Yesterday afternoon my brother and I noticed something odd on television. ABC Family, The Hallmark Channel, and Lifetime were all showing Christmas movies. ABC Family showed the Disney version of A Christmas Carol and something called Snowglobe. Hallmark was showing something called Matchmaker Santa and Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage. Lifetime was showing made for TV movies with titles like Christmas Child and Nothing Like the Holidays. Most of the day TBS showed movies that really matched no season, but then right before The Wizard of Oz they showed the classic Christmas special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sadly, I have no idea how long these channels have been showing holiday themed programming or if other channels have been doing it as well. Either way my brother and I both agreed it is too early to be airing Christmas movies.
Indeed, it is not only a full month before Christmas, but it is not even Thanksgiving. While I realise that there are those people who might be willing to watch Yuletide films in mid-November, I would guess that they are a very small minority. Most people I know have been complaining about the Christmas themed commercials that seem to have started up the day after Halloween and yet others are complaining that radio stations are already playing Christmas carols. Given that a majority of people seem to dislike Yuletide themed commercials and Christmas carols before Thanksgiving has even passed, I doubt that most people would tune into these holiday themed movies. It makes me wonder just how small the audiences watching ABC Family, The Hallmark Channel, and Lifetime must have been this weekend.
Indeed, there are two very good reasons that come to the top of my head as to why people don't want to watch Christmas movies or listen to Christmas carols in mid-November. I'm neither Jewish nor Christian, but the famous quote from Ecclesiastes comes to mind: "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun." The simple fact is that most people identify the Yuletide with the month of December. Let's face it, Christmas Day does fall on 25 December, just a few days after the winter solstice. What is more, this has been the traditional date for Christmas for centuries. Before that, the pagan festival called Géol in Old English and Jól in Old Norse, from which our modern Christmas borrows many of its traditions and imagery, appears to have fallen in late December. Not only has the holiday always fallen in mid-December, but prior to the 20th Century it ran for twelve days, from the eve of December 24 (Christmas Eve) to 6 January (Twelfth Night or the Feast of Epiphany). Is it little wonder that people are not in the mood for the Yuletide in mid-November. It is well over a month before the holidays are celebrated and have been for centuries!
I've already stated the second reason that many Americans do not want to hear about Christmas before Thanksgiving. Quite simply, it is not even Thanksgiving yet! There was a time that Thanksgiving was its very own holiday. It had its own traditions and its own customs peculiar to it. It was a distinct holiday from Christmas. Now it is true that even before the term "Black Friday" was coined that the Friday after Thanksgiving was considered the first official day of Christmas shopping. And it is true that from the very beginning the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade ended with the arrival of Santa Clause. Even then, however, Thanksgiving was a holiday with its own personality and its own imagery. In the old days one never saw people decorating their houses for Christmas before Thanksgiving and, even now, with merchants and television commercials trotting out Yuletide cheer well before Thanksgiving, most people will wait until after Thanksgiving to decorate their homes for the holidays. It is then little wonder most people have no desire for Christmas commercials, movies, or carols before Thanksgiving.
Indeed, that is why the fact that at least three cable channels were showing Yuletide movies before Thanksgiving bothers me so. It seems to me that Thanksgiving is losing its personality and hence losing its status as its own holiday. For the past many years it has been treated by many merchants and now apparently cable channels as well as a mere extension of Christmas. It is a trend that I certainly find disturbing.
Unfortunately, I can think of no reason why the cable channels would start showing Christmas movies so early. Unlike the mercantile industry, the many television outlets have nothing to sell but commercial air time. Sadly, those commercials probably will not be seen by most people if they are scheduled during a Christmas movie airing on 18 November. Worse yet, November is a sweeps month, a period during which the ratings for various programmes will determine what advertising rates the many TV outlets can charge for certain time slots. If a channel then shows Christmas movies on 18 November, I suspect they will do poorly in the ratings. And if they do poorly in the ratings, then they will find themselves having to charge less for commercial air time.
While I suspect that the vast majority of viewers did not watch the Christmas movies that aired yesterday and I suspect that most viewers probably found the airing of them in mid-November objectionable, I don't know that cable channels won't continue this trend. The complaint about retail stores trotting out Christmas goods and Christmas advertising has existed for decades. In the 1974 special It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, the Peanuts gang visited a store around Easter only to be confronted with Christmas displays and a banner reading, "Only 246 shopping days until Christmas." Even in the Seventies, then, people were complaining about retail establishments starting in on Christmas much too early and yet those decades of complaints have not prevented stores from putting out Christmas ornaments as early as September and scheduling holiday themed commercials to start on 1 November. It is for that reason that I have to doubt that cable channels will cease airing Christmas movies prior to Thanksgiving. In fact, regardless of how bad the ratings may be, I have to wonder that other cable channels won't join in.
Of course, I could be wrong. It is possible that ratings for the various Christmas movies that aired yesterday were so low that the cable channels airing them will decide not to make that mistake again. I honestly believe that television executives turn a deaf ear to viewers' complaints more often than not, but they almost never ignore the ratings. I do hope that is the case, as the airing of Christmas movies this time of year doesn't only seem horribly out of place, but it also seems like another nail that corporate American is trying to drive into the coffin of Thanksgiving.
(BTW, the cartoon above is by Randy Bisch of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I've seen it many times on the web, but I don't think I have ever seen it credited).