I’m troubled by Christmas. Have been for some time.
Christmas should be a high point in the year for Christian people. Although the date is likely all wrong, and the sequence of events like the arrival of the Magi all wrong, it is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, 2000 years ago (2000 is close enough, because we apparently have the accuracy of that wrong as well).
I wondered how the whole thing got started… did the early church celebrate an anniversary of the birth of Christ, or was it started somewhere in the Middle Ages? My trusty Google soon told me that a celebration in December dated back long before the birth of Christ, as once pagan traditions that still linger on– such as the Yule Log, use of trees, and giving of gifts. Late December is the darkest time of the year, and a festival was just the thing to break up that somber cold. About a hundred years after Christ, these practices were cleaned up by converting the celebration to one remembering the birth of Christ, but obviously some of the traditions stuck and keep on today.
We always think of Victorian times when we think of the traditional Christmas: sleigh rides through the snowy streets, top hats and scarves, plumb pudding and Bob Cratchet– and the occasional Scrooge, of course, even then. The images still fill our Christmas cards, our movies, and even our decorating. The mood of the later 1800’s seemed the proper time for Christmas—carolers, families coming together, candles in the trees.
There weren’t any malls then. At least I rather doubt it. While a couple of horses and sleighs might have arrived at the butchers at the same time, and a couple of people might both have designs on the large goose hanging in the shop window, I don’t think the stress compared to getting in (and out of) Costco any time in December, any hour of the day.
Somehow we allowed the merchants to get a firm hold on Christmas and manipulate it as they wished. Many of the mall shops know that a major percentage of their year’s sales will come in the weeks leading up to Christmas… for some, their business could fail after a poor time in those weeks. The advertising is on us hot and heavy: television, newspaper, magazines, and billboards. For a time it was strong in pushing the latest toys for children, but that has pulled back, only due to government regulation designed to intercept the desire to brainwash the children into “needing” the latest fad that the toymaker could devise. Ads for toys on TV now seem to be centered on “educational” items that suggest you can make little Johnny into the brain surgeon you hoped for by using the latest software or interactive toy to channel him well ahead of the rest of his friends.
I know the women who read my columns (and they are likely the majority) might bristle at my drawing any conclusions from the “data” I’ll mention next, but an analysis of something as simple as the list of stores in the average mall yields interesting stuff.
Take the famous MicMac Mall in Dartmouth, for example, for many years the site for Halifax area Christmas shopping, now eclipsed by Bayer’s Lake big box stores, and the new Dartmouth Crossing shopping area. Once as well the home for a local icon of Christmas, “Woody the Talking Christmas Tree”, a shrine that almost all HRM children had to visit some time in the season. A Facebook site this year, “R.I.P. Woody the Talking Christmas Tree”, commemorates the mall decision to call Woody a safety concern and send his rosy cheeks to the local dump. As of today, some 10,233 Facebook addicts have joined the memorial group.
I digress… let’s take a look at the list of stores in MicMac mall. Coming in the backdoor of my investigation first (and the women know where I’m headed), there are seven listed “men’s wear” stores in MicMac Mall. Nary a single Canadian Tire, NAPA Auto Parts, or Home Hardware. Other than the food courts, men wander the halls aimlessly, more aimlessly than usual in the Christmas weeks, sometimes armed with little lists in feminine writing, easy marks for enterprising saleswomen who somehow create the illusion that with the garments laid out on the counter or dangled in front of them, their wives could closely resemble the chic salesclerk on a good day. How many toasters do we have anyway? Zellers is a safe bet for the uncertain male.
There are thirty-three stores listed as “women’s wear” at MicMac Mall. A further eight are listed as “fashion accessories”. To fill out the needs even further, six are listed as “cosmetics and beauty”, and four as “hair stylists” (who admittedly likely have a small male clientele). Most frightening of all, but sometimes the easiest locations for male Christmas shoppers, are the seven that are listed as “jewelry stores”.
In the entire mall, there is only one listed drugstore, and one nutrition store… not places that will benefit too much from the Christmas frenzy, not obviously of great commercial interest for the rest of the year either.
If we total our data, we would have our seven stores aiming at the male market (or at least where the wives take their husbands when they are tired of their old suits), and some fifty-eight aimed at the female market. Other stores in the mall are not aimed at particular genders.
I don’t know where I’m going with this, other than getting myself in trouble, but dear reader, in a quiet moment ponder what significance you can find in that data. Surely it reveals something about our modern world, and even about Christmas shopping. Salesmen of the world have taken particular aim at our women, and apparently not without cause.
But the day approaches… the lights are on already, the decorations are being put up, and we (at least me—perhaps you are just enjoying the shopping) search for some significance in the whole thing. I’ve done it for years, but never found it, at least not enough of it to quiet the clamor of parking lots, shopping, wrapping, opening, searching for receipts, and finally paying for the whole thing.
I hear people everywhere complaining about the “materialism” of Christmas, but I don’t see anyone really doing anything about it. I think they feel if we take the materialism away, we might find that we are left with nothing, and I guess that is more troublesome in the dark of winter than joining a checkout lineup that extends halfway through the store at Costco.
It’s said that on Christmas Eve, if you sneak out, you might find the animals kneeling in the fields and stalls, in reverence to the Birth. I don’t know. The only animals we have around here are our cats, and three fat raccoons that stand and paw at our patio door demanding peanut butter sandwiches. With a deep snow by Christmas, they should be snoring pleasantly in burrows at the base of trees somewhere in our Evergreen Forest– though I recall that one little fellow named Spike did appear at the door on Christmas Eve a few years ago. I don’t think he was on a search for the Christ Child… caught up as well in the materialism of the time, I think he just got up for another peanut butter sandwich.