Now Is Time for Real Giving of Thanks

The Christmas season started November 1, just a few hours after the trick-or-treaters retired for the night.

November 1 was the day my neighbor's landscapers put up her Christmas decorations. Every year, she has her rooftop outlined in brightly colored bulbs, creating a “gingerbread house” decor. She could not accomplish this on her own, so it's a professional job.

On November 4, Santa arrived at my shopping mall. He has been there for more than three weeks, collecting requests and handing out candy canes. Of course, Santa wouldn't come to a place that isn't appropriately decked out for the season, so the folks who operate the mall pulled out all the stops to set up his throne room and hang huge banners from the rafters. (I'm guessing the guys whose job it is to put away the Halloween displays had to move fast for fear of being trampled.)

The extended time for visiting with Santa has allowed some children to change their minds two or three times already about what they want for Christmas. It's hard to settle on a final list because the toy circulars keep coming with the weekend newspapers. The first ones arrived Nov. 6.

Conveniently, the catalogs for Toys R Us and Target include blank pages for wish lists that encourage children to note the page and style numbers of the items they most hope to find under the tree. We wouldn't want mom or dad to mistakenly buy the wrong toy, after all.

The coffee shop where I get my caramel latte put up a Christmas tree on November 9. Rather than ornaments, it was decorated with travel mugs and CDs of “coffee house music” so patrons can shop right off its branches. Seasonal music is playing there, too; Mel Torme will have sung “The Christmas Song” over the sound system for six weeks before the snow flies.

At the risk of speaking a cliché, I note: Christmas comes earlier every year. Oops — make that “the holidays” come earlier every year because with all the hype and hoopla, you'll not find many references to Christmas.

To wit: There is an official “holiday tree” downtown in front of my state Capitol (lighted with festivities and fanfare on November 18, right after the electric light parade and before the fireworks display).

There's little any of us can do to reverse the commercialization of Christmas. It's not exactly a new issue, anyway. Charlie Brown wrestled with it back in 1965 when he refused to buy a pink metallic tree and instead rescued the most pathetic and poignant evergreen from the sales lot.

In fact, our economy depends on us capitulating to a national calendar that jumps into seasonal spending well before December, so commenting on it is pretty much a waste of breath.

What I did instead was ignore it in favor of preserving some semblance of Thanksgiving. Despite marketers' best efforts to fold Thanksgiving into one giant, lucrative “holiday season,” I can't give up its simple tradition: the profound gestures of acknowledging we are blessed and expressing our gratitude.

It's hard to commercialize the instinct within our best selves to give thanks — and hey, you don't have to look beyond your own overdecorated neighborhood to be thankful you're not from Biloxi, Miss., or St. Charles Parish, La. or, heaven forbid, New Orleans.

In the midst of my resistance, I even summoned the sense to be grateful I live in a culture so unspeakably fortunate it can't contain itself to just 12 days for Christmas or even to the month of December, but must instead creep forward to encompass the whole of Thanksgiving.

But alas, as the leftover turkey bubbles into cacciatore, the time for resistance is over.

Advent is here, the season of anticipation as we focus on an event so extraordinary it can't be reduced to the sum of its decorations and wrapping paper and stockings hung with care.

Christmas really is coming, in its own time, for its own reasons.

By the end of the week, I'll have a wreath hanging on the front door and a tree by the fireplace. I'll mail out my Christmas cards, bake cookies, play Frank Sinatra's Christmas CD.

One night soon, we'll pile the family into the van to drive around checking out the garish lawn displays clamoring for notice.

I'll peruse those toy catalogs and grapple with the decision over whether to fulfill my daughter's request for something called a Pixel Chix — a virtual, two-dimensional friend who lives in her own three-dimensional house. (I think not.)

By Dec. 24, I'll have shopped and wrapped and labeled more stuff than I planned to buy and certainly more than any of us needs.

Nevertheless, part of me still will resist so that when at last it comes on the 25th, this Christmas will be a true thanksgiving holiday — a time of gratitude for the hope and promise of salvation and a world filled with love and peace.

Let the season begin.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 18 years and mother of four children from third grade to junior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

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