I was out running errands today, and when I looked at the huge shelves full of 2006 calendars in one store, I had a sinking spell. I thought to myself, "I wish Christmas wasn't coming so soon."
You see, it's not that I don't love Christmas. Aside from it being the celebration of our Lord's birth, it's always been my favorite holiday of the year. Some of the best memories of life I have revolve around Christmas. But while I love Christmas as itself, I get more and more cynical and depressed about what we've turned it into.
Just the other day, Mrs. Muley and I were in the bookstore, and we saw a book on unusual Texas places (like our house) that I know my history-loving mother would love to own. "Let's get this for her for Christmas," we both said. It got us to realizing, with something of horror mixed with dread, that it is now the end of July and we do not have a single Christmas present bought. Between now and December 24, we must go out and buy gifts for a list of friends and relatives that fills the back and front of a typed sheet of paper.
It's not that I'm cheap, or hate giving gifts. But I know what labor, stress, traffic jams and hours of phone interviews will be required to purchase this haul. And I know that, despite my resolution to "get 'er done" by Thanksgiving, I'll again be one of those poor schmucks frantically running around looking for something "acceptable" on December 24.
The thought of all that work and hassle fills me with dread. I'd love to just get everyone a Barnes and Noble gift certificate and be done, but then I wonder, what would be the point? Come to think of it, what is the point of all this gift giving? When two people stand next to each other on Christmas Day and exchange identical $20 Wal-Mart gift certificates, what is accomplished?
A lot of times nowadays we still surprise one another with gifts, but all too often we ask someone in our family what they want, they tell us, we buy it, and then hand it over on Christmas Day. They have already in turn asked us to name a gift, we have complied, and they end up handing that over to us in front of the tree. This whole blind, crazy dance of commerce is getting me more and more cynical about the holidays, and I've even had the radical thought that we ought to just abolish this present business altogether, except maybe for the kids.
It's not that presents are bad in themselves, or that we shouldn't want to do something nice for those we love. It's just that the need to buy presents has not only changed the way we celebrate Christmas, but the way we think about Christmas as well. We see it not as a time of love and renewal, but as one of stress and obligation.
I dread the incredible, robot-like transformation that takes place the day after Labor Day. As if by magic, Christmas tunes start playing from store music systems, red and green cardboard cutouts go up, aisles of decorations and snow globes and candy canes and Santa dolls that dance to music sprout up overnight like mushrooms. The sales push -- which means Christmas music and Christmas commercials and Christmas sales fliers and Christmas contests -- never stops, and by Christmas Day itself, I'm so sick of it I'm ready to scream. Then, miraculously, on December 26, it all begins to melt quickly away like Frosty himself, as if Christmas had just been a big sales campaign for a just discontinued product.
If all those ads and commercials and sales were presented by Christians who really knew the true meaning of Christmas, and sought to honor that in what they sold or put on TV, then maybe it wouldn't be so bad. But I know that most of the people who are producing the irritating TV commercials and hawking the gaudiest geegaws and cramming Christmas down out throats don't know or don't care what the holiday is all about. To them it's just the mother lode, the time when Americans are pre-programmed to open their wallets and start throwing cash at anything that pushes the pavlovian buttons marked jingle bells, Santa, hearths and chestnuts and reindeer and eggnog and ho ho ho.
I know this is just a sinking spell. I know that I'll eventually suck it up, and do my duty as a good American to spend the money and put the lights on the roof and write the Christmas letter. But I wish once, just once, my family and I could celebrate Christmas in a part of the world that hasn't been taken over by commerce, where Christmas celebrations start maybe a few weeks before the big day, and consist mainly of baking special foods, seeing old friends, singing old songs, and reading the Christmas story from the Bible. A ride through the snowy woods on a sleigh, building a snowman, and I'd be done. And quite happy and content to boot. Does a place like this even exist anymore?
But that's just a nice dream right now. I've gotta go pull out that shopping list.