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Sean P. Means: Thinking about Christmas, beyond the commerce

Published November 7, 2013 9:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One could be forgiven, considering the blanket of snow we saw outside Tuesday morning, for thinking about Christmas already.

Among retailers, it has become a tradition that, as soon as the Halloween trick-or-treaters have gone home to divvy up their candy, the Christmas stuff takes over the seasonal aisles.

To quote a longtime observer of holiday traditions, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch, "Christmas is coming! It's practically here!"

I witnessed this firsthand in my neighborhood grocery over the weekend. Packing boxes blocked the aisle, waiting for workers to move out the clearance-sale ghosts and goblins. Then, within a couple of days, orange and black were nowhere to be found — and red and green were the predominant colors.

Blame the calendar for the added pressure on stores. Thanksgiving this year falls on Nov. 28, the latest a fourth Thursday of the month can possibly be. Meanwhile, Hanukkah is starting earlier than usual this year,

That means the holiday shopping season will be crammed into 27 frantic days. At least where the stores are limiting themselves to that timeframe.

Many of the big-box stores will continue to start their door-buster sales not on Black Friday, but on Thanksgiving evening. The Tribune's neighbor, The Gateway shopping center, will light its Christmas tree on Saturday, Nov. 23, six days before the usual shopping-season start.

Even Macy's — the store that, more than anyone ever, embodies in the American mind the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas transition with its annual New York City parade — is jumping the gun, at least here in Salt Lake City. At Macy's City Creek Center store, the candy windows (a tradition of that space's previous occupant, ZCMI) are being unveiled on Nov. 21, a week before Thanksgiving.

With all that going on, it could be considered an act of restraint that Salt Lake City's KSFI-FM, alias FM100, didn't bust out its holiday music right after Halloween. (The station does have a channel of Christmas music streaming on its website.) It probably helps that FM100's one-time rival in jingle-bell rocking, KOSY-FM 106.5, switched to a classic-rock format just days before Christmas last year.

It's nothing new to grouse about the encroachment of Christmas on the rest of the calendar. It's also not new to whine about the commercialization of Christmas; heck, Charlie Brown and Linus Van Pelt were doing that 48 years ago in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

But there are times during the holidays when Linus' sister Lucy's cynical comment that "Christmas is a big commercial racket … run by a big Eastern syndicate" feels more true than ever.

So what can you and I do to stem that tide? Here are some ideas:

Shop local • Why spend your money at a faceless big-box chain store, only to see the profits sent off to a billionaire family in Arkansas or lining a CEO's pockets? Spending at a locally owned store means the money stays in the community. Also, there's a better chance of finding something unusual by a homegrown manufacturer that you wouldn't see on the shelves at a chain store. (The "Buy Local First Utah" campaign, at localfirst.org, can help you find locally owned retailers.)

Shop charitably • Find and frequent stores that give some part of their proceeds to charity. For one example out of many, the thrift shop Our Store (358 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City) is run by the People With AIDS Coalition of Utah, and proceeds go to help Utahns with HIV/AIDS. Another idea is to buy greeting cards that benefit a humanitarian group, like Unicef or Heifer International.

Don't shop at all • Give the credit cards a break the day after Thanksgiving, and let Black Friday pass without joining the onslaught of shopping. Sure, you may miss out on that new PlayStation, but your kids can probably live without it.

Get crafty • One advantage to an extended holiday season is that there's more time to make something for a loved one. Break out the crochet hook, the canning jars, the glue gun, the circular saw or whatever tool you're handy with and get to it.

Take a breath • Remember that the point of the holidays isn't to dump presents on people, stuff them 'til they pop, and run up your debts. The point is to enjoy the love and friendship of the people you care about. Keep that as your first thought, and the rest will take care of itself.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.