Crass Commercialization

Of course Princeton Professor Cornel West came to mind as I browsed through my neighborhood market place this week. I was amused by the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas competition for our dollars. I started in Dollar Tree, where I noticed plastic Christmas wreaths, cheap ornaments, and colorful Christmas ribbon next to Thanksgiving paper plates, napkins, and cups. In front of them were two bays of Halloween candy and decorations.

“What do you think about pushing all these holidays at once?” I asked the store clerk.

“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I won’t get trick-or-treaters at home. On Thanksgiving, I’ll go to my sister’s house for dinner; and on Christmas, we’ll go to our mom’s. The billion-dollar marketing blitzes underway to wrest our wallets and wring them dry will not persuade her. Another woman in the store agreed. “If I don’t need it, I won’t buy it,” Sharon said confidently. I was not there to argue the merits of great marketing or the tricks used to compel us to treat ourselves into brand new levels of debt by the new year. I went out to simply observe this uniquely American phenomenon. This week I can stand in the store and be wished a Happy-Halloween-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas.

I had not paid much attention to this triple, uh, treat, before now. Right now, I have a lot of time on my hands, so I am paying attention to a lot of things I had overlooked in the rush-rush of busier days. I wandered on over to the liquor store looking for signs of the holidays. A skull and bones character was perched at a wine display front and center.

“No Christmas gear?” I asked Cody, the cashier. He shook his head. He wishes Christmas was kept more sacred. He would rather not see Christmas trees in September. But! When pressed, he showed me their Christmas gift boxes stacked in a corner. “We’re putting out Crown Royal gift sets because people get liquor give sets as gifts,” he explained. They will be on display right after Halloween.

Over the years I had grown accustomed to complaints about the commercialization of Christmas. We thought things were bad when Christmas became the biggest shopping season of the year; got real mad when that season was pushed back to begin before we finished cleaning our Thanksgiving plates. I was sure that since we’re now marketing Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas at once there would be a groundswell of criticism against it – possibly led by Cornel West. (But he’s busy these days fending off critics of his latest venture – you know, the one he’s undertaken with Tavis Smiley, and getting arrested protesting against corporate greed in the Occupy protests.)

I roamed over to K-Mart and found the crass commercializing West rails against on full display – but I didn’t mind. I know many individuals are taking advantage of the extra shopping time to choose more thoughtful gifts. Some are putting gifts on lay-away, avoiding holiday debt. And many will take advantage of the early holiday offerings and fill holiday care packages their church will donate to less fortunate families in time for the holidays. There’s always an upside, right?

Outside K-Mart, racks of Halloween costumes twisted in the light winds. Inside I couldn’t help but laugh noticing the bank of Halloween cards next to the Thanksgiving greetings. A few feet away, I spotted large red, green, gold and silver Christmas bows decorating a cart of gift box colognes. But this visit got better. Not far from the cologne cart, wa-la! Christmas country! A dozen fully dressed Christmas trees stood on fake snow. Surrounding them, waist-high Dora the Explorer dolls and Sponge Bob Square pants leaned forward offering ribbon-tied Christmas gifts. Two Santas stood atop shelves full of Halloween costumes. A trail of plastic jack-o-lanterns stretched down the isles could have knocked Santa over if someone set them in motion. Yep. We’ve become a market-driven society, all right. But knowing is half the battle, right?

This year I will not spend $1,000 on Christmas gifts – not even $200. I plan to enjoy all the commercial sounds and sights, the chills and thrills of these holiday seasons without feeling compelled to fork over my cash or credit cards for the treats. I’m glad the ads were out earlier this year. They gave me time to prepare to spend less.