"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!