There is much complaint of late that the Christmas season seems to start the day after Halloween, effectively preempting Thanksgiving. The National Retail Federation (yes, that’s real) officially declares November 1 the beginning of all the “Santa Claus, ho-ho-ho and mistletoe, and presents to pretty girls” that Sally told Schroeder about in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
However, the Nordstrom store in Portland, Oregon is resisting the early call of the holidays and has declared Christmas music off-limits until the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday because that was the day African-Americans got to celebrate after spending the actual holiday serving the guests at the Thanksgiving dinner scenes in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
That’s somewhat unfortunate because there are no real Thanksgiving tunes — not even a “Monster Mash.” I can understand not wanting to hear the more overtly Christmas songs such as “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” until a half hour before midnight on December 25 (my preference), but we could all use more exposure to “Last Christmas” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas” or “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” — it’s been a Christmas ritual of mine since 1986 to watch Darlene Love perform the latter on David Letterman’s show each year.
Thanksgiving has also produced a paucity of seasonally themed movies or TV show episodes. Old men don’t suddenly see the error of their ways and start down a path of redemption on Thanksgiving. They just watch football and occasionally tell a racist joke before falling asleep on the couch.
The exceptions are few — I plan to download the 1986 Thanksgiving episode of “Cheers” — a classic half hour of comedy, and I preferred spending Thanksgiving with the cast of “Friends” than with anyone else from 1994 to 2003.
Otherwise, much like the Charlie Brown specials, Thanksgiving on a cultural basis ranks behind Halloween and Christmas, and given the economy, there might be a lot of cold cereal and toast instead of turkey and stuffing on the menu.
The challenge for Thanksgiving is that there’s nothing really special about it — no crass commercialism of Christmas, which is what the U.S. does best, and no excuse to dress up and over-indulge on candy like Halloween. It’s basically a dinner party. You can do that any day of the year — especially if Woody Allen loaned you the black maids from “Hannah and Her Sisters” to help with the cooking and clean-up.
I think the problem is not that Christmas starts too early, it’s that it ends too soon. Is there anything more depressing than January with the decomposing tree in the corner, the discarded toys on the floor, and the stack of bills on the coffee table? It’s cold outside but not in the sexy way of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” but in the “I can’t believe it’s snowing again. How am I going to get to work?” way.
So, I say push Christmas back to January 25th. This will allow Thanksgiving to embrace its fate in the natural order as the opening act to Christmas while still maintaining some of its dignity. It will add some much-needed juice to January. You can even do one better and make New Year’s Eve February 13. If you go the right party, your loved one will have such a hangover the next morning, you won’t have to worry about Valentine’s Day.
It might surprise people who know me to find me promoting Christmas in any way, but frankly, the religious aspect of it has long been abandoned. Santa Claus is Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross” deriding Jesus’s Dave Moss: “Last year, I had a million guys dressed as me and twice as many TV specials. What did you have? See, that’s who I am. And you’re nothing.”