Medium: The seven shopping weeks of Christmas


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Before Iowa City’s witches, ghouls, risqué cops, and naughty nurses put away their costumes and candy pails this past Oct. 31, the Coralville Wal-Mart was preparing to inject shoppers with a hefty dose of holiday cheer.

While the store kept a modest number of Halloween items on display for any last-minute shoppers, it had set its sights on a new holiday. No, not Thanksgiving, the next calendar holiday, but instead the perhaps more lucrative upcoming celebration — Christmas.

And with two weeks left until Thanksgiving, to say nothing of the 42 days left before Christmas, more area retailers have joined the fray. In addition to sales displays, holiday decorations have suddenly sprung up in local shopping centers. Both the Coral Ridge and Old Capitol malls have gotten pre-emptively festive, prompting me to wonder if an early visit from Mall Santa is soon to follow.

I used to love Christmas. Being with my family, sharing gifts, and trying to watch as much of the annual 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story as possible brought all the joy the holiday was meant to offer.

Now, as retailers and the media seem all too eager to shove “Jingle Bells” and tacky reindeer decorations down my throat, I count down the days to Dec. 26 — when I know I won’t have to worry about Christmas for another full year.

Even just five years ago, the Christmas “season” didn’t begin until the day after Thanksgiving, when Black Friday traditionally sends droves of shoppers clamoring for the hottest deals.

As the idea (and the profits) caught on, the day grew more hectic — even dangerous — for shoppers and store employees. Then the economy shrank, and that lone day appeared to no longer be the panacea for retail woes.

So, the season has been extended. Black Friday became a week and then a month, as retailers have begun to pipe Christmas music and cheer through store airwaves earlier every year. And the media have been all too happy to play along, pimping the holidays for retailer and spectator alike.

But at what cost?

Even outside of the religious celebrations of Christmas, the holiday season used to be sacred. It was a time for being with family, for putting away troubles and relaxing. In the quest for profits, however, the commercialized December holiday has lost the cheer and goodwill that it used to bring, and Thanksgiving has become all but an afterthought, just another milestone on the way to more Christmas shopping.

Instead of celebrating with our fellow man, we have begun to elbow him aside as we fight over the last low-priced flat-screen TV on the store shelf. People are filled with panic and woe as they try to find the perfect gift for the person who already has everything that retailers have told them to buy.

A season of joy has turned into a season of despair.

I used to be on the bandwagon that believed the end of Thanksgiving meant it was time for Christmas. But now that Christmas lasts for three months instead of one day, it’s hard to get into the spirit at all.

When Christmas shopping comes in October, by the time the actual holiday rolls around all the promise it once brought is gone — and we can’t wait for it to be over.

On that day, the quest for gifts and the months-long Christmas music marathon finally end, and I can truly enjoy time spent with my family before the next semester of school begins.

The most wonderful time of year?

I don’t think so.

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