When I was growing up in Miami — surely the least Christmasy city in America, where we opened presents with the jalousie windows open for a breeze — my father had a rule about the tree.
Under his decree, we were permitted to hit the Christmas tree lots in search of ours no earlier than one week before Dec. 25th.
Naturally, we kids thought this unspeakably cruel. Why couldn't we throw on the tinsel even as the Thanksgiving turkey carcass was cooling, like everyone else? But on this, he was immovable. Tradition, he said, means nothing if you can do it any old time.
I'm starting to see the man's point.
Last Monday, I pulled into Publix and heard it: A bell ringer tinkling away next to a red kettle a full 10 days before Thanksgiving and a whole six weeks before actual Christmas. In some places, bell ringers now take credit cards, eliminating the old-fashioned clanking of coins or stuffing of bills, which gives giving all the charm of paying the power bill.
And it's too soon! It's too soon for that radio station in my car playing nothing but Christmas songs 24/7, because no one should be subjected to that many days of chancing upon — apologies for putting this in your head for the rest of the day — Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.
And now we have come to this: Stores salivating for our Black Friday bucks — Macy's, Target and Best Buy among them — plan to open at midnight Thanksgiving for their megasales instead of the next morning, as is tradition.
As someone with a black belt in shopping, I have been up at daybreak on Black Friday for some real deals, if you can stand the shoving. But what about people who work in those stores? What about cutting short Thanksgiving for them, since they have to be there before us and presumably want to, you know, sleep before a full day's work?
By tradition at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving night, you're supposed to be in the kitchen making a turkey sandwich with Hellman's on white bread and gossiping about which relative drank too much. At least in my house.
An earnest-sounding guy in Nebraska started an on-line petition called "Tell Target To Save Thanksgiving" for employees and their families, which got lots of signatures. And has about a snowball's chance in Miami.
I get the whole we-need-a-little-Christmas-right-this-very-minute thing in this wretched economy. I get retailers scrapping for any shilling we're willing to spend, not that we have much, given pay cuts, layoffs and unemployment. But it's sad that Thanksgiving, a holiday that is officially not about spending, can't properly end before all the Christmas shopping insanity begins.
Who knew my father's traditionalist streak would turn up in me? Friends get their Christmas tree delivered, which sounds convenient, but what about walking the rows of trees, making fun of the pathetic Charlie Brown ones and smelling them all, even if here you're likely to do it in a Home Depot parking lot?
So you won't see me at midnight. Now that I've moved from Miami way up north to Tampa, we'll probably light a fire in the still-charmingly-unfamiliar fireplace and talk about the day.
Okay, so we'll use one of those easy-light fake logs, since what do we know from firewood, and crank the AC so we don't sweat. But hey, it's tradition.