Punchinello’s Chronicles

December 31, 2008

Christmas On, Christmas Off!

Filed under: View from the Bottom — Punchinello @ 6:26 pm
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The older I get, the less interested I seem to be in what’s become the American traditional Christmas. That’s the annual insanity of running around shopping for gifts, getting big lists of demands from kids, picking up pre-made party trays and having lots of parties goin’ on. When I was a musician, making a living in the never-ending party of nightclubs, the value was home, peace and quiet. Alcohol doesn’t cause parties, people do!

It’s true that little kids make for a special case. They have a true belief in magic, and the sparkle in their eyes of total excitement, along with uncontained belly laughs when they see presents and rip open paper is worth a lot. But they’re a special case. Generally speaking, Christmas is just a lunatic shopping experience. It wasn’t always that way, though.

When I was a kid, back in the 60s, Christmas was a combination of everything. It really was a holiday, and there really was a whole season. My mom was always behind schedule on whatever was involved, but her excuse was that there were 12 days of Christmas. They came after (not before) Christmas day, so if there was a present that was late, a party during the following weeks, or even just a big meal, it was all acceptable and valid under the 12-day rule.

Actually, I was curious about those 12 days, and looked them up. Turns out they represent the days between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the magi from Persia. The kings and their gifts represent the epiphany, meaning the moment at which the child was manifest as the Son of God. The actual “kings’ day” could be January 6 or 7, depending on which religious variant is involved, but that’s basically where the idea originates.

I think I started noticing changes about 10 years ago, and mostly in the music area. To me, although they may be sappy and repetitive, Christmas carols and music are an important part of the overall feeling of the season. A number of radio stations started playing them either continually or in regular rotation, right around Thanksgiving. Living here in the Chicago area, of course we also get snow at about that time.

The music, snow; the Christmas lights and decorations; it all starts around Thanksgiving. It helps get the “mood” going, and there’s the fun of thinking up weird or interesting presents for folks. They way we used to do things, nobody knew what they’d be getting. They might hint at what they’d like, but there weren’t lists of expectations and demands. Again, kids under the age of 8 were special cases, and they could write a letter to Santa.

Generally, though, a big part of the gift-giving process was to demonstrate how well you know someone by picking a perfect gift for them. The number of misses weren’t as big, but it was also part of the whole tradition to end up with something truly useless, ridiculous, pointless, or downright ugly. Everyone would get together for exchanges, but it took place in two parts.

First, Christmas morning would be family time. That’s when a number of presents under the tree would be opened, those designated for immediate family. There also were the Santa presents, unwrapped and ready to play with. Usually there’d be some sort of breakfast event, then everyone would be off to play with stuff. Sleds were an important part of that, hopefully with enough snow to make them move.

Sometime in the afternoon, extended family would arrive or we’d go to their place. More presents would show up, then there’d be the feast. Everyone ate at various tables, everyone talked at the same time, and everyone ended up stuffed to the max. And through it all there’d be Christmas music.

About 5 years ago, things changed.

It used to be that after Christmas day, there was a whole week before New Year’s Eve during which the overall holiday spirit continued on. It was less frantic, but still there. Parties blossomed around the neighborhood, school was still out of session, snow was falling, and food was delectable. And the Christmas music was a soft current of emotion flowing along below all the hubbub and bustle. It was a time for contemplation, year-end accounting, and wondering what would be the next adventure of the coming year.

What started happening was that at exactly midnight of Christmas day, at the instant of the 26th, BLAM!…all Christmas carols came to an immediate halt on the radio stations. Fine, you say; so what? We still have our own disks or records, and it’s just a matter of playing our own music. But then a lot of stores instantly terminated all Christmas Muzak in the overhead sound system, too.

Decorations continued, but more and more because people were too exhausted to take them down. New Year’s Eve celebrations became warnings about drinking and driving, and after-Christmas sales and bargains became grounds for stampedes. The music was mostly gone, excepting here and there on smaller stations, and of course in our own sound systems. The TV movies, specials, and so forth, all vanished.

This year, with everyone stressed about money, it’s been even worse. It’s like a binary switch, where Christmas happens, then Christmas instantly stops! Many people breathe a sigh of relief, glad that at last the whole “mess” is over.

But wouldn’t it be nice to have a slow and gradual coast to an end, where the “end” is really just the new year and everything starting over? Couldn’t we just have a bit of the holiday music on the radio, and perhaps a sense that people, family, home, and the season itself are where the fun comes from?

It’s ironic that the retail chains have done their damndest to remove all reality from Christmas, focusing on money and sales, and using music as a tool. Now that nobody has any money, they’re pushing Christmas music long past the actual 25th, under the hopes that people will somehow be compelled to spend money. After all, it’s the word “christmas” that “causes” people to buy gifts, right?

Too bad, so sad. We’ve ruined the traditions, meaning, and spirit of Christmas for so many years, there’s nothing left. It’s been all about money, shopping, consumerism, and debt for so long that now, with all that debt exploding, there’s nothing to spend. Thank the deconstructionists and the secular movement for that, and the anti-religion lawsuits.

Good thing we wiped out the Christmas pageants, holiday stories, reindeer, and Santa Clause, right? Now we can get back to the reality of life and get back to work. After all, there are important memos to write, serious presentations to complete, spreadsheets, inventories, and bank accounts to examine. In fact, giving people gift cards of plain old money shows them how much you know them, or how much you care, isn’t that so?

And in the slush-filled outskirts of Chicago, poverty folks don’t have much, other than music, food, family, and conversation. I wonder how Christmas is at the other end of the financial spectrum, nowadays? Is it that “instant on, instant off” that seems to be the way? Is that how relationships happen all year long? Is it that easy to just turn it all on then turn it off based on a calendar date? Maybe that’s why you go to work one day and instantly get a pink slip.

Job on, Job off!

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Generally, though, a big part of the gift -giving process was to demonstrate how well you know someone by picking a perfect gift for them. The number of misses weren’t as big, but it was also part of the whole tradition to end up with …[Continue Reading] […]

    Pingback by Christmas on, Christmas Off! « Punchinello’S Chronicles — January 3, 2009 @ 12:16 pm | Reply


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