Monday, November 30, 2009

Santa in September

Let me be the first to remind you that Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other end-of-the-year holiday you choose to celebrate is drawing near.

Except that I won't be the first.

The steady drumbeat of holiday advertising is even now starting to rumble in the distance. It won't be long until the tempo becomes so loud and rapid that the natives will become restless and break into a shopping frenzy.

Or at least that's what retailers hope. As humorist Robert Paul once remarked, "Even before Christmas has said Hello, it's saying `Buy Buy."'

I noticed it last weekend while watching TV. The unmistakable jingle of faux-Christmas music caught my attention just in time to see a commercial courtesy of Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is to retailing what the German army was to the Maginot Line. We think we can resist but fighting is futile. Surrender now. If Wal-Mart says it's time to shop, it's time to gas up the SUV, max out the credit cards and hit the stores.

That being said, Wal-Mart has nothing on Kmart. They sent a mailing out to customers about their new site, Christmas Lane, during the summer. It promises "the best deals for Christmas, five months early."

Only a skeptic like me would wonder if they're trying to move last year's leftovers.

The alternative to this madness is to do what a bunch of Brits did recently. A group called the Movement for the Containment of Christmas demonstrated the courage of its convictions with an act of terrorism.

OK, terrorism might be too harsh a word. But the group attacked a storefront run by a charity. When the store put Christmas cards on display in August, the "terrorists" glued the door of the shop closed.

Wait until they see Disney's "Christmas Carol" with Jim Carrey. They may try to burn down Washington again.

The recession, which lingers like a bad hangover, will probably result in even more advertising than we're used to enduring. In tough times, retailers will often spend more ad money to lure shoppers through the doors.

But there may be an upside to a down economy. The Associated Press reports that stores are turning back the clock, conjuring images of hearth and home as they stock their holiday merchandise.

Retailers hope embracing holiday traditions from cozier times will tempt recession-weary consumers to open their wallets in a season expected to show flat sales at best.

Better yet, ostentatious outdoor displays are also getting the boot. Home Shopping Network is moving away from holiday lawn decor to interior decorations, including adding nativity scenes. That means fewer of the big inflatable lawn decorations that have dominated suburban yards in recent years.

This is particularly good news to me. I have a neighbor who adorns his front yard with 20-foot-tall grinning Santa every Christmas which puts out more light than a night game at Dodger Stadium. When it is deflated during the day, it looks like the Hindenburg crashed on his property.

Of course, no matter what the calendar says or which way the stock market indicators point, there are always those tough-to-buy-for folks that make shopping even more of a chore.

So as a public service, I offer these actual gift items, culled from the Internet, for the man, or woman, who has everything:

The Barack Obama Action Figure: "If you think fighting Nazis or inter-galactic robots is tough, you should try fighting Republicans. Those G.O.P.s will use every dirty trick in the book to knock you out of action. It takes sharp wits, quick reflexes, and substantial campaign contributions just to stay alive. But Barack Obama is up to the task..."

The John McCain Action Figure: "He flew bombing raids in North Vietnam. He chaired the Senate Commerce Committee in Washington. And now he can kick Ken and G.I. Joe's butts in your toy box. Sarah Palin action figure not included."

Wall Street Financial Victims Play Set: "Run for your lives. They're coming!!! No, not monsters or vampires or aliens. The Stock Brokers and Investment Bankers are coming!!! Hide your money. Disguise your IRAs and 401(k)s. Spend your kids' college fund before it's swallowed up. Like a swarm of locusts, the denizens of Wall Street are determined to devour every cent you own in order to quench their insatiable greed!"

The 2010 Already Sucks button. "This straight to the point button is the perfect gift for anyone frustrated with politics or current events!"

How to Traumatize Your Children Book: "Most parents don't know what they're doing -- they try their best to screw up their kids, but most still grow up to be normal adults. Well, this indispensable book takes the guesswork out of raising a dysfunctional child. Within these 191 pages, you'll learn how to shatter self-esteem, buy your child's love, and teach your child how to be a bad friend."

If none of these fit the bill, eBay has a selection of Michael Jackson ornaments for sale.

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