Friday, November 18, 2011

Hooray for Real Holidays!

Holiday (noun) 1. a day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or in honor of some person; a religious feast day or holy day.
--Random House Dictionary

Call me crazy but I like to celebrate just one holiday at a time.  To mark holidays and holy days: the tradition in a culture to set aside time for commemoration, worship, and just plain rest. But lately holidays have gotten all kind of mashed together. Have you noticed?  Barely past Halloween and then all the Thanksgiving stuff goes up on November 1, almost one month early. Haven’t even bought the turkey yet and I’m already hearing holiday music on the radio. Holiday mash up. Holiday smash up. Holiday creep.    

The concept of “holiday” owes its roots to the words “holy day”, a time set aside by the early church, other faith traditions and even government to mark a unique day of prayer or remembrance: Christmas, Hanukah, Easter, Ramadan, etc.  At one time Sunday was a kind of holiday and holy day too, all rolled into one.  The idea of a holiday is simple and at one time this is how it worked. Few shops were open.  Youth sports took a day off.  Banks, liquor stores, almost everything else was shuttered for the day.  Most people actually got to stay home from work.  They then spent time with loved ones and visited friends and played and napped or just did nothing.  The key was the culture agreed that it needed a time reserved for Sabbath, to slow down, to stop, to pause.  To “holiday”.  That of course is going, if not almost gone.

Take this week’s holiday mash up, the crazy rush to tear right through Thanksgiving and make a mad dash for Christmas, to frantically push to meet Santa Claus even before the gravy on the table gets cold.  Name the retailer and this year they’ve pushed back the time to begin the Christmas shopping season right to the edge of Turkey Day, earlier than ever before.  This week anyone who so desires can get buying even before their holiday dinner dishes get done.  On “Black Friday” in Massachusetts Macy’s will open at 12:30 a.m., Kohl’s and Best Buy at 1 a.m. and Wal-Mart at 4 a.m., to name but a few. In other states with less restrictive holiday closing laws, many stores are actually open on Thanksgiving, including Kmart, Target, the Gap, Toys R Us, Old Navy and Wal-Mart.  Makes me wonder if next year they might start serving turkey right in the aisles, a blue light special with cranberry sauce on the side.

Too bad for the workers because they have to go in, leave or even forego the holiday table and set up all the tinsel and the bells and stock the shelves and man the registers. Retailers argue that Black Friday is “good” for shoppers.  Target corporate spokesperson Molly Snyder insists, “We have heard from our guests that they want to shop Target following their Thanksgiving celebrations rather than only having the option of getting up in the middle of the night.’’ Wouldn’t want to let down those “guests”, would we? 

Me? I’m a freak I suppose, because I actually love to do my Christmas shopping, celebrating and anticipating the week just before Christmas when it actually feels like the season, you know snow, carols, the cold. The thing I’ve always loved about both holy days and holidays is the lack of a need to do anything other than celebrate in my tradition and with my friends and family.  I love the sense that this one day is somehow special, precious, quiet. All is calm, all is bright.        

So it was with a sense of surprise and delight I learned of one retailer who bucks this trend of erasing a holiday, the Nordstrom’s Department store chain.  They are a rare institution in the retailing world.  Headquartered in Seattle, Nordstrom’s is an upscale retailer. I’ve never shopped there. I’m more of a Sears guy. But I may just check them out to support a most unusual holiday opening policy at all of their stores.  This is the message Nordstrom’s shoppers saw in stores in the days leading up to “Black Friday”.

 “We won’t be decking our halls until Friday, November 25. Why? We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. Our stores will be closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving festivities. On Friday, our doors will open to ring the new season in style. From our family to yours, HAPPY THANKSGIVING.”   So in Massachusetts, if you want to go to Nordstrom’s you’ll be forced to wait until the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. in Peabody, on Friday.  OH NO!  8 a.m. in Natick and Burlington.  HOW WILL WE SURVIVE! 7 a.m. in Braintree.  BUT I WANTED TO WAIT IN LINE IN A DARK PARKING LOT!

I know in expressing frustration about the cultural downgrading of holidays and holy days, I risk sounding like a dinosaur, a cranky old guy.  I know that the ideal of Sabbath and holiday is fast fading away in a societal wave of 24/7 life.  Yet I can’t help but lament.  I’m human. I work hard.  When a holiday comes along I need that time to rest.  I need to stop. I need to recharge my spiritual batteries. I need to suspend all the wacky energy of modern life and just breathe.  Holidays give all of us these amazing opportunities.

Thank you Nordstrom’s.  You offer a small but important witness to the world about the need to take holidays seriously. So please pass the gravy and another roll too. I’m staying put at the Thanksgiving table as long as I can. How about you?




  1. Dear Cranky Old Guy,
    So now what do I say to the Deacons who want to put Christmas lights and tres and greens on Sunday after church BEFORE Thanksgiving?

  2. I wish I could tell you. Conveniently "lose" the lights before Sunday? Good luck!