Saturday, November 5, 2011

To Everything, a Season

A few short weeks ago, when I stepped into a local store to pick up some treats for Halloween I was surprised at the difficulty I had finding them.  This year, the black and orange Halloween candy and treats were almost hidden behind shelf upon shelf of red and green goodies laid out for Christmas nearly two months in the future.  Today, Columbus Day, with it's sales seems to usher in a period of intense consumer marketing and spending that lasts until the end of the final year-end clearance sometime in the month of January.

It was not always so.  When I was growing up before the age of national mass marketing, back in the stone ages of the 1950's, each holiday was separate and distinct to itself.  As a schoolboy, I enjoyed the unique character and emphasis of each.

On Columbus Day, we celebrated the Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  We celebrated because America was a great place to live.  We celebrated Columbus because we would not have such a great place to live if Queen Isabella had not hocked her jewels to finance Columbus an had he not taken the voyage.  There were a few sales, but nothing like the marketing extravaganzas of today.

Three weeks after Columbus Day, we celebrated Halloween.  Kids in town went trick or treating.  Kids around the farming community went to the annual Halloween party at the church hall.

Halloween was followed by what was then called "Armistice Day", a day of solemn remembrance of those who had given their lives in what was then called "the Great War."  In school, we read and memorized lines of the poem "In Flanders Fields".  I recall them to this day. "In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our graves, while in the sky, The lark, still bravely singing fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below."  Do schoolboys and girls still learn of the sacrifice of so many?  I know not.  If not, our nation is the poorer for it.

Then came Thanksgiving, and we learned about the Pilgrims and Indians celebrating the first Thanksgiving in New England.  No one knew or cared that the first Thanksgiving had already been celebrated in the colony of Virginia three years before.  According to popular knowledge, the first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts and that's what we commemorated.  The knowledge became part of our cultural heritage. 

Christmas was purposely kept separate from Thanksgiving. Even the Sears Christmas Book, filled with pictures and descriptions of the toys my sisters and I used to drool over, never arrived in the mail until the week after Thanksgiving.  Each holiday deserved and had its own special place.

In a way, I miss that slower, more deliberate time when the distance between Columbus Day and Halloween stretched out almost forever, and the four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas was an eternity.  In our rush to get from one day to the other with such haste, we are in danger of forgetting the very important reason why each occasion is and should remain a separate holiday in its own right.

So, what will you be celebrating this season?  Will you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day as the separate occasions that they are or will you rather celebrate the emerging holiday of Columweenvetgivmasyear?

Your answer is important.