Saturday, November 26, 2005

Michael: The Modern Holiday Season

The Holiday Season, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, have become increasingly less public or civic affairs and more a rare opportunity to connect with family in an increasing hectic and overworked nation, even as the meaning and purpose of the Holidays are being increasingly commercialized.

In some ways, the Holiday Season reminds me of Medieval Feast Days, whose purpose was ostensibly religious, but were really a reason to not work, eat a lot and get drunk for people who were chronically overworked. Our Holiday Season functions in the much the same fashion for our society. Like the Medieval festivals, our Holiday Season allows us to engage in religious piety and civic solemnity with only as much sincerity as we care to provide, providing all the appropriate trappings and themes.

Just as some number of peasants who donned the green and danced the maypole were really just interested in making time with Helga from the farm down the road, not the religious significance of the ritual. Many today gorge on Halloween candy (I have noted a significant increase in adult trick or treaters in recent years), fill their bellies with turducken, rip open their presents on Christmas, and get blind drunk on New Years with no higher agenda than a hedonism among friends and family.

And that's fine. America is the hardest work industial nation in the world. We work longer hours, with higher productivity, at lower median wages, and with less vacation and benefits than most other Western nations; we need a break now and then.

What is sad about the Holiday Season, however, is the extent to which these celebrations have become central, not just to our culture, but to our economy. A bad Cristmas season can ruin a retailer's year. When an expectation of excess is built into the nation's fiancial life, the result can only be disappointment.

The marketing blitz that accompanies the Holiday Season detracts from any remaining magic in the Season. Surely, you, too, have been annoyed when the Holloween theme goes up in August and cycles through Thanksgiving and then Christmas for the remainder of the year. When corporate America starts demanding that I celebrate in the approved fashion, preferably going into debt to do so, I find it much easier to "bah, humbug!"

But then family members I haven't seen in months come to town, friends stop by to visit with greater frequency, I get a little paid time off, I gain a few pounds, and a little corporate hypocrisy seems a small price to pay.

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