Boomers Waited for the Holiday Season

In our current on-demand world, it appears the powers-that-be want to run events and holidays running into and overlapping one after the other, like sport team seasons converging in the inevitable playoffs. Take our current calendar season. As of this writing, the calendar says it is Halloween. Yet the store aisles are filled with Christmas decorations and holiday supplies, and TV is airing Christmas gifting ads … and they have been for weeks!

This isn’t entirely a recent phenomena. Boomers grew up knowing they weren’t going to be able to buy a swimsuit in August, or a winter coat in March — other than picked-over clearance merchandise. Yet things are different now. There is a dwindling recognition of season, and no sense of anticipation. You want breakfast at 3 pm, no problem! Need a new car by tomorrow? It can be in your driveway tomorrow, without ever going to a dealership. In the boomer years, anticipation was part of what made holidays and events what they were. (See: Boomers Learned to Wait)

Halloween used to be a one-day event. Now it’s a month-long, $10.5 billion dollar industry, according to the National Retail Federation. Christmas season didn’t begin until Thanksgiving dinner was over. Black Friday was hardly the madhouse it became in post-boomer years; stores opened at their regular time. Now it’s all shopping, all the time …. online. Fortunately, some retailers have seen the error of their ways and will close their stores for Thanksgiving this year, claiming they value their employees and want them to spend holiday time with their families. Of course, the real reason they will close is they can make more money with less overhead by pushing online purchases.

If Mister B is sounding a little cynical and curmudgeonly, and you’re ready to tell him “OK, boomer,” well, that’s fine with him. Boomers have lived six to seven decades now, and have the advantage of seeing how different things were to what they have become. Mister B, for one, enjoyed holidays as they arrived in the little boxes of a calendar, anticipating each day by day, and enjoying them to their fullest when they arrived. Only then could he and other boomers think about what came next. As each calendar page turned, seasons changed, and holidays would appear on the horizon. Anticipation made it special. Living in the present made it the best. How will today’s kids remember the Halloween of 2022? Or the Thanksgiving? Or the Christmas? And will they have to refer to some online archive of snapshots and videos to tell them what actually happened?

How about you, boomers? Do you care if Christmas ads play constantly on your TV in October?

Boomers Learned to Wait

There are many things that have changed during the nearly half-century since the last baby boomer was born in 1964. Mister Boomer has chronicled several of them in these posts and now, here’s another: anticipation. As Carly Simon musically observed, “anticipation … is making me wait.” Baby boomers grew up in a world filled with anticipation. We anticipated every end of school day and couldn’t wait for summer vacation. We’d count down the days between May and June, and just when it seemed like we were ready to explode, summer vacation would finally arrive, making the anticipation all the more worth while.

We anticipated holidays, when special foods and treats served once a year made the anticipation all the more intense. Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Easter — of course, Christmas — but also Memorial Day cookouts and Mother’s Day visits to restaurants all tilted the dial on our anticipation meters.

The point is, anticipation helped make the event, whether it was mundane or spectacular, that much more enjoyable and vivid in our memories. There is an inherent discipline attached to the art of anticipation, and our parents used it to see that we were held in check. Threats of punishments intended to diminish our abilities to completely enjoy whatever it was we were anticipating were ways for our parents to reign in our anticipatory enthusiasm. You might say that anticipation contributed to the methods that helped us learn how to behave.

As we became teens, the anticipation level increased right along with our growing anxiety for social interaction. Yet a huge part of the anticipation factor was centered around learning how to drive, and subsequently getting our first car. “I can’t wait until I’m sixteen,” sounds like a phrase The Beave might have said when his brother Wally pulled up to the front of the Cleaver house in his first jalopy. Intimately connected with this anticipation was our first date, first kiss, first dance and first going steady. Popular music from our boomer years is filled with references to these anticipations, from He’s So Fine to Then He Kissed Me and beyond.

Through all our early years, there was one level of anticipation that has now completely changed for today’s youth: TV viewing. Baby boomers desperately anticipated Saturday morning cartoons, naturally, but also weekly TV shows. The entire TV season was structured differently when we were young. The new TV season began the end of September and ran until June, when summer replacement shows were slotted in. Since most shows were broadcast only once a week and on limited TV stations, we had no choice but to wait to watch them. TV programmers were also wary of, say, broadcasting a Valentine’s Day episode of I Love Lucy in November, or a Christmas episode of Father Knows Best in May. The VCR wasn’t popularized until the 1970s, and DVDs and DVR were still in the science fiction stages, so when the program was aired, that’s when you watched it. If that meant making sure you were home on time to tune in the TV, then so be it.

There were shows that we just couldn’t wait to see each week, whether because they were a serial format with a continuing story line or individual episodes of mirth and zaniness. For Mister B, it was comedy that won out for anticipation domination on the TV program front. He was almost completely uninterested in the Friday-through-Sunday night line up of variety shows like The Jackie Gleason Show, Hollywood Palace and The Ed Sullivan Show. There was no need to waste anticipation, so he thought, for some old-fashioned singers or a guy who spun plates on poles. Rather, he couldn’t wait for The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show (especially for Fractured Fairy Tales and Peabody and Sherman), Beany & Cecil, The Addams Family, The Munsters and later, Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In. On the non-comedy line-up, Mister B anticipated weekly showings of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

It’s hard to imagine what life might have been like for us if our TV viewing in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s had any semblance of the on-demand world afforded today’s youth. They can pretty much get whatever they want, whenever they want it, from music to movies to TV shows, past and present. No anticipation is required.

Don’t get Mister B wrong, he’s not necessarily saying that a culture of instant gratification is altogether good or bad, especially since we were the generation that helped to create the current level of technology that enabled it. Rather, it is just different, especially when it comes to teaching children that “good things come to those who wait.” It seems to Mister B that anticipation helped tweak our intellectual and moral curiosities while instilling a sense of self-control that carries little weight in our current culture. Have we outgrown the need for anticipation, or will some other form of mental and emotional bell-ringing emerge to help the next generation to salivate before the treat is served?

What did anticipation mean to you, boomers, and what TV shows did you greatly anticipate each week?