By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Every year, it seems, the opening date for Christmas marketing creeps forward, adding days, not just hours, to the already lengthy selling season. This year my cadre of Christmas watchers reported seasonal catalog and store sightings as early as Labor Day, September 8 . But you can count on this: as people worldwide read this article, they will surely report even earlier sightings. This happens every year… and as it does one of the interminable debates of our times reignites: when is this much too much Christmas?
Ask this query in a crowded room and, hey presto, there will be pandemonium, mayhem, and strident calls for the public lynching of the people who so tamper with and wantonly extend the most important and revered holiday of the year. Christmas creep is here… and you have an opinion on this matter; I’m sure of that. Everybody does.
Christmas is the promised land — for merchants everywhere. That’s the problem.
Christmas purists, and their number is legion, never tire of beating up the merchants who are, they aver, at the bottom of Christmas creep. From this moment of the year forward, a large percentage of Americans will get up on any soap box to hand and excoriate, insult, belittle and besmirch people who earlier in the year they knew and attested to be good, hard-working, service-providing, tax-paying citizens. But where Christmas creep is the issue, truth and justice are early casualties.
People will creep… it’s as American as apple pie.
Know any folks from California? Or Oklahoma? I do. They are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They are also the descendants of creepers.
Take California for instance. There a grand gentleman named John Augustus Sutter was peacefully minding his own business when James W. Marshall on January 24, 1848 discovered gold on Sutter’s land, at Sutter’s Mill, near Sacramento. The nation didn’t say, “Good for you, Mr. Sutter.” No way. Instead they took to creeping on to old man Sutter’s land, a little bit here, a little bit there… until the creepers had everything and Mr. Sutter had nothing but lawsuits and a footnote in history. A little bit of gold in them thar hills and a whole lot of creeping got us the State of California, and that’s a fact.
Or consider the folks in Oklahoma. They’re not called Sooners for nothing. In 1889, the federal government organized the great land rush, whereby folks who wanted land could get it free by racing for it against other land-hungry folks. Problem is, a good many of the wanters couldn’t be bothered to wait… and so they crept out early and grabbed the good stuff. Yup, they were creepers and some of the best families of the state started that way, and that, too, is a fact. Creeping pays, and only a Grinch would disagree.
But Grinches proliferate the closer Christmas comes and its insistent, unrelenting messages.
Although there have been plenty of Grinches in our history, lives, and culture, the actual character debued in the 1957 children’s book by Dr. Seuss, who was by all accounts a Grinch himself. It was titled “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and was adopted into a popular television special in 1966. In an instant people with anti-holiday spirit and growly disposition were indelibly tagged as partisans of that scowling hermit with green fur, red eyes, and boots who lives in an isolated cave near Whoville.
Now exuberant Christmas lovers had just what they needed to characterize and lambast the nay sayers, “Don’t be a Grinch,” causing the justly labeled Grinches to writhe and squirm. Just as they deserve. We all know it’s fun — and de rigueur — to pick on each and every Grinch we know.
It’s a question of dates.
After the fall in 1815 of Napoleon and his gimcrack empire, a peace conference was convened in Vienna to divvy up the spoils. Participants included Russia, England, Prussia, Austria and — drum roll — the France now ruled again by its Bourbon dynasty and represented by the Prince de Talleyrand. One day Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who always made such a bad impression as he rattled on about God and morality, was being particularly insufferable on the matter of how to divide the Kingdom of Saxony, which had, in his imperial view, stayed loyal to Napoleon a little too long. Its king, he insisted, should be losing half his country, or more.
Talleyrand, polished, aristocratic to his manicured fingertips, the ultimate cynic and realist, scanned his colleagues, each of whom (but the English) had made deals with Bonaparte, and renigged on them, snapped out that toxic phrase, “That, sire, is a question of dates.”
And so it is with our Scrooges, our Grinches.
The person who wants no Christmas festivities at all, just strict, gloomy adherence to what they suppose has been ordained and sanctified…. are Scrooges to the people who want the Christmas season to exist for a day or two, but not more. These, in turn, get dubbed as Grinches by those who want more… and there are always those who do. And so it goes…
… merchants trying (especially nowadays) to make up for one punk month after another, delving deeper into the calendar….
… thereby fueling yelps of outrage and righteousness from folks who raise the cry of too much self-seeking commercialism too early…
… thereby forcing those who might even agree in theory, to push the adamant seasonal marketing forward and forward again, as an act of mercantile preservation and profit.
Each says, “Enough is enough”; each points fingers and mouths frantic imprecations; each postures, preens, pouts, and always acts and speaks as if truth lived in their house and only their house. So there!
Whoa! The baby at the center of Christmas has indeed been thrown out with the bath water, and this will never do. Thus some thoughts of reconciliation, offered humbly and with trepidation.
Christmas has had a significant commercial aspect since the three wise men of the Orient, who came so far and at such inconvenience, approached the manger and offered their expensive presents. Did they just happen to find such offerings — gold, frankincense, and myrrh — in their saddlebags? Doubtful. More likely, they had gone shopping at one of the great bazaars along the way; such bazaars, blazing with the riches of the rich lands of the East, were the malls of their times… even unto parking their camels, always malodorous and mean spirited. In such a place, even the most fastidious desires of the most demanding could be met, including those who shopped for the King of Kings, for whom they employed their most discriminating tastes and ample means, never rushed. Thus, commercialism and Christmas go hand in hand… as they always have.
These suggestions will help you cope with and better enjoy this best of all holidays:
1) Let every man set his own acceptable level for just the amount of Christmas he desires. A laissez faire attitude is not just useful, but mandatory. Stop worrying about whether the man next door is asking too much or too little from the holiday and instead concentrate on making yours the best ever.
2) Leave the merchants alone. They have had a bad year; even if we think they are going over board, let them get on with it without our jeremiads, lamentations and snide remarks. Where would we be at Christmas, after all, without them?
3) Remember Henry Ford II’s celebrated line, “Never complain, never explain”. Since the very inception of Christmas the Thought Police have attempted to coerce uniformity. Mr. Ford was right… you owe it to no one and nobody to adhere; simply believe in your own way and style. As the song says, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas…”
4) Select a few of your favorite Christmas carols and seasonal preferences and load them into your audio player. You’ll be a lot happier when you enter some establishment with music you detest, no matter how venerable, if you can hear the tunes you particularly like.
And one more thing, whether the Christmas you celebrate is long or short, the single day itself, or the 12 days with five gold rings and lords a-leaping, or something else altogether, remember this: the gift you should most give and be most fortunate to receive is love… it is the only true and essential element. All else pales beside it.