Boomers were born into the beginnings of the Consumer Age, when “buying more” equaled “progress.” Now that the Christmas shopping season is here once again, it’s time for Mister Boomer — an aging boomer Scrooge himself — to rant about how in our day it was “To everything … there is a season,” but now it’s “All about the Benjamins.”
In the boomer era the Christmas season, in most small to middle-sized towns, wasn’t “officially” started until the lighting of the community Christmas tree. The tree could be a naturally-growing one in a city park, or a twenty-to-thirty foot tall evergreen erected for the season in a town square or shopping district. In any case, it was decorated with lights and sometimes large ornaments that were wired to the branches to thwart wind gusts and mischievous hands. It was a citywide event when it came time to turn on the lights. Very often a local celebrity or political figure “flipped the switch” to illuminate the tree. Hundreds of people would brave the inevitable cold (and sometimes, snow) to come out for the tree lighting, in anticipation of the festive season’s arrival. Some Christmas carols might be sung by school kids, or, the crowd that gathered joined in singing. Local TV would be sure to get some footage for the evening news.
The thing is, the annual tree lighting was never in November; it was always held within the first two weeks or weekends of December. President Franklin Roosevelt had the Thanksgiving holiday pushed back one week in 1941 in an effort to give retail merchants a longer Christmas shopping season. The intent was to offer an economic boost to help get the country out of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Black Friday shopping was barely a blip in most areas after the War, as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was yet to be fully exploited the way other holidays had been (with the exception of professional football on TV, that is).
Christmas as a religious holiday always had an uneasy connection to capitalistic commerce through Santa Claus, who was depicted both as a religious figure and the bearer of toys to delight girls and boys. Santa’s arrival was often timed to coincide with the tree lighting. As befitting a prominent figure, the man in the red suit could arrive to the tree lighting by firetruck or, in some cases, helicopter. Some towns had Christmas parades planned around the event.
Our parents, a generation that grew up in the worst economic depression the country had ever seen — which was then followed by a World War — wanted very much to give their children as much as they possibly could, literally and figuratively. Consequently, the optimistic atmosphere of post-war America turned the holiday, with each passing year, into a season of want that continues to expand. As Baby Boomers we only knew the world we lived in, and not the one that came before, so more toys and gifts than our parents received as kids was only natural to us. The new national medium of TV did a lot to instill within us the desire to bug our parents for advertised products, and they obliged whenever they could. It looks like we did the same thing to our children, and they to theirs.
It seemed the more people bought in those boomer days, the hungrier merchants got, so the shopping season kick off of Black Friday gained in importance by the mid-60s. By the time the 1970s rolled around, a lot of cities abandoned the tree lighting ceremonies for several reasons, including protests over the separation of church and state, financial considerations of local governments and, in the case of Mister Boomer’s area as well as a host of others, the rise of local indoor malls, which took over the duties of creating tree lighting ceremonies of their own.
While Mister B has noticed a steady increase in the intensity of early holiday shopping through the years, he decries the frenzy foisted upon the populace by corporate-owned stores that he has witnessed over the past few years. Baby Boomers grew up in an age where by mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving Day Uncle Ned had unbuckled his belt and half the family was asleep in front of the TV football game. Now some families are piling into the SUV and headed for the mall.
We aren’t going back to the Mayberry days of our youth, to be sure, but shouldn’t we have one silent night before the onslaught of a month of blaring Silent Nights?
What do you think, boomers? When should the floodgates be opened for Christmas shopping?