Since he had an impressive display up around Halloween, I asked my neighbor on Dec. 1 when he was going to get into the holiday décor arms race that’d broken out in our neighborhood.
“Not until next weekend,” he said, noting that he didn’t like the extra expenditure of electricity to make it all go.
Being something of a Grinchy Scrooge myself in such matters, I often find myself looking upon the giant snowmen — blown up by electric fans that must run constantly — animatronic reindeer, flashing, twinkling and regular lights strung along every eave and in every tree and wonder how much coal and natural gas is being burned to make it all happen.
But the race is on. For many, it was Black Friday weekend that prompted the people of the ’burbs to leave their TVs and laptops and decamp to the front yard, there to nail, string, set-up, festoon, garland and arrange. And indeed, the application of light to offset the barren cropland (or in suburbia’s case, the dormant shrubbery and dead lawns) at this time of year is as old as Western Civilization itself.
But not everyone agrees on the dates. My wife, the Mrs. Claus to my Ebenezer, swaps everything out in the house the day after Halloween. Thus we are used to confronting the Yule-themed potholders, mantle stockings and other such holiday bric-a-brac while we’re still sorting through the Laffy Taffy. That may sound early to some, but as part of our compromise process over nearly 13 years of marriage, Jen has agreed to forgo putting up the tree and commencing the Christmas music — looping in endless repetition — in August and moving to this post-Halloween timing.
For whatever reason, in my house growing up we always put up the tree on December 10. The old-timey way of putting it up on Christmas Eve seemed batty to us — why bother putting up a tree to only enjoy it for a week or so? Of course, that tradition is based on the older practice of celebrating the “12 Days of Christmas,” which run from Dec. 25 through the Epiphany — Jan. 6 or so. But travel around Europe and the rest of the world and you’ll find little agreement on what, exactly, is supposed to happen when, excepting the Dec. 25 date itself. Indeed, history tells us even that wasn’t carved in stone until the fourth century, when Christian leaders decided marking the birth of Jesus at this time of year would be a good way to co-opt pagan winter solstice events.
Early birds can kick things off with Advent (four Sundays before Dec. 25) and still be somewhat by the book. But as we’ve learned all too well here in the U.S., retailers look to have stores all Yuletided-up as soon as the back-to-school stuff is cleared from the shelves. Is that too soon? Most people would say yes, but there it is.
My take on it has always been that the more drawn-out the special season is, the less special it becomes. My wife, on the other hand, figures that if you’ve got a good thing like Christmas season, why skimp on time? Early in our marriage I discovered there was no resisting the seasons-greetings juggernaut, and have taken it as a matter of course (as have our kids) that it’s perfectly normal to have heard “White Christmas” 1,700 times by the time December 1 rolls around. The fact that KOSI FM goes to straight Christmas music 24/7 starting Nov. 1 attests to the fact that others are suffering or enjoying this as well.
All of this means nothing to the banks, who will deliver those credit card statements and expected due dates right on time and with no reverence for the season. Indeed, digging out from the Christmas debt has become the most surefire way to extend the season well into the following year. It’s a tradition now as entrenched as eggnog and fruitcake, and perhaps even more unpopular.
Alex Miller is a former editor of the Summit Daily and Vail Daily newspapers who recently moved to Highlands Ranch with his family. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.