Friday, November 16, 2012

Boughs of Folly

The musical Mame includes the well-known song "We Need a Little Christmas." Its appearance in the score occurs just after the crash of the New York Stock Market, and the penniless Mame Dennis is depressed, facing the prospects of a rather dismal Christmas. Believing that an early celebration of Yuletide to be just the thing to lift both her spirits and those of her live-in nephew, she responds immediately and with full force to the idea that it is time to "...haul out the holly, put up the tree before my spirits fall again."

Patrick, her young charge, is baffled by her timeline:

"But Auntie Mame," he counters, "it's one week past Thanksgiving Day now!"

As if to say: Okay, Auntie, I know your daily philosophy is that life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death, but the idea of decorating for Christmas now -- three full weeks before the holiday itself -- is really out there.

Auntie Mame would get along perfectly well with the modern celebration of Christmas, when retailers and theme parks -- and even households! -- think nothing of hauling out an entire forest of holly, well before Thanksgiving. Sometimes in conjunction with Halloween, even.

Don't get me wrong. I adore Christmas decorations, especially the outside displays that brighten up the darkest nights of the year. Those December evenings -- when the sun fades from the sky by 5:00 p.m. -- I love nothing more than driving home and enjoying the inflatable Santas, the trees festooned with thousands of colorful lights, the bunting and ribbons.

I just blanch at the thoughts of them when leaves are still in their full-splendor of color change and the Thanksgiving turkeys are still fattening on the farm.

It wasn't always this way.

Consider the Christmas song "Mistletoe and Holly," as sung by Frank Sinatra, which features this line:

"Then comes the big night/Giving the tree the trim."

Which implies that assembling the Christmas tree and decorating it is an activity for Christmas Eve.

Hollywood bears this out as well. The climax of the Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life shows the Bailey family prepping for Christmas Day by spending the Eve tossing tinsel on the sturdy evergreen standing in the parlor. Of course, that's before the forlorn George decides to check out early.

My parents remember when Christmas Eve preparations for Santa meant tree-trimming that night and not before. Their traditions carried over into our own, and when we were young, we went to bed Christmas Eve with only our stockings hung and the creche set up on a small table in the living room.

Imagine our wonder -- miracle of miracles -- when we pounded down the stairs the next morning and saw not only our heart's desire in the toy department, but also a tree gleaming with lights and ornaments, and all kinds of other foo-faws making the living room a red-and-green wonderland.

Of course Santa was real. Who else could pull off that kind of magic in just one night?

I'm not even sure when all this started to change. Of course the retailers played a role. Black Friday isn't called Black Friday for nothing.

The availability of artificial trees had to have played a role as well; after all, a cut tree wouldn't survive being indoors for six solid weeks.

But the biggest culprit is probably our modern world's constant time-crunch. Christmas Eve means cooking and cleaning and church and large dinners and family visits and travel and packing the car and picking up relatives from the airport and wrapping last-minute presents and jamming Locking Tab A into Holding Gasket B and who's got time to put up a tree in all that mayhem?

So we'll back it up a day.

A week.

A month.

It all starts to blur together, increasing our slide toward Hallothanskmas, that mishmash of holiday observances that takes the separate traditions of October, November, and December, places them in a Cuisinart, and whirls them all together.

The true shame of this earlybirdism is that the holidays grow wearisome rather quickly. The earlier we jump the gun on Christmas, the earlier it collapses into a din of repetitive Christmas songs, congealed egg nog, and candy cane comas.

It's Noel nullified. Over before it even begins.

Just consider how many tattered trees find their way curbside -- cast aside for the trash truck -- even before the new year. Nothing to me is more depressing than a December 26th marked by naked Christmas trees, stripped of ornaments and lights and wearing just a few shreds of tinsel, tipped over at the end of a driveway like a drunken fratboy the day after a party.

But I suppose it's all part of time marching on. Of course the Christmas decorations have to go (except in certain households, where they stay up year-round, but that's another issue altogether).

By the time the sun sets on Christmas Day, Valentines is a scant 49 days away.

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