Paul Batura: 'Christmas creep' is driven by more than money

Americans don’t have to look too long or too hard these days to find signs of Christmas many months before even the first leaf of autumn falls.

From big-box stores like Costco to specialty retailers such as Hobby Lobby, holiday displays begin popping up each summer, sometimes almost a half a year prior to the traditional yuletide festivities.

Once upon a time, retailers stuck to a more conservative and restrained promotional schedule. Decades ago, it would have been rare to see Christmas displays in stores prior to Thanksgiving, let alone before Halloween. It’s now common.

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Given how much businesses depend on holiday shopping (well over $720 billion in 2018) for their overall financial well-being, it goes to reason that it’s the retailers themselves who are responsible for extending the Christmas shopping season beyond its historical November-December timeframe.

But I’m not convinced it’s that easily explained. In fact, such a “rap” is nothing new.

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In the 1947 Christmas classic, "Miracle on 34th Street" (I watch it every year), you might remember a favorite scene where the newly minted Kris Kringle is suiting up inside Macy’s employee locker room. Santa Claus, played perfectly by the late Edmund Gwenn, is lamenting to janitor Alfred that the spirit of Christmas has been hijacked by big business, specifically the store’s toy buyer.

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With a broom in one hand, the good-natured Alfred, played by Alvin Greenman, almost sounds like a modern-day Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., socialist, thick Brooklyn accent and all.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms floatin’ around this world,” he groans. “But one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same – don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.”

Of course money plays a role in “Christmas creep." But retailers can only try to sell; it’s the customers who buy, and by doing so validate (or reject) certain business practices.

So, what’s really at the heart of our fascination and draw to all things Christmas, even on a sweltering summer’s day?

It’s fascinating (and encouraging) to me that despite culture growing increasingly secular, a major religious holiday continues to tug at people’s hearts.

I think there are a few reasons, not the least of which is that people are eager to be happy and the holidays always promise to deliver some much-needed cheer. Deep down we want to believe that Andy Williams was right after all when he suggested in song that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The wildly popular Hallmark Christmas movie franchise is another indicator of where people are psychologically these days. Cynics and snobs love to lampoon the predictably formulaic fare, but the Kansas City based empire merrily skips unabashedly along, aware that in a world full of bad news, there are many of us who are drawn to the prospect of happily ever after.

Is there any harm to seeing more twinkling lights and hearing Christmas music earlier and earlier – especially if it makes people happier in the process?

I think it’s reasonable to ask why people seemingly need their “Christmas fix” earlier – kind of like why instead of just taking pain medication every day it’s good to figure out why you’re hurting in the first place.

Like anything else, it’s probably many things. Misfortune and misery come in many forms, from untimely death to loneliness to family struggles, poor health and work frustrations. If Christmas elicits warm feelings, it makes sense to draw from its reservoir of good tidings sooner than later.

But it’s fascinating (and encouraging) to me that despite culture growing increasingly secular, a major religious holiday continues to tug at people’s hearts.

Could it be because we’re all (whether we acknowledge it or not) spiritual beings, yearning to understand who we are, why we’re here – and what we’re supposed to do with the time we’re given?

Do people really think life is some random cosmic happenstance and that everything we see, hear, feel, smell and touch emanated from primordial ooze?

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The upcoming (or ongoing) Christmas season is a good time to wrestle with those important questions. That’s because Christianity teaches God sent His only son to earth in the form of a helpless baby on Christmas to help us make sense of the seemingly senseless – and show us the way to everlasting life.

Truth be told, we’re all creeping along in some form or fashion – but by embracing the true spirit of Christmas, my limp will one day become a leap.

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