A break from Christmas 'tradition'
"Christmas, the one-day holiday, has expanded to fill the whole fourth quarter of the retail year," Expatica's blogger writes.
"Everything is bigger in America."
I've heard more than one Belgian make this comment. And it's true — from the size of our country, cars and skyscrapers to our homes, highways and stores, everything is bigger in America. I'm ashamed to add that includes our personal debt and our behinds.
Those last two are not entirely our fault. Americans have been conditioned by evil geniuses in manufacturing and retailing to consume, consume, consume! Shopping is the backbone of our economy and it's almost considered unpatriotic not to participate in this national sport of acquisition.
At no time of year is this more evident than at Christmas — which is the ultimate season for consumption, much to the delight of the economists looking for a fabulous end-of-year finish.
Christmas, the one-day holiday, has expanded to fill the whole fourth quarter of the retail year. Holiday items first appear in stores in September and the official shopping season opens at least a month before December 25.
In America, the last Thursday in November is Thanksgiving, the time we are all supposed to thank Almighty God for the blessings in our life. This celebration of thankfulness for what we already HAVE doesn't lend itself readily to commercialization, and thus this humble holiday has been transformed from a day of appreciation and family togetherness to the official launch of the season of excess: Christmas.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, people queue up in the pre-dawn cold outside their favorite retailers waiting for the doors to open on gigantic sales that will only last a few hours, from say 6am until 9am.
Each year the media cover the 'door buster sales' like a sporting event, interviewing the 'players' and giving blow-by-blow descriptions of their successes and failures in getting their carts loaded and purchases rung up in record time.
Meanwhile, back at home, the men of the family, who normally don't engage in the feeding frenzies at the shopping centers, face their own challenges. They are typically in charge of the outdoor light displays.
With energy to burn, Americans feel obligated to spend hours outlining everything outside the house in lights: rooflines, gutters, trees, and walks. If this isn't enough, some buy giant figures to light up as well.
It's the man's job to drag all of the supplies out of storage, untangle all the cords, test the circuits, replace the broken bulbs and risk life and limb on ladders while decorating his not-so-humble abode. There's normally a lot of cursing involved.
By the time the missus comes staggering home from the shopping Olympics, every one is a bit grumpy, but pretending to be happy in the name of holiday cheer.
Over the course of the remaining days of the weekend, the tree will go up, there will be more shopping and every flat surface of the home's interior will be cluttered with knick-knacks and greenery and all that glitters.
If one accomplishes all the events in the pre-Christmas decathlon, one is exhausted. If one fails to do so, one is stressed with the effort of catching up with one's neighbors who have already plugged in their lights and prominently displayed their holiday decorations.
To make matters worse, in between all the shopping and decorating, we're supposed to be attending school and community events and parties, baking and helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Celebrating Christmas is like taking on a second job.
I wish I could say I've been immune to the madness, but that wouldn't be quite true. No, I've never participated in the after-Thanksgiving shopping brawls, but I've done much of the rest.
When holiday depression instead of joy came knocking on my door a few years ago, I began downsizing my own celebration, refusing to run the holiday gauntlet or apologize for not baking cookies or hosting parties.
I will not sprint through December, jostle for position, or queue up at the stores. Instead, I will amble through Advent and arrive at Christmas with everyone else on December 25.
I've pulled out some candles and set up my nativity set. I've put a green tablecloth on the table and filled a bowl with potpourri, but all the other holiday decorations are tucked away and waiting.
The Christian liturgical season of Advent, which begins four weeks before Christmas, is all about waiting. It is not a time to celebrate the birth of Christ but to reflect on His eventual return. Traditional churches don't hang the greens until dusk on Christmas Eve, and a generation or two ago, Christmas trees didn't show up in people's homes until then as well.
I'd like to say theology is at the root of my life-in-the-slow lane approach to all things Christmas, but that would be giving me more credit than I deserve. Like mothers the world over, I'm a bit tired. Plus, having orchestrated more than 20 Christmas celebrations in my adult life, I've learned from experience that less is indeed more.
Now that I'm here in Belgium, I can feel good about my leisurely pace. No one here appears to be in a hurry to make the holidays happen far in advance of the big day. My neighborhood isn't lit like a carnival. There aren't many wreaths in sight. No one is turning shopping into an extreme sports event. All is calm and not too bright.
I'm fully at peace in my village this dark December, waiting quietly for lights to shine in the night, convinced that the holidays, in due time, will be merry indeed. I can honestly say I'm happy to be thousands of miles away from America.
I'm at home in the heart of Europe. Tonight, I don't feel like an expatriate at all.
V-Grrrl / Expatica
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