“There’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck.”
–Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Did Thanksgiving even happen? Walking around the neighborhood and scanning the store circulars it seems more like some blip between Halloween candy and Christmas toys. In 1947, Alfred’s Christmas ism was a fast-footed sprint launched by Santa’s appearance at the end of the Thanksgiving parade (though with all due respect for Mr Macy, for us old time Philadelphians the finale will always be a red-coated fireman climbing into Gimble’s fifth floor).
What was a six week sprint for Christmas sales in 1947 has stretched out to the leisurely half-mile jog through the autumn months. Treacly remakes of holiday standards have been playing in malls for weeks. Box store workers who might have preferred to spend time with their family on Thanksgiving were pressed into service for pre-Black Friday sales (fed by the hype of artificial scarcity, it feeds the gambler gene’s need for the big win). And today, server farms around the country are overheating to meet the demands of the latest retail gimmick, the seven-year-old Cyber Monday (proof that capitalism hasn’t forgotten how to dream up more “make a buck” isms).
And all for what? Most of us middle class Americans have everything we need. What we lack isn’t the stuff that line the shelves of Walmart superstores and Amazon distribution centers, but the us that we’re too busy to share with one another.
I love the purity of earlier generations of Quakers. They pointedly ignored Christmas, working and opening their schools on the 25th. They would have undoubtedly skipped the commercialism of the modern consumer holiday. But I’m not willing to go that far. In our family Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time of togetherness and seasonal habits–tagging the Christmas tree, Sweetzel’s spiced wafers, making cookies and pies, visiting family. When I was young, my mother made a framed collage of my annual photos with Santa, and while it once fascinated me as a document of Santa variations, now the interest is watching myself grow up. Today, our family’s Flickr collection of Christmas routines shows that same passage of time. None of us need fall into the HalloThanksMas season of make-a-buck-ism to find joy in togetherness.