Holidays Done Right

Posted: November 22, 2007 in Consumerism, Culture

If you live inside the media bubble generated by corporate America, as most of us do to varying degrees, you receive thousands of cultural instructions every day. The most frequent instruction is simply “Buy This!” whatever “This” might be. The instructions surrounding holidays are probably the worst, when in order to do any given holiday correctly, we are instructed to buy this, do that, and be such and such. Today is Thanksgiving, and if you’re cooking a big feast or even attending one, you’re following an instruction or American tradition handed down through many generations. It applies even if you’re not an American but are merely living in the U.S.

There is no reason to turn down a good meal. Nor is it necessary to reject one of our more modest traditions — assuming of course that Thanksgiving isn’t merely the occasion for gluttony. In my boyhood, Thanksgiving was the meal, the nap, the board and card games, and time unquestioningly spent as a family. For others, it’s also a football game, a parade, and an opportunity to drink, to heal some emotional wounds, and to offer thanks and forgiveness. For some, it’s also the inevitable occasion of a big family blow-up. All of this is normal and innocuous enough that one could hardly object, right? Good, clean fun, and perhaps some drama as well.

In fact, I don’t object categorically. These traditions and rituals scattered around the calendar offer meaning and comfort to many, and they’re just plain enjoyable. What I object to is the way holidays are increasingly co-opted by commercial endeavor (which distorts their meaning) and calcified into a series of meaningless observations — an unthinking, unfeeling, paint-by-the-numbers holiday.

Perhaps the worst offender is what has become known as Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving. Who in their right mind gets up before 5 A.M. to score a parking spot and a place in line before the big box store throws open its doors to rabid shoppers chasing sales? It seems that every year now someone gets trampled to death in one of those mobs. Other holidays and their aftermath may not get quite so ugly, but there is plenty of room for objection. For example, the other commonplace instruction attached to several other holidays is “Get Drunk!” Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, and New Year’s Eve simply can’t be done right without getting at least a little shitfaced.

A new documentary (or mockumentary, if you will) arrived this season called What Would Jesus Buy? The movie, which I haven’t seen, tells about a certain Reverend Billy, who travels around with his entourage of gospel singers trying to $ave consumers and the Christmas holiday from the so-called Shopocalypse — the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption, and the fires of eternal debt. It’s shtick, I suspect, but an unusual and welcome antidote to the usual instructions we hear all during Christmastime.

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Comments
  1. greywhitie says:

    “For example, the other commonplace instruction attached to several other holidays is “Get Drunk!” Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, and New Year’s Eve simply can’t be done right without getting at least a little shitfaced.”
    *********************************************************

    i’m taking the red eye across the continental u.s.a. on new year’s eve. i sure hope the pilot does not shoot too many vodkas before or during the flight!

  2. grasshopperkm says:

    Rev. Billy lives near me. I haven’t seen the movie either, but he’s a rabble rouser who’s right. He gets a crowd swarming around the entrances of city shopping centers. The police regularly arrest him for disturbing the peace but so far the charges haven’t stuck.

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