"Rudolph!" cried the child, throwing his arms around the reindeer's neck.
"Maybe your mother would like a reindeer hug, too," replied Rudolph, leering over the boy's shoulder at a pretty woman laden with shopping bags.
I recognized that voice, stopped dead in the middle of the mall. "Buck?"
Startled, he whipped his antlered head in my direction, momentarily blinding me with a bright red nose that didn't glow so much as flash hypnotically.
"Is that my bike light?" I asked. It appeared to be tied to his face with a pair of bootlaces. I made a mental note to check my boots when I got home. Deer have a relaxed attitude toward personal property.
"Beat it," Buck hissed at me, stamping a hoof. "I'm working here. Mall reindeer. It's a seasonal gig."
Yes, Christmas, which now lasts longer than a Hollywood marriage, has begun. Candy cane windows, ribbon-wrapped chocolates, rent-a-reindeers began appearing the moment the last pumpkin was dumped.
Walked in my local Walmart and was greeted by an inflatable Santa astride a inflatable motorcycle (huh?) suspended from the ceiling above a sign reading "Create the magic for less."
At the Shoppers Drug Mart, end-of-aisle Christmas displays blossomed like poinsettias. A $29.99 Rudolph ornament set shared shelf space with the last of the stuff from Halloween (a holiday that itself has bloated into a month-long affair). And out of the store's sound system pumped.... Van Halen?
Yes, Van Halen - which is why I promise to buy at least one gift from Shoppers Drug Mart this year.
You see, the Shoppers chain pulled the plug on Christmas music, at least temporarily, on Nov. 2, reacting to customer complaints that it had begun playing carols waaaay too early. Across Canada, the chain has vowed to hold the ho-ho-holiday tunes until a more appropriate time.
Good for Shoppers for listening to its customers. God bless them, every one.
This is not Scrooge speaking. This is not some anti-holiday Grinch. On the contrary, Christmas is a magical, wonderful time of year. That's why it shouldn't be cheapened, diluted and diminished by dragging it out like a U.S. presidential election campaign.
The question is: when should the Christmas season start?
Some say Remembrance Day, at the earliest. Don't want the holly up before the poppies are down.
In the U.S. the retail season begins in earnest the day after American Thanksgiving, Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 23 this year. (You might recall last year's Black Friday, when at least 15 people, including children, were pepper-sprayed in what police called an act of "competitive shopping" by a woman fighting for an Xbox at a Los Angeles Walmart. Customers were also shot outside stores in California and South Carolina, while those in Ohio and Michigan had fistfights over $1.88 bath towels.)
Black Friday is still 32 days before Christmas. That's the gestation period of a chipmunk. There were postwar Italian governments with a shorter life span.
Christians (and here I apologize to those who are offended by the mention of Christ at Christmas) might prefer to wait until Dec. 2, the first day of Advent, for the season to begin.
In fact, the more practical among us note that once 7-Eleven began stocking a wide variety of retailers' gift cards, there was no reason to begin shopping before Christmas Eve. (This is an argument you hear a lot at meetings of divorced men.)
In truth, retailers who push Christmas early are just keeping pace with consumers whose holiday purchasing, much of it online, has migrated to November. Merchants can't be blamed for matching the market. Doesn't mean I want to hear The First Noel before The Last Post though.
"You're too early, Buck," I said. "Rudolph isn't supposed to leave the North Pole until the night before Christmas."
"Rudolph is short of cash," he replied.
"We all have only so much cash to spend," I said. "A two-month Christmas isn't going to change that."
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