When I returned to the University late Sunday night, Mariah Carey was singing loudly next door. Well, not literally, of course, but thanks to Napster, I could hear her belting out the lyrics to traditional holiday carols.
Pulling out my calendar, I wanted to check and make sure it was still November, and that I had not fallen into a turkey-induced coma after Thanksgiving and woken up on Dec. 24. Indeed, the calendar read Nov. 26. Why was Mariah wishing me a Merry Christmas so early?
What was once the "Twelve Days of Christmas" now has become more like the "Twelve Weeks of Christmas." We anticipate the 25th of December long before we smell chestnuts roasting on an open fire or Jack Frost begins nipping at our noses. The holiday season has gone from a religious time spent with friends and family to a commercial revolution beginning sometime before the first leaf falls from the tree in mid-October.
When my plane landed at the Orlando airport last Monday night, I was greeted by my little brother, my father and a 50-foot Christmas tree in the airport terminal. While I stood there dumbfounded, I heard a familiar song playing overhead. I grabbed my brother's arm and stared at him with wide eyes.
"Yes, Lytle, that's Jingle Bells," he said.
It seems that each year the holiday season begins a little earlier. Millions of people flood the malls on Black Friday after Thanksgiving, standing in line at 6 a.m. with a warm cup of coffee and a plan of attack that would make General Schwartzkoff proud. The season intended to promote "peace on earth and goodwill towards men" officially begins with two middle-aged women physically attacking one another for the last Tickle-Me Elmo on aisle five.
Instead of extending a warm heart and holiday cheer, we extend our credit limit on every piece of plastic we can get our hands on.
In this light, Thanksgiving becomes less of a holiday and more of a trial run. Did you like that lemon pie your Aunt Margaret brought over last Thursday? Good. She wanted to work out the kinks before she serves it to the whole family for Christmas dinner. Did your mom take you shopping while you were home last week and make you try on five different sweater sets? Thought so. She has to find something to put under the tree for you this year.
It seems this country favors long holiday seasons as much as it enjoys marathon elections. Summer camps are infamous perpetrators of "Christmas in July" celebrations. Our society forgets that it takes more than a candy cane and brightly wrapped packages to invoke the holiday spirit. Scheduling "Christmas" between arts and crafts at noon and archery at 4 p.m. tends to lose some of the original meaning.
This confusion and endless celebration reverts back to our childhood experiences. (How very Freudian of me.) As small children, we found it nearly impossible to stay in bed after the clock read "4 a.m." on Christmas morning. Everyone was excited to get a jump on the special day. Everyone except mom and dad, that is. It had been a late night for "Santa," after all.
As we grew older, our excitement for celebrating early combines with the department stores' need to bring in as much revenue as possible during their most lucrative season. The result is that we are bombarded with Christmas trees in airports and holiday sales in every store before Thanksgiving. I could even head down to Fashion Square Mall this week and get my picture taken on Santa's lap, although I really wouldn't want to inflict that kind of pain on poor Santa right now in my post-Thanksgiving plumpness.
University students are just as intent on jumping the holiday gun as the rest of the world. Menorahs and dreidels, as well as Christmas decorations, are for sale at all check-out counters at the Bookstore. Colored lights twinkle above doorways in student housing across Grounds, and a battery-operated Santa Claus waves at me from my neighbor's window. Upon further inspection, I see that he is merrily ringing a sleigh bell.
Keep it up, Santa. You'll be ringing in the holidays for another month. But that's okay - at least it drowns out Mariah's voice next door.