When my e-mail in-box became filled with ads from every merchant from whom I've ever purchased anything, offering steep discounts and free shipping, I knew that the holiday shopping season had arrived. Every news outlet was talking about Black Friday. I understand the day after Thanksgiving is when retailers are supposed to "go into the black," but as a history buff, I can't help but think of the original Black Friday on October 25, 1929, when the stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression. This year, I decided to stay in bed.
The news footage of the crowds that camped out in front of big box stores and rushed the entrances at dawn was enough to discourage me. Police were called to restore order at a local Toys R Us when a crush of people caused one shopper to wave a taser and threaten those around her. Voices could be heard saying, "Don't tase me, Ho, Ho, Ho!" People wait all year for these "doorbuster specials." They get the family involved and plot out strategies and logistics. If not for the early-bird sales, many could not afford these gifts. But for me, fighting a frenzied mob for an electric, Japanese hamster at 5 a.m. sounds only slightly less appealing than dipping my face in the deep-fryer at Wendy's.
Then comes "Cyber Monday," a recent creation designed to encourage online shoppers to begin early so they don't end up at "Glitch Thursday," when the retailer screws up your order, it doesn't arrive in time for Christmas, and you end up giving your loved one a catalog photo of the gift they were supposed to get.
Speaking of "holidays," I would expect the opening volley of the annual "War on Christmas," sponsored by Fox News, to be fired any day. Usually, Bill O'Reilly kicks things off about a conflict over a crèche at a post office somewhere, or some such symbolic thing. I heard a woman say last season that if a merchant wished her "Happy Holidays," instead of "Merry Christmas," she would void her sale and take her business elsewhere. I don't suppose a delicatessen was on her list of shops, but isn't that attitude a bit like the Taliban? Since my neighbors think I'm strange anyway, I was thinking of erecting a large, inflatable Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant God, in the front yard. I mean, anybody can blow up a Walgreens Frosty the Snowman, but Ganesha is the "remover of obstacles."
I heard that my rabbi doesn't approve of Jews having Christmas trees, but we're getting by on a technicality, since our tree isn't even real and folds up in the attic the rest of the year. Since we're a bi-tradition home, I always get out the acrylic, electric Chanukah menorah, where, on each of the eight nights, you switch on another pastel-colored bulb. I am, after all, a Reform Jew.
I wish I could get more exited about Hanukkah, but it's a minor holiday commemorating a military victory in the 2nd century BC. As a child, it paled against the festiveness of Christmas. While our Christian friends were given bicycles and ponies, we were getting mesh bags of chocolate coins to celebrate the miracle of one day's worth of Temple oil lasting for eight nights. As far as miracles go, I thought the "Let there be light" one was far more impressive. If it were a holiday of great significance, you would think that after 2,000 years, they could agree on how to spell it. Hanukkah was, however, the world's first holiday that celebrated energy conservation.
I saw one catalog selling the ultimate in mixed-faith metaphors: the Chanukah spinning top, called a "dreidel," with pictures of Santa on the sides. Could this be a sneaky attempt at conversion or another Obamanite plot of world-wide ecumenicism?
I know I'll radiate a more seasonal glow as the time draws nigh, then on Christmas Day I can erupt in good cheer like an overstuffed pinata. The family will gleefully unwrap its presents and hunker down for Blue Tuesday, when everybody exchanges everything they received for store credits and gift cards. When all the caroling stops, no one wants to miss an after-Christmas bargain. Until then, the traffic is impossible, the crowds are surly and pushy, and I'm having a difficult time adjusting to life in a world without Ed McMahon. Ask not for whom the jingle bell tolls, especially if you're Dick Clark. "Hey-o!"
By the way, is it all right to say "Happy Holidays" if you're referring to Lincoln's birthday, Valentine's Day, and Passover? Finally, why do people pray on Good Friday but shop on Black Friday? It's not a riddle. I'm just asking. Now get out there and help heal this sick economy by joining our new, grass-roots, holiday initiative: "No electric gerbil left behind."