EDIT: SNC-Christmas Can Can – This sets the tone of most of this entry.
There a few “things” that have bothered me this Christmas.
No, this isn’t a “reason-for-the-season” rant (That particular irritation is for another date). This is just just a few observations and questions that have crossed my mind this most recent holiday season. It started back in mid September when I walked into my local home-improvement center. I had visited this particular bastion of masculine-power-tool-villification-balanced-by-feminine-decoration-sense a few days prior with The Wife and The Mouse in tow (or perhaps I was being towed… unsure which, but certainly not unwillingly). We had noticed and commented on the rather scant selection of Halloween decorations, noted the large inflatable animatronic spider (The Mouse was convinced it was going to chase us down the aisles. I, of course, played along until she assured me it was, “just pretend, Poppa. It’s not Real.”) and went about our shopping expedition. The timing of my second visit was work related (any excuse I can have to visit), but as I entered, my sight was blasted by one thing: they had begun setting up their Christmas tree/decoration sales area in the seasonal section of the store. I did a double take at the door and checked my phone for verification that it was still September. I also glanced to my right and was greeted by a nod from the mighty-mandibled-monstrosity-of-animitronic-arachnid-awesomness The Mouse and I had escaped from earlier in the week (The Wife, while laughing good-naturedly at our fancy, was not inclined to participate. There was shopping to be done, after-all).Time frame: (estimated) 6 weeks till Halloween, 9 weeks till Thanksgiving, and 14 weeks till Christmas. A full 3 months at least before the appropriate holiday. I honestly don’t remember if I saw any decorations for that poor holiday trapped in the middle of the two retail cash-cows of Halloween and Christmas. And so it began.
A few other things caught my attention this holiday season besides the incredibly early push to buy. Here are couple of items for sale this year:
Snow Castle / Snow Ball KIT from LL Bean: Because apparently hand packed snowballs being hurled from behind trees, cardboard boxes, friends, cars, and hastily constructed and OSHA questionable snow forts (castles were for sand and/or structures in the sky, at least that was what I always thought) are passé. Now, via the miracle of modern marketing, I can have what I never knew I needed: a brick maker for a snow fort. Castle. Whatever. And a snowball maker. Because they are so difficult to construct. And my hands might get cold.
Time and energy saving! No thought required! But at least it is considered a safe activity for children to participate in unsupervised. I mean there are much more dangerous activities than building snow forts (castles, sorry) and hurling precision made spheres of packed ice particulates at one another (and unsuspecting pets… and passers-by) in below freezing temperatures at high-velocities, risking hypothermia and frost-bite when the particulates melt into your underwear because someone thinks is it sooooo funny to take you and shove a metric ton of snow down your pants, even thought you are the smallest and youngest one in the family and how do they expe… sorry… flash back… where was I… oh right…
Exhibit C: The Snowman/Family Kit from LL Bean – I gathered from this item that we are unable to find the requisite parts for a snowman (sticks, buttons, carrots and coal… ok coal, might be a problem, unless you are an avid griller) that we must now purchase these items from LL Bean. It averaged a 4.9/5 Stars and had 11 positively glowing-rosy-cheeks-fresh-from-the-frolic-in-the-icy-winter-wonderland reviews from satisfied customers. And all for only $30 (free shipping, all in the spirit of the holiday… and a $10 coupon for spending only $20 more)
Oh, sorry. It is currently sold-out. But don’t worry. There are others out there for sale at approximately the same price. Just google it. But it is probably a good thing, anyway. The following is found at the top of product description:
Building Snowmen = Dangerous activity that must be monitored by adults; Snowball Fights = All-American-Good-Fun-and-Games. Got it. Since when is building a snowman is more dangerous than participating in mock(?) acts of war and violence? Note: I am not anti-violence/anti-war/anti-snow or think that kids should only play with safe-sanitized-socially/politically-correct-toys. Again, that rant is for another day. It just seems rather amazing that we seem to be raising children as a society that are so devoid of imaginary experiences and basic problem solving that we must now provide pre-made creative options.
Another conundrum: Christmas displays at utilities/government offices. Who pays the electric company’s electric bill? Do they bill themselves? Some of the most extravagant (at least locally) light displays seem to be at/by public entities. Now, please understand, I do NOT have anything against our public offices displaying things related to the ‘holiday’ spirit, regardless of which holiday it is recognizing. I enjoy the lights. I just want to know who pays the bill for it. (Side note: for the first time in my memory, my utility company is NOT displaying any decorations this year. Made me kind of sad but also prompted the prior question.)
Then there are parades. Whether you call them Christmas Parades, Holiday Parades, Festival of Lights, Seasonal-Reason-to-Stand-on-the-Street-and-Watch-Various-Highly-Decorated-Vehicles-and-Trailers-with-Freezing-Children-and-Frozen-Smiles-and-Hopefully-Score-Enough-Candy-to-Make-This-Worthwhile, or whatever. I really don’t care. But what bothers me is the ‘floats’ (now cars with signs slapped on the side and some token of ‘holiday spirit’) seem to be categorized as (Approximate ranking IMO) 1: Business Ads, 2: Political Campaigns, 3: Marching Bands, 4: Special Interest Organizations (churches, social service organizations, etc.). Perhaps it was because this was The Wife’s and The Mouse’s first ever parade. Instead of colorful floats celebrating the wonderful spirit of the season, they are barraged by campaign posters and businesses who are more interested in their bottom line and the ‘free’ advertising. Apparently Santa has laid off the elves and is now shopping at (fill-in-the-blank) for your Christmas toys. And I don’t even want to get into the sudden plethora of vendors selling their gee-gaws and gadgets guaranteed to last just long enough in the home to be forever in the landfill.
Since when did holiday celebrations become a platform for advertising your business and politicians ‘proclaiming’ support for whatever faction their handlers deem to be represented by the particular crowd? Perhaps this is only found in small town America? No, wait… It IS the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, isn’t it? Sorry NYC. Now, I am far from opposed to corporate sponsors in order to help raise funds or showing support for events, but when the advertising overshadows the actually event, aren’t priorities a little skewed? (Anyone remember the last Orange Bowl? And I don’t even like sports!)
I do have a confession to make. I attended the ‘Black-Friday’ madness at Fail-Mart. Actually it was Thursday night, but I’m not one to split hairs about what they call it or when they start it. I was there. It was a heartfelt request from The Wife and I had no choice but to wade into that chaos. I had to park a quarter-mile away from the store and walk. Literally a quarter-of-a-mile away. I arrived after the actual start time, primarily to avoid the line up. I know people who were in line. They told me what it was like. I do not want first hand experience of that. So, I waited till after the starting gun. Bell. Whatever. I went in for four items and came out with two. Apparently this is a pretty good result. As a wonderful movie says, I can now bucket-list this B. I went home. But what I brought away from this insanity (other than my two bargains), was the image of two ladies sitting on a small bench by the paint/home improvement area (no, I don’t think that is the correlation). They both had those first-aid ice packs applied to themselves (faces and appendages) and were been seen to by a semi-solicitous and obviously harried store manager. There was a wide area of space between them and the throng, some sort of DMZ(De-Mercantile-Zone) devoid of shoppers or merchandise. I over heard one of them complain piteously about having been knocked down and stepped on by other shoppers. Knocked down. Stepped on. Apparently she paused to look at something other than what she came for. You know, normal shopping behavior. Certainly, she should have known better. It was Black Friday. Or Thursday. Whatever. And of course everyone has heard about all the other Black Friday shenanigans ranging from shootings and lootings to my ‘favorite’ of the pepper-spraying-X-box-loving shopper in California.
I truly can quote Kurtz here: “The horror! The horror!” The modern heart of darkness can be found at your nearest retailer this holiday season in the form of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Door Buster Sales. All at reduced prices and purposely limited inventory. Now, I admit to enjoying acquiring ‘things’ as much as the next Homo sapien americanus. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in my acquaintance knows I am a unique combination of gadget nerd/pack-rat. And as a Gift-Giver, I like to think that I spend more time thinking about gifts to give and finding that just-right-significant-special-to-the-person-gift than worrying about what I get. But to intentionally or even unintentionally cause harm to someone else in my pursuit of an acquisition is one of the more unconscionable acts I can imagine. And I have a vivid imagination.
So to sum up the irritations and curiosities: Early start to “The” (sales)season, items for sale that take away common sense and creativity, celebrations that are more advertising than advent/political machinations than mangers, acquiring something at any cost even that of what can be laughably referred to as common humanity, and the biggest question of all seems to be who is paying the bill? No, not the electric bill. The karmic bill. The moral bill, the bill of sale on what most refer to as the spirit or soul. Is what we are condoning by our actions or inactions or just allowing ourselves to be lulled into worth the cost? Maybe we really have lost the ‘reason for the season’.
No, I’m not talking about the big ‘C’. I’m talking about a much older reason for the season. The celebrations marking the halfway point, when the earliest humans realized that the sun was coming back, the days were getting longer, the crops would grow again. That they had made it through the solstice and were still standing and had the chance to see another season. That is why they celebrated. They celebrated the generosity and hard work of the clan they had formed, the family they had made, that had sacrificed and shared of the common bounty, worked together, not for the individual, but for the group to continue on. A lot of hoopla has been made about 2012 December 21st (Winter Solstice, strangely enough). Perhaps it is a warning of a change that we had better start making if we want to continue on as a race (the human one, BTW). Perhaps we need to share of our bounty, especially in this time of economic and social turmoil. Loaves and fishes. Drop some change in the bucket as you walk into or out of the store. Donate one or two or five of those coats/shirts/pants that have been hanging in your closet waiting for you to lose the weight or come back in style. Pick up that extra can of whos-roast-beast and drop it in that big canned food box on the way of the grocery store. Or just give a little time to play, to sing, to give thanks and rejoice that we’ve made it half-way again and have hope to make it to the next season. Or just revel in the joy of life that we have and the clan that supports us in this journey.
For whatever it’s worth, Happy Holidays. And be good for goodness sake.