Since mid-November, I’ve felt unusually off-kilter. I feel awkwardly situated, as though I’m in the right place but at the wrong time or vice versa.
This is, I’m afraid, the direct result of having gone to the mall two weeks before Black Friday and discovering that Christmas had already arrived.
The mall itself and all of the stores were completely decorated, with holiday music piping over the speakers and a bored-looking Santa posing for selfies with his assistants because parents with small children had yet to get into the festive mood.
I am accustomed to a certain amount of chronological disorientation due to the nature of my work. I worked in the Telegraph’s newsroom for about ten years, and it was just a fact of life that you never knew what day of the week it was. You’re not only writing articles for the next day’s paper; you’re also working on pieces that will run a few days from now all the way up to a month or more in the future. Concepts like “Tuesday” only exist as deadlines, not actual states of being.
Now that I work for a magazine, it has only magnified my confusion in regards to time. Newspapers typically plan ahead in increments of days and weeks; magazines work several months ahead. I edited the December issues, with all of their Christmas content, back in September. Now that it’s finally December, I’m editing the March issues and mistakenly believing that warmer weather is just around the corner.
This temporal discombobulation is nothing, however, in comparison to the retail world welcoming Christmas before Thanksgiving. Younger Sister and I had ventured out to the mall to pick up Christmas hand soaps for a gift basket for a silent auction, and I must confess that our errand took longer than necessary due to my bewilderment. I simply could not get my mind around what I was seeing, and I kept stopping to gape at decorations and displays.
Entering the bath product store that sold the hand soaps was even more mind-boggling, with special holiday scents and gift sets having already taken the place of the non-seasonal inventory. There were so many Christmas items to choose from that I had to double check with one of the clerks to make sure I hadn’t overlooked any of the options.
The clerk was very helpful, but she looked as overwhelmed as I felt. I asked her how she felt about the premature holiday influx, and she admitted that it was a little disconcerting. But that, she said, is the direction retail is taking—getting the holiday merchandise out to shoppers as soon as possible, even if it means skipping another holiday in the process.
Don’t get me wrong—I adore Christmas. The spiritual significance of the holiday is paramount to me—my family’s Christmas dinner includes a birthday cake for Jesus (though we blow out the candles for Him). I also love the decorations, the lights, the music, and the emphasis on generosity and goodwill towards others that accompany the holiday.
But I also believe that the anticipation of a good thing is part of its enjoyment. Part of the reason that Christmas is special – indeed, that any holiday is special – is because it’s only celebrated for a limited period of time. If the celebration of Christmas was a year-round event, the ornaments and the prevalence of red and green would become a bit tiresome, just as even the hardiest New Englander welcomes a change of season after six months of snow.
Given the economic climate, however, and the fact that brick-and-mortar stores are trying to remain viable in the face of their online competitors, it’s hard to imagine Christmas returning to its normal time frame if these tactics prove successful. As someone who was able to assemble a Christmas gift basket for a silent auction two weeks earlier than anticipated, I must admit the early sales do have a certain usefulness.
So what, then, is the best way to combat the temporal disorientation that results from this bypassing of Thanksgiving?
When I worked in the Telegraph’s newsroom, we had metal racks labeled “Monday,” “Tuesday” and so forth that held the newspapers for that particular day of the week. My coworkers would walk over to the racks to get the day’s paper and, more often than not, freeze in confusion.
And so, I made a little sign that said “Today” and, after double checking the date on my computer, clipped the sign to the appropriate rack. Problem solved, at least in these particular circumstances.
I therefore propose that when stores set up for Christmas before Thanksgiving, they require their staff to wear large pins shaped like turkeys—the animal, that is, not the Thanksgiving dinner staple. That way, every time you interact with a store employee, you will be reminded that even though you’re buying hand soap that smells like gingerbread and candles that smell like holly wreaths, you still need to think about turkey with all the trimmings before you start trimming the tree.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Dec. 4, 2014.