For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
As far as holidays go, the calendar has always seemed a little out of balance to me. As a child, the eight-week stretch that includes Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas was always the most exciting time of the year. In North Carolina, these final two months of the year are typically marked by rapid changes in the landscape. The maple and oak trees still full of green held over from late summer morph into beautiful towers of bright orange and yellow-hued leaves. As the branches grow bare, the crisp, chill air of winter transforms even a simple stroll downtown into an exciting outing. By the time Christmas Eve approaches, more than a few times in my 25 years, the first snow of the season has already blanketed the ground with a thin, but beautiful, layer of glistening powder.
Apart from the changes in the weather, part of the excitement around the holidays of my childhood was savoring the distinctness of each of the very different, if tightly scheduled, celebrations. Halloween was a time to let loose a little and push the boundaries of adolescent freedom as I roamed the neighborhood with friends in search of sweet treats and spooky thrills. Thanksgiving was a time to visit with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for a day of feasting and fellowship. Christmas was a time when my immediate family — my parents, my two brothers and I — really spent quality time with one another as outside commitments to school and work seemed to disappear and time came to a standstill.
This distinctness between the major holidays seems to be fading from our culture as stores race to outdo one another with marketing campaigns that begin earlier and earlier each year. Thanksgiving and Christmas become fused into a single month-long hybrid holiday, the preparations for which begin before Halloween has had a chance to be laid to rest. Department stores begin hawking decorations and supplies in July, so that by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, it isn’t unusual to already feel desensitized from turkey overdoses.
I wonder if this trend in pushing holidays earlier into the year is something more than just a gimmick to make a quick sale. It may be a reflection of a larger trend in our culture that is always pushing people into the next step. We have to skip over Thanksgiving to get to Christmas, just as mainstream culture pushes younger children to mature into tweens, as if teenage anxiety didn’t come soon enough. From eighth grade on, students are encouraged to put all of their energy into preparing for college. But college is no longer a time for academic exploration and personal growth; it is a rush to prepare for a trade and enter the professional labor pool.
As we take advantage of the holiday season to slow down for a few days and catch up with family and friends, let’s try to slow down enough to enjoy the season of life we find ourselves in as well. Change will come soon enough.