now, and however peculiar or exaggerated it may have been then, it has since become all too true. A considerable chunk of our economy has come to depend on how much we spend during the "Christmas Season," a time that has expanded through advertising and sales to fill every available moment immediately after Halloween. And unfortunately if one does not start buying early and often along with the rest of the crowd you can find yourself scouring the dregs of merchandising for items (whether gifts or decorations) when the actual holiday is near.

So the problem for me has become how to fight Early Christmas Burnout. I love Christmas in a hopeless, visceral way that can only be achieved when you had a brief shining experience when you were five that was followed by a gray waste of Christmaslessness until you were almost an adult. I love red, white, and green, and the scent of evergreen, and twinkling colored lights. I listen to some Christmas carols all through the year. The slightest hint of Christmas starts a nostalgic yearning emotional brewing inside me, and the human heart is not, I think, designed to keep that sort of thing on a constant boil for fifty-five days. All too often Christmas comes not with a bang but a whimper, for what could possibly live up to the weeks-long build up?

Thanksgiving used to be a sort of speed bump in the long holiday slide, but has become less and less significant. As a national holiday (with only slight ties with Harvest Homes and Days of Thanksgiving) it carries little of the hefty clout of tradition that Halloween and Christmas have, and has become burdened with the distaste for the Pilgrims' Puritanism and the national shame over the treatment of the Native Americans (never mind the peaceful and friendly relations they and the Pilgrims had for eighty years). It was recently pointed out to me that there is no tradition beyond the meal itself (apart from the take-it-or-leave-it sprawl of the Thanksgiving Day Parade and ignoring the chance association with football) that is of defining importance to Thanksgiving, no movie or TV special or book that is the classic of the season, some kind of 'must-do' without which the day seems incomplete.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to my latest two acquisitions: Halloween: Vintage Holiday Graphics and Christmas: Vintage Holiday Graphics, both edited by Jim Heiman. These are volumes in the Taschen Icons series of books, solid little items devoted to the iconography of specialized subjects. They include advertising and decorations and actual old photos of people celebrating the seasons, so one gets the feel of how things used to be.

But rather significantly there is no Thanksgiving: Vintage Holiday Graphics in the series. It is a secular, American holiday where we are asked to give thanks, without any specifications or demands to whom or what we should be thankful. But gratitude is good, and spiritually and psychologically healthful, no matter how unpopular it has become. So whether we are thankful to God or the government, our ancestors or simply to the universe itself, on that day it behooves us to bow our heads and acknowledge the worth of all that we have been given, and that things could be a lot worse.

So I'm trying hard not to be engulfed in the Xmas Holiday Rush, trying to savor the leaves falling and the smell of woodsmoke in the air and the crickling sounds of squirrels as they scramble for acorns. I'm struggling to keep my posts Thanksgiving themed, if I must talk about holidays. I'm refraining from joining in Christmas carols that my co-workers have already starting to hum (and whose lyrics they are mostly woefully scrappy on--my know-it-all urge constantly nags me to tell them the complete and true readings). I have drunk a lot of eggnog and bought a room freshener labeled "Bayberry Spice and Everything Nice"--but pacing, pacing is the key. I must make the long march to Christmas, but still arrive with the strength to join the battle.


AlanDP said...

When people ask me if I had turkey for Thanksgiving, I always say, "No, we had popcorn and toast." Unfortunately, almost no one gets it.

Your post reminds me I need to hunt down some bayberry incense.

Babel said...

Don't forget the jellybeans, Alan!
Well said Brer. Thanksgiving's most immediate association in the mind for most of us is turkey; and that poses a problem for artists trying to tie in amusing Thanksgiving themed products, because there is no way to "cutesy up" what we do to turkeys come Thanksgiving time. It is like the odd paradox of having happy chicken mascots on chicken restaurants.