It was around 1995 when I really got my back up against the commercialization of Christmas. I was working as a server at a restaurant called Little Italy on the south side of Anchorage. I wasn’t exactly getting into the spirit that year because my boss had insisted on keeping the restaurant open for Christmas.
I tend to be hypersensitive about these issues, though I am not blind to the perspective of the business owner in these situations. When you own a business, you feel the constant weight of looming bills: mortgage payments, utilities, property taxes, etc. Every day you don’t keep your doors open is a day money goes out and none comes in.
On the other hand, Christmas is very important to many people. And in 1995, my employer, Little Italy, had a charming, privately owned restaurant with top-notch food and a devoted clientele. I think most of those whose business was turned away on Christmas would likely have made an extra visit later in the month. When your food and ambience are as good as what we had at Little Italy, the people want to eat there almost as much as you want them to.
But what made me especially hot about this situation was that because of business owners who cave in and stay open on Christmas, consumers get trained to think it’s perfectly natural to go out to eat on Christmas (with business models following the trend). It’s not natural. While these people are sitting in someone else’s building paying a whole staff to cater to them, their own house sits dark and empty, the oven cold. How special can Christmas be when you’re not even at home for it? Meanwhile, the people who are doing your work for you are unable to enjoy the holiday themselves.
I should have taken all this in stride. But all I could think about was the fact that because no one had the integrity to stand up for the sanctity of Christmas, here we all were, captives on this runaway consumer train.
I only had a few tables that night, and I was colder than I care to remember with the people who took advantage of our commercialism. We happened to be in the middle of a patron feedback campaign. Along with each guest check, diners received an attractive card asking for comments about the dining experience. Like I said, I was a little frosty toward my guests that night. One card came back with a simple message:
Cheer up. Ho ho ho.
I have to say that by being resentful, I degraded what was left of my own Christmas and helped kill off my guests’ as well. I won’t do that again, regardless of my circumstances. My attitude was as much a violation of Christmas as my guests’ vapid consumerism.
However, I believe the day should be left open for everyone to enjoy. We are all responsible for keeping Business As Usual from bulldozing through Christmas. The holiday is about paying our respects to the One who did a billion times more for us than we could ever repay. It’s about family and good will and generosity. I believe we should get off the speeding bus at least one day per year and remember that there’s more to life than iPods and Starbucks and dinner at Olive Garden.
I wonder if this year I’m not particularly aware of the meaning of Christmas because I’m geographically separated from my family, and it doesn’t feel right. I want to be sitting in a warm dining room surrounded by people I have known and loved for years, enjoying apple cider and robust conversation. I want to pass out hugs and colorfully wrapped presents. No doubt there will be a time when I will have those things again, but I’m feeling desolate right now.
So for those who have their families about them this year, carpe diem! You have no way of knowing how much longer you’ll have them with you. Enjoy them and lavish attention on them while they are still here. They are irreplaceable. Their companionship is yours to enjoy right here, today. Truly, there’s no place like home for the holidays.