Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

Tidings of Commerce & Junk

December 20, 2011

I return to the States at least twice a year, but until two weeks ago hadn’t visited between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, since 1989.  It’s hardly America’s most flattering season.  Over the intervening decades, the holiday season caught the same malady as presidential campaigns and sports seasons – the chief symptoms being it lasts too long, and exerts undue influence over the national psyche and popular culture.

When I asked friends and family to recollect how it was way back in the late 80’s before inflatable snow globe lawn ornaments, LED roof line lights and holiday-jingles-all-the-time radio stations, they were pretty certain it was much the same – like parents who don’t notice changes in children morphing daily under their noses, while someone who sees them every few years finds them barely recognizable.

In the aftermath of the ‘great recession’, I anticipated a reassessment of the ‘meaning of Christmas’ and collective determination to resist deficit consumer spending. While Republican presidential wannabees stage endless debates extolling radical cuts in government programs to reduce the national debt, corporate America hasn’t let up its consumer assault.  The means of infiltration, with new media larded over old – renders the red, green and glitz pitch relentless.

Over ten days I visited Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, staying in cities and suburbs.  The further north I headed, the worse it seemed to get.  It might be that the intensity of Manhattan, where there’s no escape from input overload, proved a tipping point.

Wasn’t Christmas about celebrating the birth of a child in a manger, who grew to preach about the illusion of material well-being?   I hoped to find respite from the onslaught at mass in my old parish church, but it too was unrecognizable – with a gargantuan advent wreath featuring four massive candles the size of pascal candles intended to be lit throughout a full liturgical year.   The scale of disneyfied décor had the charm of shopping mall swag.

As much as I’ll miss sharing Christmas, Hannukah and New Year with my nearest and dearest American family and friends, I left regretting that at least for me, the joys of the season are squelched by an avalanche of schmaltz and commercial overkill.

randy twaddle said

December 20, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Casey, you’re brilliant to categorize the holiday season with presidential campaigns and sports. I think that’s exactly what’s happening. Just this past weekend, for example, the NFL Network had a “Special Saturday Night Edition” of “Thursday Night Football!” I’m old enough to remember when professional football was played only on Sunday. I’ve been in the states every Thanksgiving and Christmas season except for 1990,and it most certainly gets more commercial each passing year, and more commercial, earlier, each passing year. Poor Thanksgiving has nearly been consumed by Christmas commercialism. This year at our neighborhood Target, Christmas crap was in the aisle adjacent to the Halloween crap before Halloween had even arrived. At least Nordstroms had the marketing savvy to recognize the potential backlash against such early xmas displays, and took out full page ads in the paper stating they believed in celebrating one holiday at a time, and would not be putting up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. Made me consider shopping there, no matter how calculating the strategy might have been.

Casey replied

December 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Thanks Randy. Sadly evidence of excess was omnipresent. Too many examples to cite!

Halloween was picked up and promoted in France for a while, but enthusiasm has waned, as people resented the accompanying tsunami of merch.

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