The actual expression in the USA is “holiday shopping season”. The little-noted relationship between “holy day” and “holiday” reveals deep, unresolved contrasts and confusion inside of America’s soul and social life related to the sacred and the secular.
For children, this time of year in America is often a magical time of wonderful feelings. For some adults, it is a more somber time, of hectic shopping, and preparations for various gatherings. Psychologists describe how the time around Christmas is often especially difficult for some adults, because they are “supposed to feel happy” – no matter how they may actually feel – and thus many are secretly depressed. But it is usually a heartful time for families and friends.
Some of the people most interested in people being “happy” in the “holiday shopping season” is the merchandising community and economic analysts. For decades the concern has been that people do enough shopping during the time between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas – hundreds of times one hears “the number of shopping days left until Christmas”. The fact is that about 1/4 of the USA’s annual economic activity occurs in these 4-5 weeks. The psychology of the American people – if they are feeling positive or negative about events in the world, economic trends, unemployment and such – can greatly affect buying habits, and thus economic conditions in America and worldwide. I recall several years ago – doing an economic recession – hearing an enterprising merchant’s advertisement (with a Christmas musical tune to it) in late August! It is possible, in years when merchants are desperate, to see Christmas-theme window-displays in stores in late September! It is a periodic lament – mostly by religious leaders – that the American people should be less materialistic, and give thought to the deeper meaning of the season. But the economic fact is that if the US people were suddenly en masse to celebrate the very secularized (merchandised!?) Christmas “holiday shopping season” as a real season of holy days – and not as a time to buy gifts often felt to be obligatory – the USA economy would in fact suffer a collapse, and take the interdependent world economy down with it into a depression!
The biggest shopping day in the USA is in fact the day after Christmas. More people go to the malls and stores in the USA on that day than any other. The two main reasons for this are, first, that the day after Christmas most stores discount their prices, and, second, that people take those gifts back to exchange which they did not like or want, were the incorrect size, color, etc.
But there is still something special which often occurs on Christmas Day. Different from the day before, or after; strangers (who otherwise would completely ignore each other) will speak some kind, warm-hearted words of greetings – as if they were given permission, by the special holiday/holyday, to be open in their hearts and souls.
But, as a whole, the holyday season has been secularized into a mass “holiday shopping season”. Yet, underneath it all, one senses a sort of confused, longing in the hearts of many people in America for something deeper, true, magical and good.
First published in the magazine English, #47, 1995, p. 7.