Sunday, November 11, 2007

Starting Holiday Early Means More Time to Get Sick of It

The Christmas season is the favorite time of year for many people, including me. In fact, I love the late autumn and early winter period, from October through December. It typically isn’t bitter cold, even in early December. There is a cozy crispness in the air. And I like the harvest symbols such as the cornucopia, the pumpkins, and the autumn colors.

The Christmas season has traditionally begun the day after Thanksgiving. It was the time when stores really geared up for the holiday shopping season by offering specials and by playing holiday music.

Many stores would always put up Christmas displays sometime in early November or even late October. But it was only to make sure everything was ready and in stock prior to the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

In more recent years, and this year in particular, it seems that the Christmas season begins the day after Halloween. Department stores have been pumping non-stop Christmas music onto the sales floor since November 1. All the holiday displays are up and have been for weeks.

Every holiday season, I always hear people protest that Christmas begins earlier and earlier every year. I don’t think that is the case. But over the past few decades, it is true that the retail side of Christmas has gotten earlier.

Back in the 1930s, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt moved the date of Thanksgiving up a week, from the last Thursday in November to the next-to-last Thursday. His reason for doing so was to enhance the economy by making the Christmas shopping season last a week longer.

So the pressure has always been on for retailers to increase their revenue by starting the Christmas season as early as possible. A couple of years after moving Thanksgiving up, Roosevelt moved it back again, thanks to protests from those who didn’t think commercial interests should determine the date of a traditional holiday.

A decade later, Congress intervened and made Thanksgiving an official national holiday and set the date as the fourth Thursday in November, sort of a compromise. That’s been the official date ever since.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that often gets lost in the transition period between Halloween and Christmas. Halloween is second only to Christmas in the amount of decorations sold for a holiday. Many homes are strung with Halloween lights throughout the month of October. These are replaced by Christmas lights sometime during November. But there are no Thanksgiving lights, and few decorations.

Pumpkins, cornucopias, posters of turkeys and pilgrims are sometimes on display in homes and stores for Thanksgiving. But largely, the holiday has become just a kickoff for the Christmas holiday season. It is one of the most underrated holidays, owing to its calendar position halfway between the two commercial big ones.

It’s kind of like those unfortunate folks whose birthday falls on or near Christmas day. Even if they are given birthday parties and presents, it all just blends together into one holiday celebration and sometimes gets completely muddled.

I guess the question really is whether or not starting the holiday season earlier gives us more opportunities to enjoy and appreciate the most festive time of year. Or does it just give us more time to become sick of it before the big day even arrives?

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