Imagine this. It's Oct. 31 -- Halloween, 1:00 PM. We're on our way to the grocery store to pick up a last minute pumpkin to carve to try to entice trick-or-treaters to our waiting bowl of candy, and party-goers to our Halloween party later that night. We arrive to note, disappointedly, that the huge truckload of pumpkins outside the store has been replaced with stacks of firewood.
We live in North Carolina. The temperature outside is 86 degrees. We won't need firewood until the next ice age or the next ice storm, whichever comes first.
So, we walk into the grocery store to the Halloween display. It's exactly what you'd expect on October 31st. There were candy canes and chocolate snowmen, red stockings with white fluffy borders, and a little orange and brown box in the bottom right hand shelf with a yellow and red plastic tag that says, "3/$1.00 with your VIC card!" It had a broken plastic witch in it. I'll admit, at first, I was angry, especially when we came back later that afternoon to buy wine and noticed the one, solitary pumpkin outside selling for $3.89. But now that I've thought about it, it's reminded me of the REAL story of Christmas, and lest you forget, I'm going to tell you.
Christmas, as you all know, is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It's commonly celebrated on December 25 and January 7, depending on whether you follow the Gregorian or Julian calendar. What most people forget is that the birth of Jesus was an event that actually spanned over 3 whole months. Let me call your attention to the little known Gospel of Sam, also known as the Book of Wal-Mart, in which the real story of Christmas is told.
It starts in the North Pole, where Joseph and his good friend Santa lived. It was a fine October afternoon, and they were just settling down on Joseph's front porch to drink some fresh mulled apple cider and enjoy the fresh smells of fall. They were discussing the Bengals/Patriots game last week when Mary, Joseph's wife popped her head out and said unto them, "Joseph, somebody's on the phone for you." And so it was that Joseph was informed that a decree had gone out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. In person. Now.
"That sucks," said Joseph, "Couldst I borrow your sleigh and eight flying reindeer for the trip, Santa? I'd just be a jiff."
"Alas," Santa said in return, "The sleigh's in the shop, and Rudolph's run off with some elf dentist. But I do have a spare donkey."
"Does it fly?" asked Joseph.
"Shit," he said unto Santa, and prepared for the journey.
Mary was, of course, great with child and the trip was difficult on the back of a non-flying donkey. It was months before they made it to Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, and Mary, who had been in her second trimester when they left, was now ready to give birth. Bethlehem, unfortunately, was in the middle of the busy holiday tourist season, and Joseph and Mary had not bothered to book ahead on the internet so they could not find a hotel room and, being out-of-towners, could not find an immediate appointment with an OB/GYN. And so it was that a nice secretary said unto them, "Wal-Mart will let you stay in their parking lot -- they even have water hook-ups for RV's. Try to find a small-town privately-owned store that'll do that!"
So there, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in blue plastic bags and laid him in a shopping cart, because there was no place for them anywhere else. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Now, before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, three kings were shopping at Wal-Mart, and they came from the east saying, "Where didst we park our camels? This damn parking lot is so big, we couldst be walking for days before we find them." And lo, they traveled for months in the parking lot, and they did not find their camels. "Didn't we tie them to a light post?" said the kings, and behold, the light post that they had tied their camels to rose before them and it was the place where the child was. When they saw the light post, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going to the light post they saw the newborn child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their Wal-Mart bags, they offered him gifts such as they had bought when they were in the store: candy corn and a wobbly spider decoration and a plastic Frankenstein head. And they didst apologize, "We're sorry we had to give you these old presents, but we've been wandering in the parking lot for months. They don't mark the sections very well."
And in a nearby region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the parking lot of Wal-Mart a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in plastic bags and lying in a shopping cart."
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "That soundeth quite bizarre. Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste to find Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the shopping cart, and yet they did not for the parking lot was so immensely huge. As they were wandering they ran into three kings on camelback and said unto them, "Have you seen, anywhere, a baby wrapped in plastic bags and lying in a shopping cart?" and immediately felt foolish, for it sounded like a stupid question, but lo! the kings replied, "Oh, sure! Walk that that way for about a month and a half, when you see a light post, you're there."
And the shepherds did wander for another month and a half and when they finally got there, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them, and why they hadn't shown up three months ago when he was born. And the shepherds said unto the angels, "Next time a Savior is born unto us, couldst you give us a little warning, so we don't show up so damn late? He's practically walking, already! We feeleth like heels."
"Please," said Joseph, "We've been eating stale candy pumpkins for sustenance since then, and they tasteth like hell."
And that's why we start to celebrate Christmas in October.
Don't blame it on the soulless corporations, or on greed. It's all tradition, based on a time when people had to start doing things in advance or they'd never make it on time anyway. Don't get upset when you're looking for Thanksgiving decorations and you can only find big fluffy Frosty the Snowman hangings. Those helpful stores are just making sure that you don't let Christmas pass you by. Just think how you'd feel if you woke up one day and realized that you missed it! Missed the parades! Missed the carols! Missed all your Jewish friends going out for Chinese food and a movie!
So, the next time you're in the stores wondering who in the hell is buying Christmas decorations two or three months early, just count yourself lucky and make sure that consumer is you!
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
11.10.03 @ 1:01a
You want early? My mom finished X-mas shopping for the 5 of us and about 20 relatives in June.
11.10.03 @ 1:03a
Ho! Ho! Ho! You are a right warped jolly elf. Funniest holiday story I've read.
11.10.03 @ 1:38a
This is hilarious. However, just in case lightning strikes your sacreligious ass, I'm very glad I'm not standing next to you just now.
11.10.03 @ 8:04a
Well, I'm good so far.
But, really, I meant it more in an absurdist sense than a sacreligious sense.
You want early? My mom finished X-mas shopping for the 5 of us and about 20 relatives in June.
My grandparents do that stuff -- and you know what? It's okay, as far as I'm concerned. She's planning ahead, that's fine. But the stores are insane.
I couldn't buy plant food at Wal-Mart this weekend because the lawn and garden center was gone and in its place was the new expanded toy section and the Christmas decoration center.
Isn't there some unspoken law that you don't put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving? Shopping days and all that crap?
11.10.03 @ 8:52a
As a devout agnostic I am mostly annoyed at the idea of Christmas. I do, however, have grandchildren who LOVE Christmas, so I now busily go to SmarterKids.com and Amazon.com and get all their presents shipped to them, usually finishing up by Thanksgiving. I've taken a sacred agnostic vow never to buy anything at Wal*Mart. If they don't have it at Publix, Eckerd's or Radio Shaq I don't need it. Sometimes I have to drive all the way to Circuit City for stuff. If all these mass marketing chain stores hadn't driven all the mom and pop shops out of business I'd still be buying all my stuff from people I know. Sigh.
11.10.03 @ 10:15a
Yeah, but see.. it's not Christmas that bothers me -- though I do feel really bad for people who don't celebrate it -- it's the fact that people bring crap out for it months and months early.
I've heard tell of some stores that have had Christmas stuff out since Labor Day.
11.10.03 @ 10:22a
I agree. I like the holiday, but by the time it comes around I'm so jaded from the decorations and crap in the stores that it's not as much fun. Christmas is a personal thing, it doesn't need to intrude on my grocery shopping, you know?
11.10.03 @ 10:39a
Especially the Halloween shopping!
11.10.03 @ 11:02a
Yeah, what ever happened to the X-mas season officially starting the day after Thanksgiving?
11.10.03 @ 12:54p
At least the Budweiser clydesdale commercials still wait until Thanksgiving. :)
11.10.03 @ 1:08p
And when Anheiser-Busch is making the most reasonable decisions you know something is amiss.
11.10.03 @ 1:23p
It used to irk me to no end when I'd see Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving and now they're popping up before Halloween. I agree, it's absurd. Pretty soon we'll be seeing Fourth of July/Pre-Christmas sales!!
I'm the type of person that likes to appreciate each holiday for what it is. Celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving is through seems to jip another equally great (though present-less) holiday.
11.10.03 @ 1:26p
It's not Christmas season for me until I've seen/heard two things: the Norelco shaver ad on TV, and "Christmas Rapping" by the Waitresses on the radio.
That said, I know the local Target has had artificial trees and such set up in a corner of the store since around the first of October. And the fact that "Elf" is already in theaters doesn't help one bit.
11.10.03 @ 2:01p
"Christmas Rapping" is an absolute must. As is "Bring me a man (for Christmas)" by the Weather Girls. But there again, I love those songs, but that doesn't mean I'm going to bust out the tape before the week of Christmas. There is a time for everything.
11.10.03 @ 10:42p
Did I say bah humbug yet? I'm starting to feel that Grinching feeling in my toes, and soon it will shoot through my body right up to my nose. I'm not down with da holiday spirit, not that I fear it. I just don't like seein' decorations out of season, it makes me cranky for all the wrong reasons.
There you have a mild X-Mas rap. Now I'm off to take a nap.
Again, Erik, you nailed this one.
11.11.03 @ 7:22a
America is the land of the almighty dollar. I think that most people feel the way all of you (and I) do, that Christmas has become way too commercial. So if we all feel that way, why does it continue to get worse? Because we live in the land of "what can I get away with". Maybe this year we'll put up the decorations in September... Next year we'll charge $40,000 for that SUV... I think we can ask $350,000 for that house, someone will buy it... Go ahead and say f**k on national broadcast television, just say it real fast... I think that most of us want to do the right thing and have good intentions. But it's the one self-centered pig that decides he can cut in line that brings out the self-centered pig in all of us, and the flood ensues. btw, I am not a Veteran, but I believe Veteran’s Day sales should be outlawed. If people can't demonstrate plain, common sensibilities, then we should pass a law that forces them too. I'm sorry, did I spit on you? :o/
11.11.03 @ 11:09a
Hilarious Erik!! I always feel bad for poor old Thanksgiving. It's such cool, family oriented holiday and x-mas just bowls it over now. Personally, I'm going to go all out for Thanksgiving this year just so x-mas can kiss my ass. By the way, never shop at wal-mart, it's evil.
11.11.03 @ 11:14a
I'm not a big fan of them. But my grocery store is in on the gig, too, as are half the rest of the stores in the area. Christmas banners up on all the light posts and stuff.
It's just plain needless.
11.20.03 @ 2:38p
Promptly at 1 p.m. today, St. Louis' "mostly 80s" radio station switched to an All-Christmas Music format for the next umpteen frickin' weeks.
Today in St. Louis, we have cerulean skies and it's currently 73 degrees. I spent lunch cruising around with the sun roof and windows open -- and some other station blaring from my stereo.
And, spotted on Tuesday: the first house in our neighborhood with Christmas lights in the yard. I may burn the place down this weekend.
11.20.03 @ 3:07p
About two years ago, our little bible-belt community spent $475,000.00 on Christmas decorations ... complete with a neon baby Jesus and three plastic wise-guys. But it's okay, because they were able to make it up out of the school budgets.
If you need a back-up torch man, I'm available.
11.20.03 @ 4:45p
Wow. A neon baby Jesus?
What a party light!
"Oh, dude. Party's on tonight!"
"How do you know?"
"The neon baby Jesus has been lit."
I think I need to use that in a script sometime.