I’m not really sure when the commercialization of Christmas began to impact modern America in dramatic fashion. Maybe it was in the 1960’s. If not that early, it was certainly underway by the 1970’s.
The first signs, I think, were when Christmas displays began to appear in retail stores as early as August. I was a young man when I first remember the subject being discussed by churchgoing folks with no small amount of consternation. “The very idea of pushing Christmas merchandise before summer is over!”
Well, that hasn’t changed much in the last 40 or 50 years. Christmas merchandise still makes its appearance in August each year. I have noticed that Halloween continues to make a bigger push every year. Christmas displays are somewhat overshadowed in August, September, and October by all the Halloween stuff. (If you care to look deeply enough, you might find that to be a bit unsettling, too.)
When Halloween passes and all the candy and costumes are gone, the Christmas push is fully underway. Strangely, the loser seems to be Thanksgiving Day. You might have observed that Black Friday began well before Thanksgiving Day this year. It’s hard to imagine — Thanksgiving lost between the marketing of Halloween and Christmas.
In the days of my youth, it seemed Christmas was not given much thought until Thanksgiving Day was past. It was about that time (by design, I’m sure) the Sears Roebuck and Company Christmas Wish Book arrived at Route 2, Carthage, TN. That’s when my brothers, my sister and I got really serious about Christmas, and, especially Santa Claus. For the next four weeks we gave that Wish Book a “going over.”
At the McCall household, Santa Claus relied heavily on Sears Roebuck and Company. So the McCall children took shopping the Wish Book very seriously. That Wish Book got very little rest. With four boys and a girl actively “shopping,” it meant the catalog was in use during most waking hours. That led to many an altercation.
When the issue of time with the catalog became hotly contested, my mother served as referee. I vividly remember many conversations relating to the Wish Book.
“Mama, make him give me the Christmas catalog! He’s been looking at it for an hour!” a brother would say.
Sometimes, to keep the peace, my mother would impose a 30 minute limit. The next one in line would watch the clock. Invariably, that resulted in this announcement: “Mama, his 30 minutes are up! Make him give it to me!”
“Give your brother the catalog!” she would declare.
The one giving up over the Wish Book would hand it over to the one waiting for it and snare, “You big Baby!”
For over a mouth the catalog was passed around, day and night. What to choose? How to decide?
I’ve spent many an hour studying a Sears Roebuck Christmas Wish Book. Back and forth, page by page. And I changed my mind a thousand times. I would go the bed thinking about my possible choices. Then, the next morning I would need to see that catalog again.
Sometimes the catalog became miss-placed which created a household crisis. Years later, looking back, I suspected my mother hid “the darn thing” just to cut down on the racket.
By the time Christmas Day arrived that Wish Book was missing its front and back covers, was dog-eared, and as limp as a dish rag.
Sometimes we changed our minds at the last minute and put in our order to Santa Claus too late, and didn’t get exactly what we asked for. But no one was ever unhappy on Christmas morning.
As I recall, the Sears Roebuck Christmas Wish Book was deliver at no cost back in those days. But if it has come with a price, we sure would have gotten our money’s worth.