Why seasonal mash-ups are a rip-off

by Yule Heibel on November 9, 2011

Yesterday, Sara White tweeted seeing her first Christmas tree in a shop window. She wrote that, coming on so early in the season, it felt like an assault on the eyeballs. I responded that I too intensely dislike marketing’s jump-the-gun approach to flogging “seasonal” wares.

In fact, I really dislike it. (Curmudgeon alert!)

Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was (in the US) this great non-religious always-on-a-Thursday holiday called Thanksgiving, which – pace, ye critics of consumerism – was followed by a Friday that kicked off the official “Holiday Season” (including frenzied shopping, but also – thanks to Martha Stewart – frenzied crafting).

On Thanksgiving Day itself, most stores were closed,  and if you didn’t work in retail, you could look forward to a 4-day weekend because businesses other than retail shut their doors till Monday. While Thanksgiving involved a lot of food preparation (and often travel), which could get hectic, a key point (imo) was that it slowed you down for a brief period. At least it did so for a short spell, before unleashing the concentrated fury, …er, pardon me: excitement, of the December season.

Well, no more.

Not only are most stores open on Thanksgiving, which, in a thankless race to the bottom, they must be to “compete,” but the start of the Holiday Season (ok, let’s call it the Christmas Season) is signaled earlier and earlier.

Some years back when I still lived in Boston, I walked into Lord & Taylor and was confronted by cheap Hallowe’en decorations on one side of the aisle, Christmas do-dads on the other, and a few Thanksgiving centerpieces in …well, the center. Talk about an assault on the eyeballs…

Why is this a rip-off?

The reason these seasonal mash-ups are a rip off is this: they rob you of cadence and of a sense of time.

Sure, our sense of time is likely just some weird construct that’s as artificial as anything else – we all seem to age at different rates, we experience time differently, we’ve all experienced periods when time flew and also others when it seemed to stand still.

So why do I think there’s a cadence – or sense of this likely-fluid thing called time – to which we might want to adhere, at least sometimes? Why not celebrate an 18th birthday when we’re 45, or Christmas in summer, or Thanksgiving in October? The Australians don’t have a problem with Santas on beaches, and Canadians seem to manage with Thanksgiving in October – on a Monday, no less. How do they manage? They pretend it’s Thanksgiving all weekend and just have their “special” meal, like, whenever, man – some do it on Saturday, most on Sunday, a few traditionalists on Monday. It is a seriously boring and disappointing holiday, but American Thanksgiving has gone the same route because of retail pressures: you can’t count on everyone being “free” to celebrate it on Thursday late afternoon anymore.

When we get a big enough group to agree on a time concept, it does make time feel more real, though. Thanksgiving used to be a real time marker: it signaled a brief family time and slowing down, followed by a starting gun for the race to the Holidays. Then, after New Year’s Eve and Day were over, the Season was officially over. If you were Martha, you left for the Bahamas on Dec.26 and came back to the office on Jan.2. (Well, one can dream… And, oh, I plan to celebrate my 18th birthday at the end of next month, heh.)

The freedom to experience time at one’s own pace is great – it’s terrific if you can “do” Thanksgiving on any day of the long weekend! Except it’s not as intense because the tension has gone out of the thing and it feels slack.

But also irritating, because you’re bombarded with a lot of media to “celebrate” the …um, what were we celebrating again? And are we doing it alone or with others?

Well, I posted a “curmudgeon alert” at the outset. Let me know if you think fluid holidays let you dance to your own beat or whether you miss the cadence of fixed Seasons.

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