Monday, November 16, 2009

You've Come A Long Way Ralphie

In Friday's WSJ, Eric Felten writes on the marginalization of Thanksgiving:

Given half a chance, retailers would probably try to get their plastic garlands hung just after Labor Day. (Ho-ho-ho, it's back to school!) But we've been spared that particular encroachment, thanks to a holiday that has proved capable of standing athwart the relentless forces of Christmas-creep--Halloween. Once a quaint bit of Americana built around the simple pleasures of costumes, candy-grabbing and petty vandalism, Halloween has become a marketable and profitable holiday, putting many official holidays to shame. If only Presidents Day had some sort of free-candy angle.

In contrast to Halloween's stalwart ability to keep Christmas from jumping the queue, Thanksgiving has lost its cultural muscle. The early advent of the Santa season may have less to do with the red-and-green imperative than with the weakness of Turkey Day. What happened to this quintessential American holiday?


The Thanksgiving squeeze is something that we can definitely relate to this year. Since we'll be out of town for ten days on and around Thanksgiving, our house decorations have transitioned from Halloween to Christmas with scarcely a pause in between. It's a shame too because Thanksgiving is a holiday that merits more attention. As Felten notes, it's a quintessentially American experience and one that I look forward to every year. If your travels aren't too arduous and you're not the one responsible for assembling the feast, it's a day to revel in the finest traditions of eating, drinking, and being merry. Throw in a little football and it's really a hard day to beat.

Felten ends his piece with a plea to embrace the autumn season, Thanksgiving in particular. It also includes an interesting nugget on the state of American Christmas culture:

There will be plenty of time next month for all the secular manifestations of Christmas: shopping, trimming the tree, shopping, mugs of frothing Tom & Jerry, shopping, and watching Ralphie get his Red Ryder BB-gun and Clarence get his wings. Oh, and yes, shopping. But before we break out the ornaments and dust off the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack, let's make the most of autumn and its particular pleasures. Jump in a pile of leaves. Savor the waning daylight. And go ahead. Week after next, eat that second slice of pumpkin pie--just be thankful for it.

Amazing. "A Christmas Story" is now so widely recognized within the culture that it's cited along with shopping, tree trimming, Tom and Jerrys, and that other grossly overrated Christmas movie as being emblematic of secular Christmas in America. Our little boy is all growed up.

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