Halloween snuck up on my family again this year. A new baby, a child entering college, a late start to homeschool, and the ever-present demands of work and family just about pushed the whole thing out of our minds. We were going to do a family theme: the Skojecs as the Avengers for Halloween. It was perfect. I’m roughly three times the size of everyone else, so I was going to be the Hulk. With four boys in a row, we had options for our core heroes. One of the babies was destined to be Ant-Man. It all sounded so good on paper.
Alas, this is not how things came to pass. A fun idea, but not any kind of a priority, Halloween planning fell by the wayside. Instead of a grandly-coordinated effort to impress the neighbors, I wound up at Wal-Mart at 8PM on Halloween night as we scrounged the remaining costumes for something workable for our 9-year-old girl so at least she had something. No, you’re not going to be a skeleton. No, you’re not going in a boy’s prison jump suit. (I was proud of her for not even asking about the trampy costumes.)
We wound up skipping trick-or-treating. Instead, we settled for a party at home involving our partially-assembled costumes, a few bags of only the candy we really wanted — no Smartees, Tootsie Rolls, or non-descript taffy wrapped in orange wax paper — and a movie. It was a good enough plan.
So to fulfill Plan B, I finished the Wal-Mart excursion by seeking out the requisite candy. And that’s when I wound up having to buy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in a Christmas-themed wrapper, because on Halloween night, that was all they had.
Let me stop right here and say it: I love Christmas. Love it. It is now, and has always been, my favorite time of the year. And though I have little doubt many of you will give me grief for it, I’ll admit to being a willing victim to a certain degree of Christmas commercialism. (Suzan Sammons ably described a more virtuous approach to the season, if you’d like some ideas on how to be better than I am – and trust me, the bar is low.) I’d apologize, but I am who I am. I have long failed to treat Advent as a penitential season in the way that a proper Catholic should. Saying I grew up that way is a poor excuse, I know, but there’s some incredibly strong nostalgia involved. Give me old stop-motion movies about Rudolph and Yukon Cornelius, at least one run-through of Elf and A Christmas Story, premature Christmas-parties, gingerbread house-building competitions, frequent musical recourse to Christmas classics by Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Bublé, and as much conceivable time as possible for a real, naturally pine-scented Christmas tree to be set up in my living room without starting a brush fire, and I am one seriously happy camper.
Christmas turns me into a kid again. Every time I come down in the dark of the morning and plug in the lights on the tree, I’m seven years old again, finding a Joust! Atari cartridge in my stocking, Star Wars action figures wrapped in Santa-print paper amidst an awe-inspiring array of packages, and marveling at the new sled, too big to conceal with anything but a bow or even fit beneath the tree. It’s not the point of Christmas, but I always loved getting presents. And now that I have children of my own, I love giving them – especially the ones I pick out for my boys so I can play with them – helloooo, remote-controlled helicopter!! I like going to the Christmas Eve Mass, Handel’s Messiah blasting on the car stereo, getting home at 2AM and wrapping the rest of the presents until I’m so tired I can’t see straight while drinking something delicious and boozy and knowing that it’s all worth it to see those little faces come into the room and the morning and realize there’s so much more cool stuff under the tree than there was when they went to bed.
And on Christmas day, we just hang out, eat, and play. Like no other day all year. (Except the day after Christmas, when I have my wife’s leftover rib roast with whatever bottle of wine I didn’t open yet for breakfast, and then play all day. This is the best thing.)
Yes, I know that I’m that guy. The guy who is tainted by the consumerization of Christmas. Yes, I’m aware that I’m getting the traditional Catholic approach to Christmas all wrong. Forgive me Father, for I’m a child of the 80s. But if you ask those who know me, my natural tendency is to be a grumpy, stressed out, difficult guy. This ritual, this tradition, the sparkling lights and the intricate ornaments and the smell of blue spruce and the crinkle of paper and the whirring of little toy motors – these make me so profoundly happy that I won’t let anyone wreck it for me. I continue to believe I can keep the Christ in Christmas while also keeping the fun in there, too. Christmas is my holiday. If I could force it to snow every year just so it would be picture perfect, I’d do it. Every time. All the better for hot cocoa and a roaring fire.
Christmas is, therefore, a delicate fusion of past and present, of nostalgia and anticipation, of memories and expectation. Like the dance of some sugarplum fairy, it unwinds with fragility and grace, and it DOES NOT DO SO BEFORE HALLOWEEN. At the very earliest, it begins with the (now almost-unwatchable) Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade — another time-honored tradition in my family — and its assortment of Christmas-themed floats. (If they keep making it gayer, I’m going to have to start watching Miracle on 34th Street as a substitute.)
So despite my willing embrace of certain aspects of Chrismtas commercialization, I think Christmas creep is a real problem. Every year, the retailers start pimping their Christmas wares earlier and earlier. This year, Christmas started to show up in the stores before the leaves were even off the trees. I was wearing shorts, because it was still 80 degrees. This is not acceptable. This is just…wrong.
I know times are hard. I know people have to make a living. But for heaven’s sake, find another way. This should not need to happen:
The collection of special days — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day — that Americans have taken generically to referring to as “The Holidays” are like a reward for getting through yet another long and difficult year. They mean lowered expectations at work. Company parties at nice restaurants. Driving home when it’s too cold, and too dark. They mean time off spent with family and friends. They signal a change in season, an ending before a new beginning. They feel good when they happen on time – almost like you’ve earned it. They don’t mean nearly as much when they are forced on us prematurely.
You can — and should — make liturgical arguments to not get all jumpy with the decking of your halls. You can — and should — remind people that Christmas doesn’t really start until the big day, and that trees shouldn’t come down until after the Epiphany – or after the Superbowl, if you’re me, and you just want to hold on a little bit longer.
But you don’t need to be a liturgist or a historian or even particularly religious to recognize that things have gone too far. No Christmas in October. No Christmas before Thanksgiving. No, No, No!
Knock it off retailers. Don’t ruin it for us, or you’re going to get coal in your earnings reports.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.
This article was like looking in a mirror! You summarized exactly how I view the holidays and how it felt to grow up in the 80’s. You’re right on the money about Christmas getting pushed into Halloween and even earlier. It’s nauseating, even for someone who loves Christmas like me!
That more or less sums up my view. I grew up as a Baptist (as a kid of
the ’80s and ’90’s), and didn’t know anything about Advent until I
became Catholic in 1997. So I pretty much celebrated Christmas before it
actually arrived. But even as a kid and non-Catholic, I didn’t think
about “Christmas season” starting before Black Friday….
The following quote by Chesterton was written in 1908. I can just imagine what he would be thinking today!
“There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of
celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article.
It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one
brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and
the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant
you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the
next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together
like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am
assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you
celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on
the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of
course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the
English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you
festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite
clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the
old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect
that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before
the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children were
never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed
hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of
which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally
stuck. I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern
Christmas ceremonies and publications. Especially it ought to be
observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of
magazines. The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas
numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be
still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously
settled down to a solid anticipation of the turkey which is to come.
Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and
kept for Christmas Day. On consideration, I should favour the editors
being tied up in brown paper. Whether the leg or arm of an editor
should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.” (“All Things Considered”)
Amen. A related awful phenomenon are the radio stations that switch to an all Christmas music starting after Halloween. What. The. Heck?
Being a convert, I’m still getting the swing of Advent, even 16 years after converting. But there’s something to be said for a period of preparation, a slow-run-up to the Nativity. Even if we do trim the tree and put out the Nativity Scene (sans the Divine Child) before Christmas proper.
And the fact there’s a season following Christmas Day has done wonders for my own post-Christmas blahs–I don’t feel the same empty-it’s-really-over? feeling I did before I became Catholic.
All in proper order and proportion, people. And we wonder why we have so many problems.
Talk about past memories. When you mentioned Smarties I thought back to my toddler daughter who would call them “Marshies”. Smarties always bring this memory up and puts a smile on my face. Happy Thanksgiving.
I agree with your thoughts on Christmas. The only thing I would sadly disagree with, with much regret, is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Back in MY day, it was a real parade, and I miss THAT parade, every year. What they have now is a horror compared to what they did have. Let me school you just so you know.
It started at 9:00 a.m. There were no “celebrity” anchors, no Matt Lauer, etc. They were just nice people who seemed to really enjoy seeing Americana on display. There was no commentary making sure to pay homage to multiculturalism, gender theory, diversity, or other annoying buzz words and concepts that have ruined so much of American life. Sure, there was the bit of commercialism, but nothing like today where half-dressed men, women, whatever, kick up their heels in some Broadway sampler, lip synching to songs you’d just as soon not hear. No. We heard about Frosty the Snowman, and heard something else that nobody could make any money off of, lots and lots of high school bands! They might even have played the majority of a whole SONG and here’s the amazing part, nobody interrupted. There was nothing R-rated, nothing you’d have to worry about, nothing that offended your sensibilities. Less talk, more huge turkeys, clowns, happy characters, wonderful floats, and families, lining the street as they passed. No commercials for programs you wouldn’t let the kids watch, or for that matter, care to see yourself. I don’t remember specifically, but I’m sure we heard Christmas carols and there were direct references to Christmas and the fact that the Christ-child was coming. Back in my day, late 60’s, early 70’s, we still had all that as part of the culture and nobody batted an eye.
No, it was wonderful, and when Santa came down that street on his sleigh, THAT is what kicked off the Christmas season and got things going for Christmas.
And then the ACLU happened. And here we are.
And may I add, Macy’s is not the family friendly store they once were, not by a longshot. In fact, they are so bad I stopped using my Macy’s card and don’t shop there any longer.
Ah, bring back the days!
The last time we went to a Christmas parade was 13 years ago when my eldest was two. They had Hare Krishna’s in the parade??? I remember thinking ‘what has this parade got to do with Christmas?’ We haven’t bothered to go back since. Goodness knows what they’d have now. Don’t want to even think about it.
Advent is close. We ought to be focused on the penitential period of Advent. Christmas doesn’t begin until the evening before the 25th December, continuing in its main part, to 6th January, the Epiphany. Growing up, we fasted on Christmas Eve. All the fast days need to be made mandatory again.
“we fasted on Christmas Eve.” We still do until full Christmas Eve dinner (no meat, only fish). Then Midnight Mass.
You have dinner on Christmas Eve? But how can one fast and have dinner on the same day? Christmas doesn’t begin till midnight when one could go to Christmas Mass. Of course, now Christmas Masses of anticipation start from early evening of Christmas Eve.
Yes, that’s how we celebrated in Poland and most of the Europe, that is those countries not influenced by British (protestant) customs. As a matter of fact, I knew some South Americans who also had that special Christmas Eve dinner. Also, I used to have a Lutheran friend from Germany. Imagine, she too was celebrating Christmas Eve dinner. You might want to google “oplatek,” which apparently makes its inroads into the American Christmas (I’m in Western Australia).
Thanks for all the information. It’s very interesting. I have Polish friends here in Ireland but I didn’t think they ate just a few hours prior to Midnight Mass. It’s strange to me as I was always taught that one never celebrated any Catholic Feast nor ate before the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I think it would be much better to go back to the overnight fast for reception of the Blessed Sacrament. One hour is not a fast and doesn’t show sufficient awe and spiritual preparation for reception of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass itself. God bless.
If you are in Ireland and are Irish, I would think that although you beautiful Catholics resisted the British, you still had been influenced by some of their customs such as Christmas celebrations. I don’t fast one hour, I fast three as I was taught when preparing for my First Holy Communion. The Polish are different than the current western “catholics.” Even today, they abstain from receiving when in sin. You can see it clearly when going to Mass on any Sunday. There is no “massive pilgrimage line” with outstretched hands.
Wigilia (Vigil in Polish). It’s been kept in tradition in the past generations. My very, very devout Catholic grandmother kept it (she was born before 1900s), her grandmother kept it. The tradition is Catholic through and through:
Do you receive at Midnight Mass?
Yes. With dinner around 5:30/6 pm, there is time to fast before the Communion. The Church prescribes to 1 hour fast before the Mass, I keep mine for 3 hours. Also, the presents are unpacked before the Midnight Mass. Note, this is a custom also kept by my friends from Germany and from Switzerland. I am Polish.
I love this Steve – I feel like I could have written this myself. The line about the Thanksgiving Day parade had me cracking up! It’s nice to know there is another Catholic out there whose experience is (and was) like mine. This brought back a lot of memories for me, and made me smile.
We had Santa ‘in store’ today apparently! Who knew he’d be out and about so early.
In Australia Halloween has stopped the creep of Christmas a little, though it’s a minor celebration here in comparison to the US, but Thanksgiving we don’t have so there’s nothing to hold them back.
We put an ‘Advent’ banner up in our front window during Advent, which get’s changed to ‘Merry Christmas’ for the Christmas season. It’s our small part to let people know, on our street at least, when each season starts and ends.
I’m planning a blog post for our plans for Advent/Christmas which I would have loved to have shared if I had completed it. But for any families interested in Advent traditions might I recommend a couple of websites:
Oh, and I guess I can share a post from last year. Nothing like seeing Batman wearing Darth Vaders helmet while stuck on top of an advent candle 😉
http://thewildestofadventures.blogspot.com.au/2014/12/around-our-home-this-advent.html (scroll down for it)
We will be doing the Jesse Tree again this year too. It is a lovely preparation for adults and children alike.
“In Australia Halloween has stopped the creep of Christmas a little” – try September where I live.
I thought the Christmas season began at Advent and ended at Candlemas (February 2).?
In my young years in Poland, we decorated Christmas Tree on the Vigil just before the Christmas Eve dinner. We kept the Tree until February 2. The shops and malls here in Australia put up some Christmas things in September! The season has started already full swing and all will be gone on January 2, because school year starts in February. I remember my sons friends coming to our home and making huge eyes when they saw the Christmas Tree late in January 🙂
Great post, Mr. Skojec. We put our tree up as close to Christmas as possible. The Advent wreath goes up on the First Sunday of Advent and the Nativity scene goes up at the same time, usually without the Baby Jesus until Christmas Eve. We keep the Nativity set up until February 2.