The day after Thanksgiving is a special day in our house : we go shopping. But not to the mall or the big box stores. We're not looking for bargains.
Ever since we got married, Eric and I have kept a glass milk bottle by the back door. When we come into the house, we empty any change we have into it. The day after Thanksgiving, we take that now heavy bottle to the bank, exchange coins for cash, and go shopping ... for our Christmas tree.
Although I prefer to ease into the season, we've learned not to leave this important task too late, lest we find the stalls picked clean and nothing left but a straggly Charlie Brown tree. We've had that tree before, and while it has its own charms, chez nous we're kind of silly about Christmas decorating. Our tradition is to keep it pretty nice and more or less classy inside the house, while the outside is as obnoxiously overdone as time and budget will allow. Also, since I'm often traveling in December, if we don't get it done early sometimes it doesn't get done at all, and that makes both of us sad.
But how things have changed since I was a kid! There was no rush to hit the tree lot immediately after the last bite of pumpkin pie, and there was certainly no rush to mob the stores to buy a lot of crap nobody really needs. Each holiday had its place and its own excitement, to be enjoyed in its own time.
I remember looking forward so much to Halloween. Agonizing over just the right costume, hoping it would be chilly (this is Texas, after all); my school's annual fair, the Zilker Zambouree, which always took place close to Halloween; temporary tattoos which always seemed to be available only at this time of year; the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz on network television.
Then a few weeks later, Thanksgiving. The kitchen filled with good smells, helping Mom cook and prepare the table, the crowd of relatives and my father's prayer which always went on too long. The year Katie the Golden Retriever stole and ate an entire ham. The year my big brother started giggling as Daddy droned on and on and on with the prayer, until everybody at the table was snickering quietly and Dad got so mad. The year I brought my gay friends --- one of them NOT A WHITE PERSON --- to dinner and scandalized my racist, homophobic grandma --- and after dinner we gathered around the piano and sang through Handel's Messiah, one of us playing the right hand and the other the left since none of us were real pianists.
Childhood Christmases were amazing. We didn't have a lot of money but we had a lot of fun. Christmas stretched out across the whole month. A whole month filled with delicious anticipation, and wonderful little surprises, like the Corsicana fruitcake Grandma always sent (yes, that grandma), and shopping for Mom and Dad's stockings (I took it over as a young teen when I realized they weren't getting anything in theirs; it didn't seem fair); decorating the tree, caroling, getting to open one present on Christmas Eve, my family's silly and fun tradition of waking each other up on Christmas Day by calling each other and screaming "Christmas Eve gift!" into the phone. (The idea is that if you're the first one to say it, you're supposed to get an extra present, but that rule has never been enforced).
We've really lost something by mashing all the holidays together into what some of my friends have taken to calling Thanksweeniemas. We've lost something by ignoring the seasons, the natural rhythms of our world, since you can now get anything you want at any time of the year. Never mind that it doesn't taste as good.
And we're really losing by allowing the media --- whether it's commercials, our increasingly biased news sources, films, tv shows, magazines, "reality" shows, lifestyle shows, you name it --- to continue to bombard us with images of what our lives are supposed to look like. By glorifying people who are famous for being shallow, wealthy, and beautiful; or people who have spent five minutes "learning" a skill and are now stars on national television. By creating false and unrealistic expectations for what the homes and cars and clothing of a middle class family or a bunch of young adults on their first jobs out of college look like; by reinforcing completely unrealistic fantasies of what people, especially female people, should look like in their forties and beyond. Keeping up with the Joneses, on steroids.
All this content exists for one reason and one reason only --- to make the consumer feel inferior so they will buy stuff. And Thanksweeniemas is part of the whole ugly scheme. This is why we have Thanksweeniemas instead of a beautiful, delicious, leisurely progression through the fall and into winter, during which time we can appreciate the beauty of nature and of what we already have in our lives rather than focus on making everything look fancy and perfect like you see in the magazines and on TV.
How much stress do we add to our lives by focusing on stuff and appearances instead of what's really important? It's incredibly unhealthy, both on a personal level and for society. There is a reason we call them the Seven Deadly Sins --- wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. (Interesting side note --- as I searched for images of the Seven Deadly, many beautiful illustrations came up -- a large number of them depicting gorgeous women enticingly depicting each sin. There's a whole different essay right there).
I want the slow, magical holidays of my childhood back. I want to be able to walk into a store in October and not see a single Christmas decoration, let alone hear a carol over the sound system. I Thanksgiving to be about family and friends and the enjoyment of planning and cooking a special meal, not about how many fights broke out over a cheap TV or about buying ... well, ANYTHING other than food.
But I can't make that happen. I can only stem the tide. I can turn off the TV, stay out of the stores as much as possible, stop buying fashion magazines which never have any clothing I can afford or fit into anyway. I can uphold my own family's traditions (well, except for the overwhelming obsession with football) instead of trying to make my house and my holiday season look like an ad on TV.
I can refuse to celebrate -- or, more accurately, buy into --- Thanksweeniemas. Holiday magic, after all, is not something you can buy. It's created by love, caring, consideration, effort, and, yes, time. It's created by focusing on the wonderfulness of people, not of things.
So as we move into the season which is supposed to be set aside especially for sharing and caring, here's wishing everyone some genuine peace on earth and some genuine, old-fashioned, slow, homemade holiday magic.