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That's Why It's Called Crassmas

November 29, 2002|Luke Sullivan | Luke Sullivan, twice named by Adweek as one of the top 10 copywriters in the U.S., is author of "Hey Whipple, Squeeze This" (Adweek Books, 1998).

My mother, a dyed-in-the-wool Minnesota Democrat, is sitting across the breakfast table from me. She's reading the paper and comes across an ad for the big after-Thanksgiving sale at the Mall of America.

"How can people even go to that place?" she laments. "It's just a

She's my mom, so what can I tell her? I wish I could say, "Ma, that dress you're wearing? Did you, um, grow it or something? And those shoes, did you whittle those? No, you bought 'em, Mom, with money, in a store. That's capitalism, and it's OK."

Exactly why does everyone get so disdainful of shopping this time of year?

The Thanksgiving dishes are barely in the sink and -- before the first boozy uncle can tether his blimp to the sofa -- the "Christmas has just become so commercialized" chorus begins.

Shopping is suddenly "bad." And why? We've been coming out of stores all year long, teetering under piles of merchandise that would drop a Sherpa. Eleven straight months of spend, spend, spend, but have a turkey drumstick, watch a football game and boom -- the nation's stores form their own axis of evil.

Everybody seems to have forgotten the long Fourth of July weekend and that three-day AmEx bender we all went on at Home Depot. And when it was over, I don't remember any hair-shirt whining about "who can celebrate national independence anymore, what with lines this long to buy a grill? Kinda makes a fella forget what the Declaration of Independence really stands for."

And did we all just forget the high-kicking conga lines that formed in front of every bank in the nation an hour after Alan Greenspan changed his mind another quarter of a percent? Where was all this high-minded hand-wringing during the refinancing orgy? There was no "I tell ya, homeownership has just gotten so crass I can't even mow the lawn." Didn't happen.

But so here we are again at that one time of year when our nation's superego puts on its Annual Self-Hatred Christmas Special, when the apologists line up to lament the small excesses of the world's strongest economy, and through it all we'll hear one Scrooge after another putting the spin on the Ghost of Christmas Past: "It wasn't like this when I was a kid."

Oh hush, it was exactly like this when we were kids. The presents were geekier, yes, and the lights on the tree were the big hot kind you could smell from upstairs. Other than that, it was exactly the same.

As a child of the '50s, I personally recall some serious merchandise-worship happening under the tree. It may not have been a Nintendo Game Cube I was opening, but don't try to tell me I was on some higher spiritual plane as I ripped through the 1959 wrapping paper, my teeth gritting in full Merchandise Frenzy. "Shut up, everybody! It's a Daniel Boone raccoon hat, and now it's mine!"

Let's face it. Stuff is fun. And stores are where you get stuff. But the puritanical gene, though recessive, still runs strong in our nation. A penny saved is a penny earned, but now a penny spent is the top rung on the ladder down to hell. But the fact is, ours is a species that runs on commerce. And whether your tribe happens to trade pelts or euros, the rites of celebration have always involved a bit of excess consumption. At history's very first celebration, I'll bet Grandpa Homo Sapiens bought drinks for everyone in Oldevai Gorge, yelled "kill the fatted calf!" and woke up to a cave that was a complete mess.

So go ye forth, Americans, I say, and spend without guilt. It's part of life.

Personally, I'll be doing much of my shopping online this year. And, yes, one day when I'm old, I'll be slumped in front of my son's computer, grousing about my own Christmases Past.

"Well, back when I logged onto Amazon, I tell you, click-throughs took you right to the Christmas specials. And those pop-up ads let a man shop in peace! I remember back when e-tailing meant something!"

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