Somehow it seems the holiday season is upon us. Our gray Maine November has nearly passed. Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and the Fall 2015 semester is mere weeks from ending. My little hometown had its annual Early Bird Sale bright and early this past Saturday; the streets were filled with festive pajama-clad shoppers out at 6 a.m. who were looking for Christmas steals. I’ve already seen trucks parked along Route 1 selling wreaths and mistletoe, and my car ride along the winding, rolling back roads of Routes 202 and 220 is already lit up with Christmas lights. I’ve seen Christmas commercials on TV, and WHOM has already switched to Christmas music 24 hours a day.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to get into the “Christmas spirit” in November, when the grass is still wet and green and red apples still hang from hardy old apple trees. Though the days are shorter the sun can still pack some heat. I sat on my deck overlooking the harbor just a few days ago in short sleeves and with bare feet. It was that wonderful still-time of morning when the water is like glass and the sun is orange and happy, before the wind starts to pick up. It almost could have been summer.
I’m afraid for the commercialization that occurs during we now call “the holiday season.” It makes it too easy for us to lump Thanksgiving and Christmas into one big holiday that stretches from mid-November all the way through to the New Year. Calling these last dark months of the year one “holiday season” turns the days into a mad rush, into an exhausting wild ride of planning, buying, cooking, wrapping and traveling. Thanksgiving has turned into a test run for Christmas; it’s barely distinguishable from the other now. People are leaving hot food and loving friends and family at the dinner table so that they can go Black Friday shopping. Getting a good deal on video games, TV’s and juicers is more important these days than spending relaxed moments of reflection and celebration with loved ones.
As a child, I don’t remember getting excited for Christmas until Dec. 1, when my mother would hang two advent calendars in the kitchen for both my brother and I to open. Not the chocolate kind, either, but the ones with the delicate little painted pictures. I used to think there was magic in the opening of one little hinged door every December day.
Around the first week of December we would help my father make wreaths from spruce and pine tips cut from the woods out back. And around the middle of December we would put our tree up. I knew it was Christmastime because of the smell of balsam in the house, because of the soft iced cookies, because of the wrapping station my mother would set up in the living room behind the couch, because of the trip we would make to Freeport on a weekday to go Christmas shopping at L.L. Bean. A “holiday season” didn’t exist back then. Thanksgiving was anticipated and enjoyed with family, and then a week or so later, it was December. Then it would be Christmastime.
I think there is something special about taking it one holiday at a time. Thanksgiving should not be spent rifling through newspapers, looking for Black Friday coupons — or, even worse, actually shopping during the late hours of Thursday and into the wee hours of Friday morning.
I just heard that the outdoor and fitness retailer Real Equipment Inc. (REI) is boycotting Black Friday this year. Some big chains like T.J. Maxx, Costco, Publix and Nordstrom have not been open for Thanksgiving Day for a few years now – but REI is taking it one huge step further. They will not be open for Black Friday either. Instead, they’re encouraging people to spend the day with family and friends outside, and to share their experiences on social media by using #OptOutside.
I will not be spending my Black Friday shopping. I will be in the mountains of western Maine at the family camp. I will be eating too much apple pie and probably drinking too much red wine. I will be wearing leggings and slippers for four days straight. I will be taking walks in the woods, watching the sun set over the lavender mountains, watching the silver moon get a little closer to being full every night. I won’t have access to social media up there in the mountains, but in my heart, at least, I’ll rest easy knowing I’m choosing to #OptOutside this year.
I hope many of you choose to do the same.
Christmas will be here before we know it. Let’s enjoy Thanksgiving for what it is, which is a celebration of the kinds of wealth we are blessed to know that have nothing to do with material objects or money. I will be giving thanks this year for health, family and for second chances. What will you be thankful for? I sure hope it’s not for 70 percent off storewide sales at Target.