Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
At the end of the seemingly endless Christmas Shopping season, that is. In fact, can someone please tell me how many shopping days are left? In the frenzy to snap up deals from Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the general-issue pre-Christmas sales -- not to mention getting ready for Hanukah which overlaps Christmas this year (oh the joys of the multicultural household!) -- I’ve completely lost track.
All I know at this point is that I’ve been mired in the holiday shopping morass for what already feels like eternity. But there is an end, a reward, somewhere out there, maybe hovering just beyond the horizon, right?
At least there used to be. Lately I’m not so sure. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. How a bunch of Christmas related things have changed? But given that these changes have been incremental and enacted over a fairly long period of time, perhaps we’ve just about forgotten that things were ever different.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten that Christmas advertising didn’t used to start until about mid-November or even later. And maybe we didn’t really notice when it crept forward to 12:01 a.m. on All Saints Day; then to the week before Halloween. Recently, it’s shifted to a soft start in mid-September with those ads which never use the C word but don’t hesitate to drape everything in red and green and to use instrumental versions of Jingle Bells as the soundtrack.
That’s an extension of the holiday shopping season by at least two months. Sneaky!
They’ve also piled on the items we all feel we really, really need -- expensive ones, too. The endlessly updating stream of have-to-have electronics, accessories, etc. -- on Christmas special now (!) at Future Shop or Best Buy -- has opened up a maw of desire such as we’ve never experienced before. And while it feels like we are motivated here solely by our own purposes, you can be sure our forward thrust to the malls is very much being propelled from behind by an iron hand which is firmly in control, no matter how fluffy (and sequin encrusted) the glove it wears.
And perhaps most tellingly, we’ve forgotten or maybe never knew that once upon a time, when the stores closed (mid-afternoon!) on Christmas Eve, there would be this sudden, exhilarating release into a special kind of calm that encompassed the whole city; into a calm that you could feel in the air and that you could count on lasting until the day after Christmas. It even overrode the then minor excitement of post-Christmas sales, lingering through to New Year’s Day.
This is not to discount the last-minute bustle at home, wrapping presents, getting turkeys into the oven, infighting with the family. But this calm was about the cessation of something else- about an outer driven agenda taking a breather, creating a short but defined pause when the push stopped, when the programs on TV changed, when those days out of normal time felt marked as truly special for their own sake- leaving us free to concentrate for a brief and precious moment on the personal, however we might define it.
I don’t even know exactly when this one disappeared. I just noticed one Christmas Eve -- a few years ago after a period where holiday celebrations had to be sidelined -- that I wasn’t getting that feeling and that I couldn’t remember the last time I had.
At first I chalked it up to advancing age -a perhaps inevitable dulling of one’s sense of wonder. But then I began to realize that a whole bunch of things had changed somewhere along the line: that the big city hustle barely slowed down for Dec. 25 -- there was even a surprisingly busy rush hour; that the programming on radio and TV, if you happened to tune in, felt strictly like business as usual, albeit swathed in green and red. And that the ads in every medium, when I really thought about it, were doing something even odder.
Instead of those simple on the Day holiday wishes “…from the good folks at Your Neighborhood Department Store” or even (imagine it!) a one day moratorium on all commercials, the Buy, Buy, Buy ads were coming thick and fast, all day long. They were, of course, promoting the big post-Christmas sales set to start at midnight- the ones which in my native Canada have absurdly morphed over the last few years from Boxing Day to Boxing Week to Boxing Month Blowouts.
A year or two later, I noticed that things had advanced one more critical step -- those same blow-out ads now started at least a week before Christmas (I just got my first Boxing Week Sale flyer from Sears as of this writing on Dec. 12) -- and suddenly it became clear that this was about more than opportunities to bargain shop intruding on a peaceful holiday.
First they took two related but distinct reasons to shop and by beginning the after-Christmas ads on Christmas Day itself, slammed them together meaning as soon as one ends, the other begins with no letup in pressure. Then they actually overlapped them, so that mentally you are pulled out of focusing on your immediate goal and pushed into thinking about (getting excited about; worrying about) the next.
In other words, you are already salivating about your post-Christmas excursion and the bargains that await you there, even while you are still wrapping the Christmas presents you just purchased. The idea here, it seems, is to redirect your attention, as much as possible, away from the pleasures of Christmas itself towards one unified goal: shopping and more shopping.
Even if they don’t manage to fully distract you from your personal holiday activities, chances are- on some level- your holiday stress levels have gone up a notch or two compared to previous years, without your necessarily knowing why.
It’s a pretty neat trick they’ve pulled here, essentially turning Christmas Day into Boxing Day Eve. And though you might think this attempt to co-opt the Big Day itself would undermine the drive towards Christmas shopping, the actual effect is quite surprising. If anything, they have succeeded in amplifying both shopping seasons.
And impressively, they’ve harnessed their opposing motivational forces -- the Christmas drive, motivated by love and guilt, exploding, post-Christmas, into raging desire to shop for oneself -- to create one seamless shopping season beginning in September and crowned, for the whole of January, by that most perfect of holidays- the one where the celebration itself is nothing but shopping. Oh holy night, indeed!
So how do we feel about this push to shift such a dearly held piece of the cultural landscape, to reverse the order of things so that instead of shopping to create a celebration, we have celebrations to create a reason to shop? Is it just a natural outcome of living in a more diverse- and therefore more enriched- society which de-emphasizes any one holiday, inadvertently leaving room for commercial interests to move in?
Or is it more likely, a decision made somewhere higher up the food chain; a decision which we are unintentionally bolstering by heeding that enticing- and seemingly innocent -- call to shop right through the holidays?
At the very least, awareness is a good place to start answering those questions for ourselves.