2007-12-06 / News


By Robert Morton-Ranney

How's your Holiday Season going, so far? Major retailers announced they were starting the Big Push earlier this year- the first Friday in November, in fact- because they wanted people to get their shopping in before consumer confidence slipped any farther.

You've heard, I'm sure, that the day after Thanksgiving is referred to in the retail industry as Black Friday, because so many stores get back into the black for the year on that day. And, now we have Cyber Monday. This year, they were hoping to have moved into a larger gray zone a little earlier so that shareholders will once again be smiling come New Year's Eve.

Christmas before Thanksgiving? Why, that's downright un- American, isn't it? Actually, you could argue that it is quintessentially American. What's more gung-ho-can-do than paying attention to your circumstances and making the best (most) of them?

People start dumping on the poor old retailers about this time every year for "commercializing" such an important holiday. But, if you see commerce as simply a way of distributing the resources of the earth then it's important, all by itself, any time. No, I didn't say economics was simple and I didn't say there aren't ongoing questions deserving of great scrutiny.

Besides, merchants are not the only people who ever tried to latch onto somebody else's ideas and harness them for their own purposes. Check out the earliest stories of the Nativity. Any Christmas trees?

didn't think so. But people like Christmas trees, and it's amazing how many churches have one. And we've all seen Santa in Christmas Sunday School pageants. That's a lesson in the blending of traditions for the purpose of trying to make as many people as possible happy.

So, in the spirit of the season; that is, in the grand tradition of taking somebody else's stuff and making it our own, why don't we take this Santa stuff out for another spin and see what it will really do.

So many of the Christmas movies focus on the question of whether children really believe in Santa Claus. The Polar Express was on television the other night, and the closing scene warms our hearts with a pre-pubescent male's discovery that his dream about the North Pole was real, and Santa left under his tree a gift, given earlier, that had slipped out of his pocket. The portions of our brains that fire up at such times tingle with delight because our inner children- watched over closely by a chunk of frontal lobe, no doubt- want to believe in Santa, too.

Ridiculous? No, I protest, not by a long shot. Put Santa aside. What we really want to believe in is the impossible. We want to bathe in the certainty of something far more difficult than the simultaneous visitation of hundreds of millions of households by a socially acceptable advertisement for happy obesity powered by animals dispensing little Lyme Disease bombs in every location they dash over.

Deep down we want someone to tell us it's okay to want what every beauty contestant wants: Peace on earth.

Sociobiologists (ain't scientific nomenclature grand?) assure us that this is quite impossible. Their position is that people, along with all those links in the evolutionary chain that preceded them, have two learnings burned into their collective unconscious. The first is that there is safety in numbers. The world is a dangerous place, and anybody caught outside on their own on a dark and stormy night is in big trouble. Stick with the group.

The second learning is that anything, or anybody, outside the group can't be trusted not to be a threat. And that includes other groups. Has a very contemporary ring doesn't it? War, anyone?

Now, if the sociobio people are right, then the best hope for humans of all types pulling together is the discovery that there really are creatures out there on other planets, and they might very well mean us harm. Then, we'll start to feel like we're just one big group after all. Talk about otherworldly

Man, what a lot we hang on Christmas. We expect it to save the economy. We want it to rekindle notions of what the rest of the year screams will never, ever, come about. And, if that isn't enough, everywhere there are images of families trumpeting their love for one another, reconciling past differences, trading gifts that are both costly and perfect, and generally having the most fun of their lives.

No wonder we feel pressure to do it right.

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