Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Week After Christmas Day

In many Christian denominations (the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican church, Methodism, and so on) Christmastide begins on Christmas Eve and ends on Epiphany (January 6). Quite simply, Christmastide is the 12 Days of Christmas well known from the song. Despite this, the secular celebration of Christmas in the United States doesn't quite match up to the traditional celebration of Christmastide The American holiday season roughly runs from about Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, with the celebration of Christmas unfolding from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to Christmas Day. For me the end result is that the week following Christmas Day up to and including New Year's Day seems like some sort of limbo in which it is still technically Christmas, and yet at the same time it is not Christmas.

There was a time when this was much less pronounced than it is now. In the mid-20th Century most private individuals and most business kept their Christmas decorations up until New Year's Day. This can be seen in the movie Ocean's 11 (1960). The bulk of its plot takes place on New Year's Eve, yet the various casinos and other businesses in Las Vegas still have their Christmas decorations up. In fact, Ocean's 11 was filmed from January 26 to February 16 1960, so the filmmakers had to convince the casinos to keep their Christmas decorations up longer than normal so that it would look like, well, New Year's Eve! I remember growing up that my family never took down our Christmas decorations until New Year's Day or even January 2.

Of course, since the Sixties and Seventies times have changed. In fact, it almost seems as if New Year's Day has been severed from the holiday season in the minds of a good number of Americans. Many people today take their Christmas decorations down on December 26 (Boxing Day in many English-speaking countries). That even businesses regard Christmas Day as the last day of the  holiday season is borne out by the fact that many of them take down their Christmas decorations come December 26. In fact, I remember in the early Naughts there was a Walmart commercial that started airing on December 26 that began, "Now that the Holidays are over", this despite the fact that it wasn't even New Year's Day yet.

Indeed, the fact that many in the United States regard the day after Christmas no longer being, well, Christmas is reflected in the sort of TV commercials aired beginning on December 26. Starting on November 1 (or these days often before Halloween), one will see all sorts of commercials on American television featuring Christmas imagery, everything from Santa Claus to Christmas trees to even snow, despite the fact that snow is highly unlikely in most of the United States that time of year (2018 was obviously an exception). Come December 26 these commercials suddenly disappear to be replaced with commercials that could air any other time of year. In fact, not only do commercials featuring Yuletide imagery disappear, but so do commercials even recognising the existence of winter. One starts seeing commercials featuring green lawns and trees with leaves on them and nary a trace of snow, as if it was spring or summer. Now there are exceptions to this rule, but they are restricted to a few industries. Car commercials with Christmas imagery generally continue to air until New Year's Day. Commercials for cold and flu medications often feature winter imagery all the way into early March. Campbell's Soup has often used commercials featuring winter imagery well into February. That having been said, those would seem to be the exceptions to the rule. After December 26, if one sees a commercial, chances are it will look as if it was set in spring or summer.

Of course, there are also certain types of commercials that seem to air primarily in the week between Christmas Day and New Years Day. Obviously, commercials for Christmas clearance sales are an example of the sort of commercials that only air between December 26 and New Year's Day. Other sorts of commercials might air at other times of the year as well, but seem to be most prolific in the days between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Examples of this are weight loss ads. I have no doubt that these ads are so common this time of year because the various weight loss companies hope to capitalise on individuals'  New Year's resolutions to lose weight (given I have always had trouble gaining weight, this has never been one of my resolutions). Such furniture companies as Ashley and Slumberland also seem to increase their advertising in the days following Christmas Day, although I am not sure why. I can only suppose they are trying to get rid of excess inventory from the past year. Similarly, despite the fact that they hold contests at other times of year, Publishers Clearinghouse also seems to increase their advertising during this time of year. I particularly noticed this when I was a child into my youth, when it seemed as if they aired every half hour. Many of these commercials, particularly the weight loss commercials and furniture commercials often use New Year's imagery, such as party hats, noise makers, party favours, and, of course, champagne.

If commercials did not seem to indicate that the week following Christmas Day is a time set apart from the American Christmas season, various retail businesses certainly do. As I mentioned earlier, many businesses now take their Christmas decorations down on December 26. Many stores will have St. Valentine's Day goods on their shelves come December 26 (and some had them out even earlier this year). Christmas decorations, Christmas albums, and so on will be removed from shelves and placed in the clearance sections of various stores.

Of course, the days following Christmas Day not only differ in that many Americans seem to regard the Christmas season as being over, but in other ways as well. Obviously the days following Christmas Day are also the last days of the year, so that one also sees retrospectives of the year in the days following Christmas Day. News outlets will often do retrospectives of the various news events that happened in the past year. Lists of the best selling books, record albums, movies, and so on will appear. Memorials for famous people who have died in the past year often appear before Christmas Day (Turner Classic Movies seems to debut TCM Remembers in mid-December), but they certainly increase in number following Christmas Day. Because it is the end of the year, the days following Christmas Day seem to be a time for looking back.

While the week following Christmas Day certainly seems like a different time from the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, at the same time there are vestiges of Christmas to be seen.  Many individuals keep their decorations up until New Year's Day, as do many towns and even a few businesses. Commercials for certain industries (such as the automotive industry) will continue using Christmas imagery up to New Year's Day. The various Hallmark channels will continue showing Christmas movies clear up to New Year's Day (of course, they also start showing them before Halloween now...*grumble*). The Radio City Christmas Spectacular usually ends on January 6, so that it is one of the few events to continue throughout the entire Christmastide proper. While there seem to be those who want to sever New Year's Day from the rest of the holiday season, there are others who still regard it as being part of the holiday season.

All of this has always made me think of the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day as a rather odd time. It is not as if American society has quite returned to business as usual, but at the same time it seems clear that the celebration of Christmas has ended for many. Ever since childhood this has made me a bit sad. Indeed, Christmastide as celebrated by various Christian denominations obviously fits the imagery of the holiday better than the American Christmas shopping season. After all, the imagery of Christmas as celebrated in the United States evokes winter, from Santa Claus's sleigh to snow. Christmastide takes place entirely during early winter. The bulk of the Christmas shopping season, on the other hand, takes place during autumn. I have to think most people would enjoy the holidays more if a concerted effort was made to return to the traditional 12 Days of Christmas. They wouldn't be shopping and making preparations for one big day, at the very least. It would even benefit retailers more. After all, instead of one big day for which they could sell presents, they would have twelve whole days! Regardless, unless somehow we return to the traditional celebration of Christmastide, the week after Christmas Day will always seem like an odd time to me.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

I like to keep Christmas to a timetable of my own so that it is here when I need it. I am listening to my Christmas music the day after Boxing Day and will keep it up until New Year's Day.

I spend New Year's Day packing away the Christmas ornaments in preparation for the incoming year and for my son's January 1st birthday. As I'm not big on resolutions, this is my way of "starting the new year right."

I'll admit to looking askance at the neighbours who keep their ornaments up past January 6th. I don't say anything out loud, but oh what a disapproving inner voice I have!