L. Neil Smith's
Number 298, November 21, 2004

Give people what they want: more government!

Christmas In November
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

The first Sunday in November was unseasonably warm this year. Actually, let me retract that. This is the first year—and, thus, the first November—I'm living in southeastern Pennsylvania. For all I know, every Sunday in November is unseasonably warm around here. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me. I've seen weirder things in these parts—like drivers signaling right to go left. So let's just say it was t-shirt weather the first Sunday in November and leave it at that.

Anyway, my wife and I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond that afternoon. And before you break into Will-Ferrell-as-Frank-in-"Old School" jokes, let me just tell you, no, we didn't go to Home Depot to pick out wallpaper and flooring. We did go to Target and Pet Smart, though. And both of them were wonderful. But anyway, as my wife and I walked into Bed, Bath, and Beyond, we were greeted by perhaps the most annoying employee at any store I've ever been to. You could tell right off the bat this guy was "holiday help"—the kind of worker they lay off a day after New Year's. His name was Santa. He was 5-feet-tall, animatronic, and on sale for $70. And he quickly informed us, "It's the most... wonderful time... of the year," in tune. Then he shook his booty with all the grace of Lincoln in Disney's Hall of Presidents.

Did I mention this Santa was animatronic?

So I looked outside just then—at the bright, shining sun, at the people in t-shirts and cars with open sunroofs. What time of year was he talking about anyway? Spring, maybe? Summer? I wasn't sure. So I looked back at Santa, then I looked at my wife, and I told her, point blank, "If the next thing he says is it's starting to look like Christmas, I swear—this guy is a liar." I meant it. I thought I was fighting the good fight here. If I had sleeves, I would've rolled 'em up.

"‘This guy' is not a guy," my wife said. "He's a decoration."

I looked him over again. Oh, yeah. Animatronic.

Case closed.

Well, in retrospect, I think I was wrong anyway. If this Santa had sung, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," he wouldn't've been a liar—in fact, he would've been right. You see, I've grown accustomed to thinking the Christmas season begins the day you wake up and see all your neighbors outside with shovels, trying to find their cars beneath the first snow. But now I realize that's a very northeastern-elitist view. I tend to forget they celebrate Christmas in places like Florida, where it's sunny all year, and California, where they don't believe in snow. And who knows? I live in Pennsylvania now. If December's anything like November, all bets are off—Christmas falls on Sunday this year. So from now on, I'm not going to look for secular symbols—like seasons and weather—to indicate the start of Christmas. No. From now on, I will look for the stuff that really matters: Merchandise. That's the lesson this Santa guy taught me. Because the way he greeted shoppers—the walls around him decked in holly, a Hanukkah display behind where he stood—it didn't just look "a lot" like Christmas that day. It looked exactly like Christmas. Only a fool would deny it.

Hell, even Pet Smart was in the Christmas spirit. They were advertising photo shoots with Santa (a different Santa... the real one), for your dog.

Still, I'm not sure I should blame myself for being confused. Christmas itself is December 25th this year. Christmas itself is December 25th every year (certain sects notwithstanding). This much we know. But there isn't, however, an "official" start of the Christmas season—that's the problem. It's up to interpretation. And companies like Bed, Bath, and Beyond are our interpreters. That's why this fixed-date holiday seems to come earlier and earlier every year. I mean, it was only a week after Halloween when I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. My floor is still covered in broken dreams and Kit-Kat wrappers. My teeth are more rotted than the pumpkins outside my house. How was I supposed to know it's the most wonderful time of the year?

We've basically gotten to the point now where the Twelve Days of Christmas last for two whole months. According to my calculations, that's five Earth Days for every one Day of Christmas. As soon as we're done trick-or-treating, bam!, it's time for yuletide. We don't even bother with Thanksgiving anymore. At some point or another, we decided to skip it. And why not? Halloween is a two-month "holiday" all its own. Walk into an Eckerd or CVS pharmacy in August, you'll already see witches and bags of fun size Hershey bars. Thanksgiving has parades, football games, and tryptophan—plenty enough to sustain Black Friday shopping. You want to make the most of Halloween's momentum? Put it directly towards Christmas.

That's why September 11th isn't a national holiday yet. It would eat into Halloween profits and ruin the entire plan. After all, folks still remember September 11th. Wait till the new Pearl Harbor can become the new Pearl Harbor Day (i.e., wait till a sitting president can be forgiven for forgetting the date it fell on)—then mark your calendar.

Honestly, I'm not even sure why we bother with holidays other than Christmas anymore. In fact, I'm not even sure why we bother with the rest of the calendar year. At this point, we might as well eliminate the middle man and start the new Christmas season the day the old Christmas season ends. You know, December 26th. Start your engines. Only 365 shopping days to go.

You have to admit, this would have its benefits.

First of all, you wouldn't have to feel like an idiot anymore when you open up your fridge after Christmas and see all that untapped eggnog. Because you know you always do this. You know you always buy too much eggnog (which usually means you buy eggnog—period). It's not your fault. You tend to forget—what with all that time between Christmases—that December 26th is eggnog's permanent expiration date. Before Christmas, it seems like such a swell purchase. After Christmas, it tastes like gift wrap. But you wouldn't have to worry about this if Christmas was perpetually on its way. Eggnog would always be in season. Hooray!

Secondly, you'd be able to leave up your Christmas lights all year long. Not that you ever take them down anyway. But you get the drift.

Finally, and perhaps less frivolously, an all-year, every-year, forever-and-ever-amen sort of Christmas would allow us to act civil around each other... without feeling corny about it. You know, goodwill towards men. Peace on Earth. "Home Alone 2." Stuff like that. And when you look at it in that light, this Mega-Christmas thing isn't so bad. It suddenly seems worth putting up with.

A lot of folks would argue the reason the Christmas season keeps getting longer is because so many manufacturers, businesses, networks, etc., stand to make a killing off it. I do believe that's true (see: Bed, Bath, and Beyond), but it's incomplete, and it fails to account for why we buy into the extended Christmas they're selling. The easy answer to that question is, "Because we're stupid." I won't argue with it. We do "celebrate" Halloween for two months. But I'd like to believe it goes deeper than that. I'd like to believe the reason we buy into this extended Christmas season is because we like the way it makes us feel—and more so, because we like the people we become around Christmas.

Think about it. Even a perfectly realized socialist society—maintained both by gunpoint and motherly guilt—couldn't match the spirit of giving that consumes us at Christmas. We give gifts to friends and relatives. We give canned goods to food drives. We even give two you-know-whats about the way other human beings feel. I won't claim to know what causes this. Maybe it's force of habit. Maybe it's conformity. Who knows? It could even be religious duty. (God gave you His Son for Christmas. The least you can do is give somebody something.) The point is, whatever compels you, you give because you want to give—not because you're forced to. And the fact that you also expect to receive doesn't detract from it. Every exchange is willful. You can opt-out of holiday grab-bags.

In other words, America at Christmas is what America should look like—Norman Rockwell paintings, free markets, and all. No wonder we like it.

So, yes, there are times when Christmas resembles a One Day Sale at Macy's. I'll even confess I'm part of the problem: I've gone to Best Buy at 6:30 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving for three Thanksgivings in a row. And not for the bargains, either. For fun. (Not that I minded the bargains.) I do believe the "true meaning of Christmas" we hear about on TV differs from the true "true meaning." But I don't believe crass commercialization is nearly the point of the holiday that cynics make it out to be. If anything, it's probably the opposite. And if that's the case, it's not all bad.

Of course, on my way out of Bed, Bath, and Beyond that day, Santa was singing a different tune——this time, a song about figgy pudding. "We won't leave until we get some," he insisted. "Please bring it right here." I suppose that shoots my whole theory to bits. But, hey, he's animatronic. He knows not what he sings.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column on politics and personal freedoms for "The Aquarian" and other publications. His website is www.readjdm.com, and he can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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