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. When a business owner makes a decision like this, he drags all his employees along with him. On the other hand, my boss was also dragging me into financial opportunity I wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. I was benefiting from his investment and hard work. So there were two ways to look at the situation. Regardless, I couldn’t help thinking about all the negative implications. First of all, I was being required to work on Christmas. That’s your boss telling you that you may not spend the day with your family. Of course, I could say no and forfeit my job, but is it just to place people in that kind of quandary? Christmas is very important to many people.
I know what a business owner has to think about when he makes these kinds of decisions. When you own a business, you are continually feeling the weight of your looming bills. You think about your mortgage payments at the end of each month, your utilities, your property taxes. Every day you don’t keep your doors open, you are one day closer to the deadline on all those bills, with nothing to show for that day. So I get the fact that it is no easy matter to close your doors.
However, my boss 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 have made an extra visit later in the month. When your food and ambience are as good as Spiro’s is, 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. But it’s not. 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 commercial prostitution. 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 is 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 is 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.