Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting a seasonal fix

I made my first foray down to the supermarket since before Halloween to get some ingredients for homemade chili.  It's November 6th, not even a full week after binging on horror movies and left over trick-or-treat candy, and you could already hear the Christmas music blaring from the building while still in the parking lot.  Nothing new, I suppose.  Also not new; news articles, TV editorials, and blog entries (of which, of course, this is one) which mock, deride, or otherwise note how quickly merchants seek to capitalize on the on very profitable holiday season.

I'm not going mock it, though.  I just wanted to note that although the early arrival and increasing length of the season seems to be universally scorned, the majority of folks seem to either roll with it or actually enjoy it when they get to the store or mall.  What's overlooked is that stores wouldn't do it if it drove away customers.  I, of course, have my own theories as to why that's the case.

Remember Christmas the way it really was!  I TRIPLE DOG
dare ya!
In the past couple of decades, we've been inundated with a wave of propaganda about the way the holiday season used to be.  How many times does It's a Wonderful Life play on TV between now and December 25th?  Or A Christmas Story?  Both movies present a simpler, idealized time with just enough familiarity to modern audiences to make them seem like real slices of life from days gone by.  Those fuzzy touch stones, some great acting and sparkling writing help us gloss over how treacly the stories really are.  Chronological distance makes them far more successful now than they ever were when they first came out.  Most people don't know that both movies actually didn't do so hot in the theaters when they first came out.  They only gained renown in the boom in cable channels back in the late 70s/early 80s.

I'm not dissing either of these films or any other movie, TV show or special that comes around again this time of year.  Heck, Dolores and I make it a point to sit down and watch both those flicks (along with her new favorite seasonal, Elf) at least once during the season, and I love throwing some Vince Guaraldi Trio on ITunes and putting up my reproduction of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.  There's a calming feeling from these old favorites that takes us back to a time that stands up better in our minds that it ever did in reality.  There's nothing wrong with that in moderation.

The problem is when we become so enamored to the semi-illusory past that it makes the present harder to bear.  Like a addict who enjoys his highs so much that the time between fixes decreases more and more, we lengthen the period of time in which it is socially acceptable to revel in our own personal mythologies because that beats dealing with our current lives.  I'm not knocking personal mythologies, either.  My own is a doozy, and it gets better with every year.  What I'm warning against is when we stack up our semi-fictionalized memories of the past against the objective reality of the present and decide we'd rather live in the past.  That's comparing apples to oranges and determining that bananas win.

I love the feelings that watching Jimmy Stewart, Darren McGavin, and Snoopy bring me each year, but they don't compare to the love of watching my children grow and make their own lives, or enjoying the peace and quiet of a cool November Saturday alone with my wife and dog while homemade chili simmers in the crock pot.  Those exist in the here and now.

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