We didn’t have a whole lot of what you might call “hard and fast rules” in the Small household when my younger brothers and I were growing up.

Compared to some of my classmates – especially a couple of fellows I knew whose fathers appeared to run their households like German stalags, and wielded an iron hand even over visitors of all ages who usually left looking shell-shocked - life was actually... well, I hesitate to say that it was relatively cushy, but it definitely could have been a whole lot worse.

It would be years before we would fully appreciate this fact, of course. Like all kids, my brothers and I probably acted like we were the most put-upon young’uns who ever trod the face of the planet. But in retrospect we had it pretty darn good indeed; the standing joke these days is that around our house we only had Four Commandments, and Six Do-The-Best -You-Cans.

Oh, sure, there were some family regulations that were practically written in stone, and which the three of us were expected to obey or else. Mom and Dad weren’t anarchists, after all.

For instance, we knew better than to sass our mother. (Spankings tend to be a lot worse when you have to go cut the switch off the tree yourself.) We couldn't feed our vegetables to the dog. (He wouldn’t have eaten them anyway, the traitor...) And Sundays were for Rocky and Bullwinkle reruns and WGN-TV’s afternoon Family Classics movie program, NOT (ugh!) pro football.

But the BIG one was that we celebrated only ONE HOLIDAY AT A TIME. We didn’t go to the store on Valentine’s Day to stock up on Easter candy. I didn’t get early birthday presents on Memorial Day. July 4 was for fireworks, not pre-planning our Halloween costumes. And we never, ever, EVER dug out the Christmas records or put up the tree until AFTER Thanksgiving.

Heck, in my day we didn’t even see the Sears Wish Book catalog at our house until day or so after Thanksgiving. That was actually part of the tradition. On Thursday we overate and watched cartoons and old movies on TV, and then on Friday or Saturday the Wish Book showed up and Mom and Dad let us go through and circle those items in the toy section that we hoped to find under the tree that year... ALWAYS with the warm but stern reminder that just because we might want a particular gift did NOT necessarily mean it would be there under the tree when we woke up on Christmas morning.

(This was especially true with regard to the more high-dollar items - which in my day tended to be such things as deluxe chemistry sets or the G.I. Joe “Search For The Mummy’s Tomb” play set. I can scarcely dare imagine what our parents’ reaction would have been if there had been iPads and X-Box One gaming consoles back when we were rugrats.)
Back then it seemed like it took forever for the calendar to go full circle from one Christmas season to the next. But even in our youthful ignorance we somehow appreciated that. It gave us something to look forward to. The breathless anticipation was part of the holiday. And even if we didn’t get that deluxe chemistry set or that G.I. Joe play set, we enjoyed what we did receive. Because we knew the gifts had been given with love, not out of some sense of obligation because we had nagged our parents or grandparents to death.

My wife and I tried to recreate that same experience for our own sons when they were little, and to some extent I think we succeeded. It wasn’t easy, though, what with the de-evolution of the Christmas holiday into into a time of greed, of shopping frenzies, and of marathon broadcasts of A Christmas Story and the reformatted high-definition version of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (which has not been improved one single iota by all that digital trickery, by the way).
Things have only gotten worse since our boys have grown up. Somewhere along the way it became better to receive than to give, and the thoughtful sincerity that may have gone into Aunt Petunia’s gift for little Tommy doesn’t really matter as long as the store will let Mom exchange it on Dec. 26 when little Tommy hates it. Stores and online shopping sites have Christmas promotions in July and stumble over one another to see who can launch their “Black Friday” sales the earliest.

Call me a Scrooge if you must, but Humbug to all that. It is NOT what the Christmas season is all about.

And yet the shoppers allow themselves to be sucked in with increasingly mind-numbing ferocity. I remember reading a few weeks ago about a couple of women who were already camped out in front of some department store somewhere, looking to be the first to go rushing through the doors when the post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sale finally began. You can’t honestly tell me that’s not just a little...  Well, I’ll just go ahead and say it: STUPID.

I mean, I suppose you can. But it’s really going to take some doing on your part to convince me.

(Copyright 2017 by John A. Small)