The other day someone said there’s magic in the air at this time of year, as if this were the only time of the year that magic exists. I don’t know about that. Largely we make our own magic. Maybe it’s Christmas that allows us to see the magic that is always in the world but we usually ignore it because we don’t have time to stop and pay attention. But that’s the subject for a future blog.
The statement prompted me to take a look at how oddly people change for this season – for both the good and bad. And I also considered how the season has changed since I was kid. There is good magic and bad magic, isn’t there? We certainly see evidence of both on Black Friday – and now the day before it that used to be Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday when everything imaginable was closed. It was like you had to stay home and spend time with your family because there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to do it.
Going back to my earliest memories of the Christmas season I recall catching the excitement over watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on a Black and White Philco TV set. CBS covered the event with Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit that year. I’m not sure whether Mr. Green Jeans was there too, but he probably was. Since I was around four or five years old and a devoted daily viewer of the good Captain there didn’t seem to be anything odd at all about all my TV friends being at a parade. In fact that’s that made the event more special for me. You see, from a kid’s perspective it’s easier to see the magic because no one has yet convinced him or her that it doesn’t exist. In fact, for a brief time the adults tend to encourage kids to believe everything is possible. And a lot of that has to do with Santa Claus. AT the end of the parade Santa made his annual appearance riding a float with his sleigh. What could be more magical than that?
A few years ago when I worked for a major retailer and weighed about sixty pounds more than I do now I also sported a full beard. The combination of my weight and my almost white hair and beard made me a dead ringer for the man of the season. On a whim I tried on the store’s Santa suit, sans the pillow stuffing and false beard. It fit me well. What happened next gave me reason to believe there was magic in that suit – or at least seeing the suit reminds people, even adults, about the magic of Christmas. Maybe seeing Santa allows people to connect with their inner child, suspend the disbelief for a while and remember when they truly believed in things at face value.
Parents play Santa for their children. I think it’s in the job description somewhere between staying up all night with a sick child who has a fever and teaching a little boy or girl how to ride a bicycle – a kid’s first taste of true independence. We naturally know how to do it, I think, even without putting on the red and white suit. But if you’ve never actually worn the suit you don’t really know the powerful sensation of putting on the mythical persona. People react differently to you, as if you have become larger than life. Suddenly all the miseries of the world around you fade into the background.
Not only do the little kids respond with smiles of immediate recognition and hopeful expectation, so do adults. A lot of people want to take a picture with Santa, of course. But really just walking around in a retail store wearing the suit causes everyone to pause and for a moment believe. In the process each person regardless of age remembers something nice about Christmas. For the little ones seeing Santa for the first time is an event that reinforces the myth.
Back when I was a kid the build up for the season was reinforced everywhere I looked. Decorations went up around Thanksgiving then and the narrow window for seeing the red, green, sliver and gold long with the blinking lights made it all the more special and urgent. Santa was coming soon! I think it’s all dragged out far too long now.
In my grade school back int he 60’s we started rehearsing for an annual choral pageant learning traditional songs. I’m not sure kids are allowed to do that now, at least they can’t sing anything overtly religious. When my kids were young they couldn’t. Another instance of a break in tradition between my generation and theirs.
Back in the day we helped decorate the classroom with crafts we made in art class – little Christmas trees and Santas, ropes made of interconnected loops of alternating red and green strips of construction paper to wrap around the tree int he classroom. We drew names out of a bowl and that was the person in the class for whom we were to buy a relatively inexpensive gift. If a kid couldn’t afford it they let the teacher know discreetly. Or their parents did. Usually the teacher kicked int he buck or two because every kid should get something at Christmas. It was a huge deal.
I think a lot of that excitement was lost as I grew older. The gifts became more about utility – socks and underwear as oppose to the latest and greatest toy. After I married and had kids I discovered that I got to relive the magic vicariously through my kids and their excitement at opening their gifts.
Some of the magic of Christmas was lost because I worked in retail for so many years. Nothing strips away all the tinsel for a holiday like knowing you have to work longer hours and sometimes even have to work not he actual holiday. One Christmas Eve there was an emergency in the store and my obligation to the store superseded being home to assemble the gifts for my kids. That sucked.
In retail you tend to see the calendar in terms of whichever season you need to set and the next season to transition into. Also nothing gets you out of the mood like listening to Christmas music playing over the intercom ad nauseam – 16 hours a day for the better part of two months. Some of the companies I have worked for began setting Christmas in September! The warped logic behind that was that the store needed to establish through maximum repetition in the customer’s mind that the store has everything they need for decorating their home. In truth we wasted valuable real estate on the sale floor to present merchandise that didn’t start to sell at all until around Thanksgiving – when, oddly enough, the company began to advertise discounts off the inflated retail prices assigned to it.
Personally, I think putting up anything to do with Christmas before Thanksgiving is jumping the gun. Not only does it diminish the value of the season but also it spreads thin the magic inherent in the season. A longer span allows anything new or unusual to gain more of a routine feel. What’s lost in merchandising too early is the sense of urgency in getting gifts and decorations before it is too late. It caters to people who want to get their shopping done early and have it over with, I suppose. But I have never understood that either. Some people shop for stuff as early as July! I don’t know, it’s like the season is a chore to be accomplished, something to be checked off a work list. That is not what Christmas is supposed to be about. In fact, gift giving has been made the primary emphasis when in fact it was not the original message of the season at all. It is supposed to be about hope for the future and peace on Earth.
Black Friday has now encroached on Thanksgiving Day as more and more greed and one-upping the competition has distorted what used to be a great American tradition for sharing time and a meal with family and close friends. Yes, I understand that Thanksgiving was made into a Federal Holiday not all that long ago in a historical sense. But it is based on a tradition dating back to just about as far as history for English settlers goes in America. Since the holiday was established based on that tradition I think it should be sacrosanct. No one should be forced to work on a family holiday. In fact I propose that if a retail store wants to be open on a Federally recognized family holiday they should pay those who volunteer to work on that day double time, regardless of whether the employee is part time or full time. Also salaried employees should be compensated with bonus pay for that day. In this way a retail company would have to sharpen the pencil and figure out if it is really worth the sacrifice of their employee’s family time for the potential sales and profits to be made from being open one extra day.
It is disingenuous for a shopper to be in a retail store on Thanksgiving telling a retail clerk how awful it is that his or her company required him or her to work on a holiday. You see, if customers didn’t come out on a holiday to get those super early special buys there would be no reason for a store to be open. Somewhere along the way, someone who had nothing better to do reviewed their security tape footage and noticed how many cars drove into the parking lot while the store was closed. So, all those people who had no life and went out to see if any stores were open ended a perfectly good holiday for everyone else. It’s a matter of supply and demand, folks. If no one showed up for a sale, next year there wouldn’t be a sale.
As for those great deals, many are not so great. Take a look at how many are limited supply loss leaders, close outs or limited special edition items made to a different standard. Some off brand items or factory refurbished products also made the scene. In other words, a lot of the great deals on for Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day are really not worth the time and effort of getting up early or standing in line. But some of the deals are good and that entices shoppers to come out en masse risking life and limb.
Rush, rush, rush to save a few bucks on stuff a large percentage of which will be returned after Christmas. Walking across a store’s parking lot in the midst of the chaos of such a mass coming and going is like playing real life Frogger.
After working for nearly 30 years in retail I can tell you this, if I didn’t gave to work on Black Friday I would never go near a store. But I guess some people like the experience and perhaps that’s part of what’s necessary for them to capture some of the magic and get into the Christmas spirit. It’s like Black Friday jump starts the shopper’s metabolism. kicking it into a higher buying mode. But that’s not really the Christmas spirit, is it? It is something we have created in lieu of the true meaning of giving.
#BlackFriday #Thanksgiving #Christmas #Shopping #ChistmasSpirit #SantaClaus #Magic