Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Forward Creeping Excessmass Wins The War On Christmas

"Excessmass" is a term neologized in a column in the late 1990s in the Wall Street Journal (sorry, unable to find precise date) by my JMU colleague, Bill Wood.  A devout Brethren, he was and remains disgusted by the crass commercialism associated with the Christmas holiday in the US. In this column he proposed dividing the holiday into two: a strictly religious one, "the Nativity" without gift giving, and a gift giving one he argued should be called "Excessmass," a term that did not particularly catch on, but I am reviving as I see its forward creep as in fact damaging it not outright destroying the traditional religious Christmas, certainly far more vigorously than any bout of people saying "Happy Holidays!" to each other.

What triggered this post is that over the weekend in the Washington Post comics section (the most important part of the paper), nearly a  quarter  of the comics had a theme of "taking down the Christmas tree" or "taking down the Christmas decorations," and indeed in my neighborhood I saw several houses where there was a tree out on the street on either the 26th or 27th.  Plus, for some years now a local radio station has started playing the schlocky commercial Xmas music ("Frosty the Snowman," etc.) starting a day or  two after Halloween, but then on Dec. 26 is back to its usual pop music stuff. Hey, Christmas is over!  Time to move on to Valentine's Day!  And also this year I saw the stores breaking what had been a Halloween barrier (the Thanksgiving one long ago broken) and putting up all their Xmas stuff in October.  Hey, with all that going on for so long, of course it is time to put all those decorations away the minute Christmas is over!

Well, let me note in fact how far all this has now moved from the formal religious Christmas, especially as seen by Roman Catholics around the world, as well as the more established  "high" Protestant faiths like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism.  Formally, the core Christmas holiday only begins on Christmas Day, indeed, the day after.  Dec. 26, known as "Boxing Day" in the UK, is the actual "First Day of Christmas" of the 12, with the 12th day being the Epiphany, January 6.  Not that long ago, lots of public places kept decorations up until then, but now it is an increasingly close call if they keep them up until New Year's Day.

Yes, there is recognition of an earlier period.  The major churches recognize Advent, the runup to Christmas.  It begins on December 1, but it was breached long ago by the commercial move to institute Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving for major Xmas shopping.  As it is, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade has since the 1920s featured Santa Claus arriving at the end of the parade to mark the beginning of the Excessmass season, and indeed, while it is now forgotten, the modern image of Santa Claus was really cinched at that time and in connection with that parade.  But, of course, as noted above, the Thanksgiving boundary was breached long ago, and now the Halloween one has been as well, leading to total exhaustion with it all once Christmas Day finally is reached.

I shall also note that especially in predominantly Catholic countries, the early celebrations do not get going until December 8, which I think is supposedly Mary's birthday, or something.  Creches get put into churches then.  But the creches stick around until the day Jesus was supposedly taken to the Temple after birth, which is also the Purification of the Virgin.  This is 40 days after Christmas, that is February  2, or Candlemas in the Church, although Groundhog Day in the US.  In any case, no  way commercially minded Excessmass celebrators are going to have decorations up from Nov. 2 to Feb. 2, (although, of course there are those people who simply never take their decorations down).

Oh, and Happy New Year everybody, here on the Sixth Day of Christmas!

Barkley Rosser


2slugbaits said...

Amen! When I was a kid a lot of Xmas parties happened during the week between Xmas and New Year's.

I grew up Catholic and it was the beginning of Advent (when the priest wore purple) that signaled the beginning of the Xmas season. Also, Dec 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is when Mary was conceived but the Holy Spirit miraculously intervened to ensure that she was born without the stain of Original Sin. Apparently the baby Jesus required a sin free womb. My mom always insisted on keeping the tree up until the Feast of the Epiphany, but then again, we didn't put the tree up until a couple days before Xmas.

What I've noticed is that not only has the Xmas season crept up, but the idea of gift giving has been replaced by the idea of the Xmas season as an opportunity to buy stuff for yourself. How else to explain those commercials promoting some luxury BMW or Lexus as the perfect gift for yourself.

One good thing though...my favorite Xmas cartoons (Rudolph and Heat Miser) don't start airing until early December. OTOH, there is "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July" with Ethyl Merman...UGH!!!

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Thanks, 2slug, for clarifying exactly the meaning of Dec. 8. I should have double checked that one before I put the post up. At least I knew it had to do with Mary.

2slugbaits said...

BTW, today (New Year's) is the Feast of the Circumcision, one of the six holy days of obligation for practicing Catholics. Bad news for those with hangovers and bowl game parties.

JDM said...

Not gonna happen but I've espoused the idea of alternating "Little Christmas" and "Big Christmas". In Little Christmas you don't have any business-related obligations, for instance; all those gifts and cards to people not because you care at all but just for business reasons. No gifts except for the kids.

Big Christmas would then be like we have now. Might actually be sort of fun if it's not so in your face obligatory unfun crapfest every single year.

NYyankeeboi said...

I was in a store in mid September and they had Christmas displays and merchandise out. So it appears they are going beyond Halloween.

emjayay said...

In German tradition (Hey, they kind of started it and they own it) the kids get gifts on Dec 8. But the traditional Advent calendars count down to Christmas. As everyone should know, the tree stays up until after you move the Wise Person's little statues into the manger on Jan 6.

Try tossing a limb of your Douglas Fir (the cheapest ones) into a burning fireplace after that. Warning: pick a very small one. (Also, may become habit forming.)

emjayay said...

By the way, those Advent calendars don't end up with Santa or gifts but with the Nativity.