Christmas and Courtesy

Wally Bock Christmas has gotten crazy and sometimes nasty.

On Thanksgiving evening, my daughter, Diana, went to bed early. She had to be up at 3 AM so she could pick up other members of the leadership team at the Best Buy store where she works and go prepare the store to open at six.

It's still dark at six. But that didn't stop hundreds of shoppers from packing parking lots all over the country so they could get in for the first big sales day of the Christmas season. Some of them had been working out at the gym and martial arts center for weeks to get ready.

Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday." Originally the term referred to the idea that this was the day that retailers went from being in the red to being in the black. Today it might be a reasonable description of how our behavior has changed.

The news reports told the tale. We saw video of shoppers fighting with each other, pushing each other out of the way in the hunt for the last $29.99 DVD player. Retailers have announced that it was a great day because they made a lot of money. This is sick.

It's not a great day when people revert to shopping behavior appropriate to a mud wrestling match. It's not a great day when the only measurement of greatness is profit.

We've already extended the Christmas season back through the year so it seems like it begins in the summer. Municipal workers put up Christmas decorations in my town on November first. The supermarkets have been playing Christmas carols on their sound system for weeks.

This is not what I remember as Christmas. What I remember may not be idyllic, but it wasn't bad.

We really didn't start thinking about Christmas at all until Thanksgiving Day. That's when the family got together. We watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. The Christmas shopping season actually began when Santa climbed down off the sleigh on his float, and marched into Macy's.

That began a two track system for my family. One track was the same as everyone else's. We shopped for presents for each other and people we loved. We didn't have much money, so we also spent a lot of time window shopping.

The other track was the religious track. We're Lutheran Christians and so we concentrated on the season of Advent. Advent is a time of hope and watchful waiting, looking forward to Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

At church there were no Christmas hymns, only Advent hymns. We lit the candles on the Advent Wreath. Sermons concentrated on the meaning of the coming Christmas.

At home there were special devotions, based on an Advent Calendar. We had our own Advent Wreath. We didn't put up the Christmas tree yet.

That happened on Christmas Eve. After my father, the Pastor, finished the first Christmas Eve service we brought in the tree, set it up, and decorated it. Some presents magically appeared from closets.

We went to the late Christmas Eve service. Then we children were allowed to open one present. Children went to bed after leaving a snack for Santa. Other kids might leave chocolate chip cookies and milk. We were German. We left beer and pfeffernuesse.

In the morning there were new presents. The beer and pfeffernuesse were gone. We opened presents, marched to the dining room table and wrote our thank-you notes.

It was people time, then. My sister and I headed out to be with our friends. My parents either had guests coming over or were headed to someone else's home for the rest of the day.

I don't remember a single individual present from all the years I was growing up. I'm sure that I got some things that I really wanted, but viewed from all these years later, they don't seem to have been that important. People were important. Faith was important.

I remember family and friends at Thanksgiving and Christmas talking and laughing and telling stories. I remember that our faith was at the core of our lives.

Mostly my memories of that season between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the season of my life when I was growing into the world around me revolve around people. We spent time with people we cared about. We spent time thinking about how to do good things for them.

Through my teen years, my best friends were Ray and Terry. Ray was nominally Catholic, but I don't remember him ever going to Mass. Terry was Jewish. I was a Lutheran preacher's kid and the beliefs and rituals of my faith were an important part of my life. Our differences didn't seem to matter, even on Christmas day. We got together because we were friends, not to compare gift totals or argue religion.

There are lots of things I wouldn't want back from those days. There are a lot of things I like better about the present. But I definitely liked the Christmas season better then when we spent time with people we cared about. I liked it better when movies didn't open on Christmas day and when it was still OK to talk about faith with friends who believed differently.

Most of all, I guess, I liked it better when commerce wasn't so universally the most important part of Christmas. And I liked it better when courtesy was a part of every day life and not a rare occurrence. And, you know, I can't imagine me or Ray or Terry pushing anyone out of the way just so we could buy one more gadget we probably didn't need.

Category: Work-Life, Balance
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