This will be my son’s second Christmas. Last year he had no clue what was going on and realistically any partaking in the holiday he did was just us projecting Christmas on to him. I mean, I’m sure he had a great time but he had no idea what we were all doing. This year is a little different as he can tell there’s something unique about the this period of time. He’s really into Santa and the Christmas tree all lit up. He likes the reindeer and he likes snowmen. I think he’s at a point cognitively where he’ll make associations between this kind of imagery and the holiday and also that Santa brought him presents.
I’ve never really been a grinch – I’ve always appreciated Christmas as an adult. If anything, it’s a day I take the time to reflect on many things and I suppose I’ve even developed a few personal rituals with the holiday over time. But realistically it’s hard to get into the “Christmas spirit” when you’re in your late 20’s or 30’s and childless. This year things are a little more exciting just because there’s a little guy here to share it with and to see his reactions to the “magical” aspect of Christmas.
So last Sunday we took him to Bass Pro Shops out on the edge of town for him to see Santa, because apparently that’s one of the best ones and they give you a free picture. He was into it, but not at the same level he apparently was a week earlier at an event downtown. They had a large section of the place all done up with reindeers, fake snow, snowmen, Christmas trees and all the other accoutrements of Christmas. Nice display, I suppose. Activities for the kids and all of that too.
We were there for about a half an hour browsing around and then left. Admittedly it’s kind of a fun store with all the fish and dead animals. But it had me thinking – there’s not really many places to experience Christmas in the public sphere anymore.
I’m not necessarily talking about a “war on Christmas” or anything like that. It’s just that there aren’t many day-to-day places that people go to day-to-day that feel Christmasy.
When my parents and grandparents (and probably their parents) were kids, they would traditionally do Main Street or the town square up with wreaths, trees, lights, etc.
When I was a kid we had the shopping mall. Yeah, people always shit on the mall as the most uncouth/kitschy thing in the world, but at the very least it was a public space that people regularly went to and experienced Christmas time. You would have the decorations and such and Santa occupying a corner of the mall, but moreover you would have individual stores displaying whatever the hottest gift ideas of the year were.
My mom might be able to tell me about going to the big department store downtown – a vibrant place with a lot of diverse activity and that being a fond Christmas memory of her youth. Me? Well, I guess I would probably talk about Radio Shack and Kaybee Toys in the mall.
Honestly, my experience of experiencing Christmastime mostly through a shopping mall as a kid probably pales in comparison to a lit up town square with goods in display windows or the pageantry of the downtown department store…but it’s going to beat the fuck out of the kinds of things that will be there for my son. He (and others in/around his generation) will get a speciality department store that merits a one-time visit and then a not-so-speciality department store that pretty much looks the same as it does all year with a few superficial decorations thrown up. Nothing that really gives a strong Christmas aura.
Hell, since were awash in entertainment options as a society we don’t even have a commonality in that anymore. Christmas movies come out every year making last years’ irrelevant (do any of the new ones stand the course of time like Christmas Vacation?) and we don’t even have the Christmas TV specials that *everybody* watches.
While watching Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special and then going to Spencer’s Gifts in the mall may have seemed like a superficial and soulless way to mark the holiday season, at least we can say we had something that resembled a communal expression and celebration of Christmas and rituals that we all partook in. I just don’t think the same opportunities even exist at the same level as they did a generation ago.
It’s something I’ll have to keep in mind going forward. If we want him to have holidays with meaning beyond a day of presents and gluttony, we will have to do the work of building ritual into it ourselves. Target and Bass Pro Shops* won’t do it for us.
* I did really enjoy my visit there.