I don’t know about you, but I surrender. Well, make that a partial surrender. I’ve long griped about Christmas decorations going on sale in stores weeks before Thanksgiving, and I’m certainly not ready for the now-creeping practice of that happening immediately after Halloween, or in some instances even before.
In my adult years, I’ve never wanted to hasten the end of the calendar year or embrace any other notion, aside from my birthday, that I was a year older. And I still don’t. But I am finally giving into having Christmas begin in a lot of ways before Thanksgiving.
What has me thinking about this in the second week of November is the arrival, already, of Christmas catalogs. They take me back to my childhood when my brother and I waited every December for the arrival of the annual Sears Christmas catalog then poured over it for hours at a time, day after day.
Our paternal grandmother, then in her eighties, lived with us, and we would go into her sitting room after supper, look through the pages, and tell her about all the things we found on them to love and covet. Not that we expected her to order any of the items for us. We looked to Santa Claus to bring them, even as our parents impressed upon us that we should winnow down our list and keep it small. “Because,” they said, “Santa has to provide toys for kids all around the world.” That didn’t stop us from drooling, however, over the board games, puzzles, Erector Sets, toy cars and trucks, electric trains, Roy Rogers cap pistols, Daisy air rifles, and even men’s rings and watches.
And then, there is this to consider. Today, when the Internet, online shopping, Amazon, and other giant outfits are driving down the number of brick-and-mortar retailers—from major department stores to small shops—and putting thousands more delivery vehicles on our highways (not to mention foreshadowing a likely coming horde of delivery drones), doesn’t it seem on the surface a little ironic that mail-order catalogs continue to thrive, albeit in special niches?
There are market-driven reasons for all of this, of course. Meanwhile, I take a measure of comfort in seeing at least some visual and physical connections between the “we-have-everything” catalogs sent out by the great mail-order houses of the past, the seasonal wish books my brother and I called “toy catalogs,” and the catalogs that seem to arrive in droves every week now. Never mind that we rarely order anything from the last of these.
There’s a not-so-easily-seen reason that they come to us, of course. In today’s world, we leave breadcrumbs with nearly everything we do. Technology picks up the pieces, fits them together, peddles our information, and we end up on the receiving end of lots of stuff we don’t want, from phone calls to advertising flyers, Internet ads, and, yes, these niche catalogs.
I’m choosing for now to embrace the catalogs, though. First, I can’t avoid seeing them when I haul them from the mailbox to the recycle box. Second, though, even glancing at the covers is starting to put me in the mood for Christmas. I even went to the closet today and pulled out a few of my favorite Santas to help me get further ready for the season.
In the meantime, can you imagine family members and friends in the future fondly recalling olden times when they shared evenings around the fire, staring into their individual smartphone screens, and shopping on the Internet? We’ll need historians, economists, sociologists, and anthropologists to tell us the full import of all the ways such a scene is different from what my brother and I experienced, but I, for one, have trouble visualizing such remembering happening with the same kind of joy.
Sears Catalog photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play.
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