While listening to the radio last week I heard an ad with the dreaded ‘C’ word: Christmas. It was some phone company or other because the voice stated that because of the low cost rates she had been able to ring all her friends for a Christmas chat. Quite frankly I think she’s fibbing as anyone who would call people at the beginning of November for a Christmas chat couldn’t possibly have that many friends. If any friend of mine tried it I would certainly question their mental health.
On the very same day I ran across this radio ad, festive items started to appear in the supermarket. I ignored them as best I could as it was only a few shelves worth but by the end of that week, with two toffee apples on sticks and a bag of monkey nuts still knocking around my fridge, there was a deluge of stuff suggesting that the season was upon us. I waded through a stack of holly leaved leaflets on the doormat each morning this week, I spotted several signs for real Christmas trees and the wrapping paper and decorations are available in abundance. I grumbled about this to a friend and he replied, “ah shure they’re tearing the arse out of Christmas these days.” I had to stop and think about that for a second. I’m not really sure if that’s the right expression but I know what he means.
We are being cheated out of November. By bringing Christmas this far forward it just makes you feel that the year is over when in fact there are many weeks left to go. It distorts time and plays with your mind. Popping into the supermarket for a pint of milk is like negotiating some strange parallel universe where it is Christmas while in my head we are nowhere near. It just feels wrong. It’s like putting up the Halloween stuff in August or buying Easter Eggs in January. There should be a government directive that the mere mention of Christmas, let alone a sea of tinsel, should be illegal until the last week of November at the earliest. No wonder everyone is weary from it by December 25. With such a drawn out lead up to any event it is inevitable that the whole thing loses its appeal and will always be an anti climax at best.
The final straw was the screening of Polar Express on RTE on Saturday evening last. It is without doubt a children’s Christmas movie and has no place on an early November schedule. While talking of kids, I also object to the television ads for toys, particularly on the dedicated children’s channels. The thrilling magic you see on the screen is never representative of the limp piece of plastic and all its miserable parts that fall out of the box on Christmas morning. As an adult you can spot the con instantly but children are easy prey. Studies have shown that children up to the age of five can find it difficult to distinguish between a programme and a commercial break and therefore can easily be led to ‘need’ something they see on television. The lines between programmes and ads blur even further when a toy range is linked to a television programme they are watching. It is very cynical and the child often believes a toy to be a lot more functional than it really is.
I speak from experience as I still have the psychological scars from the devastating disappointment of finding that my Buckaroo game didn’t, in fact, have a real kicking mule! The toy companies don’t even get the blame as all complaints are directed to the bearded man in the red suit at the North Pole. It’s nothing short of a stroke of genius on behalf of the advertisers. Of course they should be allowed to advertise but they should be made show the actual toy and not the fantasy version.
Now you could avoid all shops, newspapers, radio and television until you feel the time is right for the Christmas season to begin, but this is very impractical. On the other hand you could run with it and in December you can feel very smug that you are so organised. Indeed on the 1st of December you could just about get away with calling all your friends for that ‘Christmas chat’, and impress them with the fact that you have everything wrapped and decorated and now all you have to do is wait until December 25. Surely there is a strange irony in the fact that you might even have to rest a little in December because you were so busy getting Christmas sorted in November.
Be very careful about getting caught in that little trap. Before long you’ll be buying and wrapping presents for Christmas in the January sales. Yes it probably makes tremendous financial sense but you could find yourself on the slippery slope to ridiculous and inflexible levels of organisation. It can also be quite tricky remembering what’s in those packages and indeed if the item is still relevant for the recipient. It would be particularly annoying to have carefully wrapped and tagged a present for a couple only to find that they split up during the year. Or what about that perfect item of clothing for someone who decides that 2009 will be the year that they will shed all those unwanted pounds. You could find yourself with a lot of useless stuff next December and not that clever after all.
In these times of the credit crunch I can almost forgive the retailers for putting all the stuff out early. They have items to shift and I suppose if you have a large family buying a box of sweets here and a tin of biscuits there, it spreads the cost out over several weeks. However there should be definite cut offs. No in-store Christmas music until December, no Christmas movies on TV until December, no Christmas lights in towns or window displays until the last few days of November at the earliest. If we don’t put a halt to it now, we’re going to start getting in the “Christmas spirit” in September. The first day of school will include writing your letter to Santa.
I suppose my main gripe is the fact that I actually like Christmas and everything it represents and I fear that it will be diluted and ruined by starting so early. I think my friend was right after all, if indeed Christmas does have an arse we are definitely tearing it out of it with our obsession about getting things done early. I would never advocate leaving everything until the last minute, that is equally insane, but when will we get back to doing things not too early, not too late but just at their right time. If we’re not careful we’re going to meet ourselves on the way back.