Yes, boys and girls, it's time once again for my annual imitation of Sisyphus. It's time to roll the Thanksgiving Comes First boulder up the mountain of Christmas advertising that inundates at an earlier date with each passing year.
I do this every year because I am an optimist at heart. I truly believe that the cheapening of our holidays can be stopped. Do I believe it will happen right now, because of this post? Hardly. I've done the same sort of thing for EIGHT years with limited success. But it could go viral this year and do the job. Lotteries are hit even though the odds are astronomical for any one individual doing so. Get enough people picking enough numbers and it happens. The same dynamic can work for change; enough people, writing enough letters and posting on enough blogs, and... well, you get the idea.
I'm extremely gratified that many of you have joined in the effort in years past. Perhaps you'll find some entertainment in doing so again this year? I find self-righteousness endlessly entertaining, so perhaps you'll get some joy from it, too. As always, I'll do a follow-up post with links to all blogs and websites that have helped. To make sure I don't miss your efforts, drop me a line if you're joining in.
(Much of what follows appeared in a column of mine in The Boston Herald a couple of years ago. It is with their kind permission that I reprint those parts here.)
When I was a kid, Christmas was magical. The lights were colorful and amazing, making the night a warm, bright, wonderful place to be, even if it was 20 degrees outside and the snow was up to your waist. If you're old enough, maybe you recall that Christmas carols gave you the same sorts of butterflies in your stomach that would be associated with love at a later time in your life. Cities and towns put up decorations on the main streets, with the larger municipalities erecting lovely Christmas trees in central spots.
All of the above worked, on a spectacular level, because it happened at an appropriate time and was limited in duration. No retailer (or city, or homeowner) dared breach the unofficial line of demarcation – Thanksgiving. It was an unwritten rule that one holiday would play out completely before speaking of another was allowed.
Now? Few retailers care. Whatever you can peddle, whenever you can peddle it, is the mantra. It matters not a whit how many people’s memories are trampled, nor how irreligious the displays and advertisements. The only thing that counts is that ledgers get into the black. Restraint and taste are passé. It seems the more outrageous the spectacle, the better for the bottom line.
Make no mistake about it: I’m a capitalist. I’m all for everybody making as much money as they can, as fast as they can, in whatever way they can, so long as nobody is physically hurt in the process. I’m not looking to enact laws against early Christmas advertising. What I am in favor of is standing up and being counted. That's fair. Opinion can drive a market in the right direction without resorting to the force of government intervention. If you decry this incursion upon our holiday ground as much as I do, I hope you'll join me in raising a slight ruckus. My hope is that we make enough noise to affect the situation.
I’m going to give it a try. I hope you'll help.
If you believe, as I do, that Thanksgiving should play out fully before Christmas season begins; that Christmas carols should not be heard on the radio before at least Thanksgiving evening; that advertisers who dare to encroach upon Thanksgiving - or, God help us, Halloween - should be told in no uncertain terms that you despise their hideous advertisements and that you will not shop at their establishments unless they cease and desist; that malls who put Santa Claus on display before Veterans Day should be ashamed of themselves; then please consider doing something about it.
Should you be as depressed as I am, concerning Christmas schlock, please post a "Thanksgiving Comes First" entry on your blog. Write from the heart. Everybody who visits your blog will find out how you feel. My guess is they'll agree with you. If you invite them to write a blog about it, perhaps they will. And maybe they'll ask their friends, and so on. If enough of us do this, who knows what might happen?
Please title your post "Thanksgiving Comes First". If we all do that - use the same posting title - it will make a bigger impact. If you wish to reference this post, or other posts with a similar title, please do so. It isn't mandatory, of course. I'm not looking to drive people to this blog. I'm only trying to make a bit of difference concerning something that truly rankles me.
If you wish to use the snazzy graphic at the top of this page, or any of the other graphics here, either on your blog entry or as a semi-permanent graphic on your sidebar, please feel welcome to do so. I'd appreciate it. Having a visual symbol that folks see repeatedly would be a big help.
(You can also explore THANKSGIVING COMES FIRST on Facebook. "Like" it for extra karma points!)
Following are my most personal reasons for wishing to see something positive occur. Yours certainly don't have to match mine, by any means.
I'm a Christian, so I have more than an annoyance factor at work here. I think that cheapening the holiday, by expanding it beyond reasonable bounds, does a world of disservice to my religion. It gives people a false view of it, by making Christmas seem just a huge greed-fest. However, if you aren’t a Christian, your take on matters is certainly as important. If you're Jewish, for instance, or maybe a Muslim, it might make you mad to see some of your own holy days being given short shrift because of this overkill. If you're an atheist? I imagine it doesn't make you happy to be bombarded by this stuff. Whatever your reasons, please consider telling the world that you've had enough.
(I'm not encouraging obscenity, but I won't discourage it, either. Make it funny, or use it to emphasize a point, but I’d prefer that you don’t be gratuitous just for shock value. Obscenity always works better when it is an organic part of the whole. Be creative. For instance, this variation on the Wonderful Life poster from above, which I created during one of my fouler moods. You can decide whether it's gratuitous or appropriate, then do likewise or not.)
So, to reiterate:
If you believe as I do, that Thanksgiving Comes First, then please let your readers know where you stand.
If you post a "Thanksgiving Comes First" entry to your blog, please let me know by leaving a comment here. Trust me - I'll write about this again. If many of you join in, it will be a joyous post detailing all of the successes, pointing folks to all of the other blogs, including yours, that have decided to fight the madness.
In order for this thing to have any real effect, it has to keep spreading via others. While I truly LOVE anything you do in response, we have to ask others to do the same. If we don’t, then we’re just ranting. While that's certainly fun, it doesn’t accomplish as much as making our feelings known and also getting others to make their feelings known.
I firmly believe – and I’m sure you do, too – that the great majority of people are sick to death of the way Christmas has been commercialized. I’d be willing to bet that whenever you talk to anyone about this stuff, they almost always say, "Yeah, that's how I feel, too!"
Don’t you think we hold the majority opinion on this? If there were some way we could vote on it, wouldn’t we win easily? I sure think so. I think that for every person who loves hearing Christmas music at the beginning of November, there are ten of us who want to blow up the radio it’s playing on. I know that’s the way I feel. And I really, truly LOVE Christmas music. I honestly do. I own some 35 or 40 CDs full of Christmas music. But it has its place, and November (or, God help us, October) really isn’t it.
Are we tilting at windmills? I’d like to think we're not. The response in previous years, from all of you kind folks, gives me hope.
Sooner or later, if we speak up and ask others to do likewise, I honestly think we can have some effect. I’m not saying that we’ll bring the corporate world to its knees, nor is that even slightly what I hope we accomplish. This isn’t a power trip. But, if we can get them to ramp it down a bit, that would be an accomplishment of which we could be proud.
What this is all about, truly, was brought home to me while watching an episode of Mister Rogers.
On one of his shows, Fred was explaining the concepts of noisy and quiet. In order to illustrate the difference, he took his television audience to see a musician friend of his.
Fred had the musician, a percussionist, play his many instruments. Some were very loud, while others were soft and gentle. Afterward, Mister Rogers looked into the camera and spoke. He said, "In music, the silences are just as important as the loud parts."
The silences are just as important as the loud parts.
That’s a very profound statement. It’s true, isn’t it? Without the silences, it’s all just noise. The silences – the pauses, the gaps, the unfilled spaces – are what give the notes their power and meaning. And when it comes to a holiday, the silences – the quiet times preceding (or even within) the holiday – are extremely important. They give the celebration its power and meaning. That’s why I care so deeply about this. We all need some silences. They’re just as important as the loud parts.
Please keep writing, as well as asking your friends to write. Maybe send off a letter or two to your local newspapers. I've had a couple published (as well as the op-ed referenced earlier) and some of you are much more eloquent than I am. Let us know what sorts of responses you receive. As promised, I’ll list (and link to) all of your blogs in another post later on.
For now, Google the phrase "Thanksgiving Comes First" and you'll find some past postings. Even that simple act, in and of itself, helps to spread the message. Getting many hits on Google, for the phrase, will bring it to the attention of some more good people.
Thank you for listening. God bless you if you help.