As we move into the pre-Christmas Eve atmosphere, which (per tradition) finds my children moping around the house, not knowing what to do with themselves in the few hours before it would be reasonable to tingle with anticipation, perhaps a dip into sad news from Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal can inspire us to approach the evening and Big Day with new spirit:
For many, December required a pilgrimage to Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. No matter the weather, people walked the mile from 38th Street to 59th Street and jammed sidewalks to see these stores’ joyful Christmas windows.
Stay home. This year Fifth Avenue in December is about . . . pretty much nothing, or worse.
To be sure, the magnificent Rockefeller Center Christmas tree still stands, and directly across on Fifth Avenue is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, its facade washed and hung with a big green wreath. But walk up or down the famous avenue this week and what you and your children will see is not merely Christmas scrubbed, but what one can only describe as the anti-Christmas.
Growing up in New Jersey, right outside of New York City, those storefronts were a Christmas tradition for my non-religious family. It was a free street-museum collection of displays sumptuously recalling scenes that children might imagine with their toys, often with animated characters, in an era when computers did not yet allow us to make anything and everything come to life. If Henninger’s description is accurate, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, destroying this tradition for families that continue to hold it is tantamount to a violation of the public trust.
That said, social traditions change, and they can’t always change in ways we prefer. The Christmases of my childhood were cultural accumulations of years of evolving practices. That they became concrete in my childhood to define the holiday in a certain way does not make them eternal. (I sense a parody titled “Ozychristmias” in there, somewhere.)
Perhaps the best we can do is take the lesson: Don’t let high-end store-owners and government officials define your traditions. Set them in the surer, if more fluid, forms of family and faith.
And to the extent that you can’t patronize local family-owned operations, shop online so you’ll have more time for things that matter.