In my last column I said that this year I’m not going to buy any presents between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Lest I get laid off from my job as the chaplain of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development, I had better explain myself.
I could blame marketers for the commercialization that has made it difficult for me to celebrate Christmas in a religious way. Marketers keep coming up with ever new ways to make a hallmark holiday out of nothing … in order, of course, to make more money for their clients. The ad industry has transformed the Feast of St. Valentine into a day when you had better give your honey roses and take her out to dinner – at a restaurant with linen napkins – or you are sleeping on the couch.
Marketers are so skilled at what they do that they’ve sold the idea of Christmas to Japan, a nation where most citizens practice a mix of Buddhism and Shintoism. When I was in Tokyo a few years ago in November, the lamp posts in the Ginza (that city’s version of Chicago’s Miracle Mile) were already decorated with red and white candy canes and plastic Santas.
But marketers are not holding guns to our heads. They don’t make us max out our credit cards. We’re the ones who make the ultimate choices.
I could blame the secular-liberal-humanist politicians who want to eliminate the words “In God We Trust” from our money, and ban prayer in public schools. But again, we are the ones who elect these people to represent us, and now more than ever elected officials read the latest public opinion polls before they vote.
No, if there is anyone or anything to blame, it’s the culture. It’s all of us together somehow. It’s like asking a fish where the water comes from to make the sea it’s swimming in.
One of the many things I admire about a lot of the Madison Street merchants is that they are trying to make a go of their boutique businesses on our main street because they want to be free from that very materialistic culture against which I am rebelling.
One shop owner was a lawyer. Another an accountant. Others were traders at the Merc. One was a teacher. Another a professor. Most are making less money now than they did in their “corporate” jobs and are working longer hours.
In the trade off they have built real relationships. I mean, when you walk into Accents by Fred, there’s a good chance the person who will greet you is actually Fred. In contrast, when I called one of the banks in town for a donation to the CROP Walk, I was given a phone number to dial. The person who answered was in the corporate headquarters in Cleveland. I didn’t get the donation.
The Madison Street merchants are still partially caught in the same system that they were trying to escape. If their year-end financial reports are going to be written in black ink, they have to push their merchandize, and hard, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s the way the system works.
If I were running things – you know the fantasy … if everyone finally acknowledged that I was right all along and now they would do what I say – I would tell the advertising business to shift its sales pitch from Christmas to Thanksgiving. If they can sell Christmas to Japanese Buddhists, this should be a piece of cake.
It makes perfect sense. We could go ahead and shop till we drop from Columbus Day until the fourth Thursday in November. Businesses would still make the profit they need to survive and their accountants could get the bulk of their work done a month earlier.
I finished almost all of my Christmas shopping on the day before Thanksgiving, and I did it all in Forest Park and the adjoining suburbs.
Until I am able to change the culture of the most prosperous nation on earth, my Plan B is to drink my coffee black this month and try to carve out some peaceful spaces to ponder a few mysteries money can’t buy.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.