The commercialism of Christmas seems almost like a relief from the toxic stew of politics and social media.
Complaints about the ever-earlier Christmas displays in malls and shops are a kind of American cliché at this point, along with complaints about the madness of Black Friday shopping after Thanksgiving. (Oddly enough, Black Friday is now becoming a commercial and social ritual among Europeans, who don’t have the Friday after Thanksgiving off for the sensible reason that they don’t have Thanksgiving.)
Normally, I love joining these complaints. In most years, my household would be grouped among the Advent snobs. This is a group of elite, friendly Americans who hold onto the conviction that there are twelve days of Christmas, and they begin on Christmas Day. The debate rages in our set about whether to bag the season decor after twelve days, or whether the Christmas season lasts until Candlemas, which is February 2. Advent snobs get to believe that their complaints about ever-earlier Christmas commercialism is rooted in deep, liturgical principles that reflect the metaphysical order of the universe.
But not this year.
A few days after Halloween, my wife walked in and remarked on the Christmas decor at Target. I had noticed the Christmas titles creeping up on our streaming services too. And we could see Christmas coming upon us in all its red, green, and gold tinsel fury. Soon the Xmas earworms would be drilled into our heads — Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.” Soon would come the nights where the kids are falling asleep, and my dearest puts on the meandering, warm rom-com The Holiday. My wife noted those commercial displays that were “already” up, and paused before daring to say: “I don’t hate it.”
And surprising myself, I thought: I don’t either.
My daughter noticed the Xmas content creeping up and is starting to demand to watch “The Grinch.” We’re letting her. We’ve since been doing informal, totally anecdotal surveys among friends, colleagues, and even Advent snobs, and our suspicion is that we’re far from alone. Our change of mood seems to be more general. Lots of people are letting go of their resistance and letting at least a little bit of Christmas come to their homes early.
And honestly, I think it has to do with our politics and social-media culture. We’ve had four years of Donald Trump and hatred of Donald Trump, culminating in this impeachment. Surely if you use Facebook or some other social-media tool, you’ve worried about a friend or family member who seems to be losing their mind, one way or another, over politics.
And the commercialism of Christmas seems almost like a relief from the commercialism of social media. At some point the hobbyists and amateurs who made the internet a fun place to share information were crowded out by the professional “influencers,” people who make their living turning their home rehabs, their electronics hobbies, and their passion for fashion into merely commercial pursuits.
At least the commercialism of Christmas carries within it news of “joy” and “goodwill to men.” And in a time of great change, it offers us stodgy, solid traditions. In a dark mood, it blares in with a message of light. The Victorian-era residue on Christmas points us away from our meritocratic striving and our ceaseless pursuits of distinction. It reminds us to do charitable works, and to share our blessings with the poor, the less fortunate. It points east, with the giddy rumor of some great outburst of hope and a promise of peace.
So let it come. Break out the jazzy crooner Christmas albums. Deck the halls, find a new recipe for Chestnut soup. Let the women put on those cheesy rom-coms. And let a little of the joy come early. I think we need it.