It seems we have a new holiday tradition in America: Starting off the season with a loud and nasty argument about the supposed diminishment of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’ve screamed at each other over Christmas trees on government property, complained about preferred holiday greetings – Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays – and carped that Christmas music starts too early on the radio.
This year’s kerfuffle is over shopping on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart plans to open at 6 p.m. with other retailers including Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and J.C. Penney following suit at 8 p.m. Why break with tradition and open on Thanksgiving this year? Probably because there are six fewer days than last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Critics fear this development will diminish Thanksgiving by forcing store employees to leave the dinner table for work and enticing the rest of us to forego sitting on the sofa in a post-turkey stupor with Grandma and Uncle Joe in favor of bargain hunting at Wal-Mart.
Maybe. But the stores seem to be giving us what we want. Of the 140 million people that plan to begin their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, 33 million people (about 24 percent) plan to get started on Thanksgiving. And they are going to need every minute of that shopping time, it seems. The average shopper will spend about $704 on Christmas gifts this season, according to a Gallup poll. About 26 percent of Americans say they will spend $1,000 or more. The total amount spent on Christmas this year is projected at close to $600 billion.
Here’s my advice to those who fret about the commercialization and diminishment of the holidays: Accept that Christmas has grown beyond its origins as a Christian celebration to become many things to many people. It is an important commercial event. It is a mid-winter festival enjoyed by many non-Christians. It has become an overly long, often tacky event.
But the true Christmas – your Christmas — exists in your heart and the hearts of those you love. You can’t undo the modern Christmas season. We aren’t going back to the holiday depicted in the movie “A Christmas Story” or in the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.”
All you can do is borrow a philosophy from Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world. If you think Christmas is too much about spending and buying, reduce your spending and buying. Set a modest gift-giving budget and stick to it. Give homemade presents. Pare your gift list to only those who truly matter. Give small, meaningful presents. My brother is a musician. I know that he would rather get an inexpensive but fulfilling piece of sheet music than a costly gadget that he will hardly use.
But here’s the really tough one: Cut back on how much you give your kids. What message are you sending when you (and your extended family) bury the children in a tidal wave of gifts? Probably not the one you want them to embrace. Besides, in my experience, if you give a child one or two gifts that they really want, everything else under the tree is superfluous, even a distraction.
If you believe the holidays are about sharing your blessings – do it! Take some of the money you’d otherwise spend on presents and use it to support a worthy cause. Be a smart giver; check out your intended beneficiaries at charitynavigator.com or charitywatch.org. You might also consider volunteering as a family to help a favorite charity or non-profit. Want to make a real impact? Don’t just show up on Thanksgiving; commit to helping out on a regular basis year-round.
The “War on Christmas?” Let it go. Act on your beliefs, keep family and friends close and you’ll have a wonderful holiday season – regardless of how nutty things are at North Point Mall and the world around you.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.