Imagine what it would be like if Christmas were more like Easter, which is to say not attached to a fixed date. Suppose December 25th was a possible but not certain date for Christmas. Suppose, in fact, it was only one of many possible dates Christmas might be celebrated. To make this nightmare even worse, suppose you could never be certain, year to year, which date Christmas would fall on and it was only announced six or eight or eleven days before the chosen date. Would that be frustrating or is that just another rhetorical question?
Now, if you don't celebrate Christmas and find it culturally insensitive of me to have chosen a Christian holiday to use as an example, rest assured I refer not to the birth of baby Jesus, peace on earth, good will toward men, God rest ye merry gentlepersons, deck the halls and don our gay apparel Christmas. I make reference only to the excruciatingly long, anticipated, secular frenzy of gift giving/receiving, cookie eating, eggnog swilling, dancing with a lampshade on your head at the office party, pants-poppin', spendin' like there's no tomorrow, mall cruisin', extravaganza Christmas brought to you by the Retail Council of Canada, a subsidiary of the American Retail Council.
When you were a kid — the legitimate small, young kind, not the big goof you are now — such a situation would have been intolerable. Exactly when would you have to start being good to qualify for a Santa visit at your house? How long could you hold out with only the promise of a hope of Christmas to come, one of these days, but don't ask me when again or I'll give you a smack? Doubtless there would be a lot of backsliding, more naughty than nice behavior as the marginal cost of being good inevitably outweighed the marginal utility of tormenting your siblings, parents or pets.
As bad as being a child and having to toe the line of good behavior would be, imagine the problems you'd face as an adult. Most of us — this is not another gross generalization, scientists have actually wasted their time and your tax dollars studying this peculiarity of the human species — wait until the last minute to do our Christmas shopping. Let's not pull any punches here; most of us wait until the last minute to do everything — shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, party planning, and everything else in life not even remotely related to Christmas.
To put a small Zen-like spin on this, if Christmas was a floating holiday, would there be a last minute for anyone to notice? If so, many of us would inevitably miss it. Wait until the last minute and, poof, it just passes you by without you even noticing it.
You'd have to be like those weird people we all know who do their Christmas shopping all year long. I always wondered if people who, say, go on a Hawaiian holiday at Easter and tell you they managed to get a lot of their Christmas shopping done between sunburns, boat drinks and getting lei'd, actually remember what they bought, where they put it and who it was for six months later or whenever their own last minute is? If there is any justice in the world, they open their storage closet on January 1 — when they start doing their spring cleaning — and get smacked in the head by a falling Lego set they forgot to give to a grandchild a week ago.
Would you leave your Christmas decorations up all year if you never knew just when the blessed day would roll around? In Whistler, that may be a moot point. If you walk around the village or the benchlands, you realize we have lights up in trees and poles all the time. It's always Christmas in Whistler. But in the sane world, people actually put lights up and take lights down.
And what about larger social issues? In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a celebration of bounty and successful harvest, on the second Monday in October. We decided years ago to do that because on the second Tuesday in October, any crops left standing in Saskatchewan immediately become frozen food.
By contrast, the USofA celebrates Thanksgiving the last Thursday in November. The last Thursday in November coincides approximately with harvest time in Havana. By then, most of the corn in Iowa is either in cans, the freezer section of your local grocery store or the bellies of livestock awaiting the moment of truth. And most Iowans are indoors saying things like, "it's colder than a Kansas school teacher's heart out there." I won't tell you what people in Kansas say.
By agreement between the Colonial Mall Owners of America and the savage redskins who saved their bacon before being driven off what they'd always considered their land, Thanksgiving was moved from the date they celebrated it in the early history of the U.S. — ironically the second Monday in October — to where it is today. The mall owners agreed this would be a good thing because it would be a clear signal to everyone exactly when the Last Minute to Christmas began. Eat the turkey, clear the dishes and hit the malls was one of their first ad campaigns.
With no fixed Christmas date though, Christmas might fall on the last Friday in November. While having a roving Christmas is just my fantasy for this column, the Mall Owners of America and the American Retail Council have, in fact, begun to lobby the U.S. Congress to have the date of Thanksgiving changed. In the spirit of NAFTA they want to split the difference between Canadian and American Thanksgiving and have the new one the Thursday before Veteran's Day, a day we call Remembrance Day in Canada. Their new slogan is, "Remember the Veterans, Remember to Shop; it's what they fought for."
Of course, Christmas doesn't float. We all know when it happens, year in and year out, like clockwork. But Christmas, while a big holiday for people holidaying in Whistler, isn't a particularly big holiday for people living in Whistler. Mostly, Christmas is just another working day. The start of ski season is our Christmas. And boy, does it float. It floated long enough this year that I was getting pretty tired of pretending to be good.
But when I woke up this morning and it felt like Christmas; there was actually snow on the ground. After I saw it, I closed the blinds. I don't want to watch it melt. In the meantime, I'll grab the third, no make that the fifth best pair of skis in the quiver and head up Whistler. It's probably one of the few places I can escape the onslaught of Black Friday Week. Which began last week.