It wasn't yet mid-October and already a Pardon Our Appearance sign stood at the entrance of the, ahem, major department store. Holiday decorating was underway. I slipped past the conglomerate of paraphernalia that was strewn around the base of a table. The men's department was basked in the green and red hue of the faux evergreen boughs that softened the lights and created a tender buy-now glow.
Stephen King wrote about the challenge for the filmmaker "who is almost always doomed to show too much... including, in nine cases out of ten, the zipper running up the monster's back." For retailers, Christmas is the proverbial zipper. The challenge is to usher in the season of good-will ($$$) without ever using the word Christmas, and for gawd's sake, without tripping customers with evergreen boughs, ladders, or garland.
A non-Christian friend confessed that when she was a child, she envied Christian kids. I asked why, but I already knew it wasn't holy envy. No. We had the jolly, white-bearded Santa, in his red velvet suit who stayed awake all night, delivering countless colorfully wrapped gifts. We had Rudolph. Frosty and fun songs, like Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. And in the year 2014, we have the only holiday that's promoted under an assumed name: holiday.
In my experience, the best part of working in retail during Holiday is there's always something to do, so the day goes faster. Whether searching for a parking spot, or walking through the mall, activity and sound start the day after Thanksgiving and increases in pitch until silence is traumatic.
I thought about this as I returned from a break while I was in retail management one year. I was walking in a school of shoppers, trying to slip out from the pack, when I spotted a friend who managed a kiosk nearby. She was reading from a prayer book, calm, peaceful and immersed. I absorbed the vision and tried to remember the last time I felt that serene or read something like that. She was surrounded by commotion, just a few stores away from The North Pole, yet she was unmoved by it.
Most non-Christians don't know how raucous all the hoopla can feel apart from its deeper meaning. Just watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, for Pete's sake.
The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis, is a fun, insightful, fictional narrative that contains a series of instructional letters, written between a senior demon, "Wormwood," and his demon trainee nephew, "Screwtape." Wormwood wrote about the value of noise:
"but all has been occupied by Noise - Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile - Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end."
The Christmas hymns we were taught as children were about The Prince of Peace, humility, and love. Maybe that's all that separates "Christmas" from "Holiday."
While we experience a season filled with sight, sound and jubilation, it seems to me that Christmas is experienced in the precious moments in between.
As activity increases over the next few weeks, I wish you peace, love, and faith in all your comings and goings, without which it's always winter, but never Christmas.