Now that the Christmas season has reached it's climax and we are now in the denouement that is the week prior to New Year's, I was looking forward to some after Christmas sales and to be able to go to the toy aisle and buy myself some Nerf Blasters without having to worry about running over a baker's dozen of the intended target audience to get to them. I was also looking forward to a time when there were no holiday related pressures to purchase items or gifts, the commercial equivalent of the Catholic Churches "normal time".
That picture of what my shopping experience would be like, however, was shattered by a pink assault on my eyes. Yes, they've already put out the Valentine's day stuff. And it's not the end of the year as of yet.
We are in a perpetual state of holiday shopping, it would appear. And that's bad.
See, we often forget that "holiday" doesn't mean "day off" or "day to max out a credit card". The word is derived from "holy day" and to be "holy" means to be "set apart". Special.
The whole practice of holiday celebration is based upon the idea there are times where special observance should be made concerning the things that are important to us as a society, as religious worshipers or as individuals. We set them apart to highlight the significance of the event they are associated with. Be it romantic love, the triumph of the Fathers of the United States, the resurrection of the Christian Messiah or the fact that trees are awesome, we have these days for the sake of paying special attention to these concepts and principles as well as the influence they have on our lives.
But to set something apart means that there is a time when you don't have it. And that seems to be the thing that retailers do not want us to have.
Recent tallies have shown that the 2011 Christmas season was a boon for the US economy. There were two big surges: Black Friday and the week before. My guess is that these were driven either by actual sales or by the promise of them. But what the economy gained, I think we lost as a culture.
When one is constantly surrounded by something, it is hard to see it as being "set apart". At one point, fishermen in Maine were protected by law from having to eat lobster more than three times a week. While any seafood lover that crave the crustaceans might think "Oh the horror... how do I get oppressed like that", the fact of the matter is that any good thing can be overdone. And that's what's happening to our holidays, not just Christmas.
These times are supposed to be when we stop. We take off work so that we can pause, take stock of our blessings or give attention to the reasons we go to work, to pay attention to the life and culture which we put effort into creating. These days are supposed to be a respite from the ordinary and every day, not to be held in our face constantly.
Halloween is my personal favorite holiday. The decorations were up July 5 in the stores. Halloween had not come and gone before Thanksgiving turkeys adorned the supermarket. We'd not had any stuffing before we started seeing some businesses push Christmas on us. Those that did wait at least did so until the Friday after Thanksgiving, a time that once was considered to be only for the shoppers who were insane overachievers.
When Valentine's day happens, I'm sure we'll see Easter decorations up. When that is done... will we have a whole summer of July 4th displays to look forward too? Will we have to invent a mid-summer festival for sake of keeping the holiday money machine chugging along? Or will there just one day be a "holiday section" in every store, making it easier for us to celebrate any given feast on any given day because the accoutrements are available 24/7?
I do not begrudge the business interests of the United States for trying to make a buck. It's what they do. But I don't know how to combat this systematic devaluing of the times I was told to keep sacred, to observe with reverence and to look forward to with joy. Every day doesn't have to be either a holiday or in preparation for one. I want my holy times to remain holy, even if I know they are holy only to those who made them up.
We should let the holidays be holidays and not just the sticker on the sale's price. And that matters as much on Dec. 26th as it does during the Advent season.