Snyder: Christmas in November: Consumer culture can wait until after November

Stephen Snyder

I’m sure by now that everyone has noticed the snow falling, the decorations in the stores, the holiday music and possible the ugly sweater party invites. Yes, for many Americans, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. I, however, have noticed that the calendar says that we are still in the month of November. If you’re so far out in front of Christmas that you’re celebrating ahead of Thanksgiving or even ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” then I need you to drop the mistletoe, put away the wrapping paper and contain your excitement for a few more weeks.

I understand that holiday season is everyone’s favorite time of year—even though it brings along with it the frigid temperatures that make me wonder why I insist upon being Iowan—and we all see the holiday aisles go up in stores on Nov. 1, but when we make the holidays—specifically Christmas—a two month long event we steal the meaning from the celebration.

The meaning I am referring to is not the celebration of the birth of Christ. Though that is of course the recent historical justification for the holiday—despite the fact that scholars still widely debate the actual date of Christ’s birth and Christmas as we understand it is simply a stand in for the Roman holiday of Saturnalia—the holiday is now more of a cultural event than a religious one. I base this opinion on a 2013 study performed by the Pew Research Center which found that while 92 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, only 51 percent see it as “more of a religious holiday.”

That is due to the increasingly secular nature of our society, supported by that same Pew Research Center study which finds that only 39 percent of 18-29 year olds celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. That same age group—our age group, which represents the next round of parents and therefore will ultimately instill our values in the next generation—will be teaching the new meaning of Christmas, which may have unintended negative consequences.

The two month long celebration of Christmas is a by-product of commercial marketing schemes that know their most productive economic quarters line up with the winter holidays. They figured out the game a long time ago: the longer the holiday seasons, the fewer massive savings opportunities they have to offer. Both of those factors lead to higher profit margins which means more happy investors which all means more money. Don’t trade the spirit of the holidays for the spirit of materialism.

This year, Black Friday—which is these days a holiday unto itself—will begin as early as 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Nothing says “happy holidays” like trampling your fellow human beings to make sure you get the toy your kid wanted.

Please take a moment to appreciate the tragic irony of spending less time with your loved ones so that you can go buy gifts for your loved ones. Such are the sacrifices we make in a consumer culture, but it shouldn’t take a new pair of shoes to say “I love you, I’m glad you’re in my life.”

I am aware that what I am saying will make it seem like I can’t stand Christmas or that I am condemning the act of gift giving, so let me be clear: I do not hate Christmas and I don’t even hate the gifts. As much as I despise the consumer culture, I acknowledge that I am part of it. So I’m not trying to crush anyone’s holiday spirit, but instead ask that you channel it in the proper direction.

Remember what Christmas means to you beyond the gifts. Remember how it feels to sit your entire family down for just one day and be truly content with your life as it is. Remember that not everyone has the same privileges that you have and even might take for granted. Remember to be kind, and not just because Santa might be watching. Those are all things you can do without a tree or an ugly sweater. Happy holidays.