A popular meme in conservative media over the past several years has been a so-called “War on Christmas,” with secular forces seeking to expunge the holiday’s religious component. Fox News Channel has practically turned the story into a holiday perennial.
Watching television, though, Christmas as an institution appears especially robust. In fact, if judged strictly by the volume of programming — some of it having premiered before Thanksgiving, an onslaught capable of turning the jolliest among us into Ebenezer Scrooge — the real “war,” once again, is being waged against moderation.
Cable channels are the most egregious offenders, with ABC Family and the Hallmark Channel becoming virtually all-Christmas, all-the-time throughout December. Hallmark even coined its own “Christmas TV ratings system,” with designations like “J for Joy” and “F for Family.”
Still, ABC Family and Hallmark are hardly alone. Younger baby boomers who recall how TV specials helped count down to the holidays in their youth might find themselves slightly disoriented trying to gauge the calendar by perusing TV listings, with staples like “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airing Nov. 27 and 28, respectively, on ABC. In fact, a barrage of holiday specs began immediately after Thanksgiving, and won’t stop until that all-day yule log burns out.
None of that includes the inevitable Christmas episodes of various popular series and the customary assortment of holiday movies, with beloved titles like “A Christmas Carol,” “The Bishop’s Wife,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” TBS will also continue its tradition of airing a 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story,” ensuring that no one home any part of Christmas day has an excuse to miss the movie.
Don’t look now, Charlie, but you know that football you keep missing? When it comes to Christmas, programmers just keep pulling it away — and inch by inch, moving it a little bit closer to the Great Pumpkin.
“S for Sex” and “V for Violence” have never looked so good.
In this respect, it’s easier to appreciate the darker fare currently playing on cable, if only because it’s difficult to craft very special Christmas episodes of, say, “Sons of Anarchy” or “The Walking Dead.”
The marketing deluge obviously isn’t limited to TV. Retailers made news this year by deciding to slide Black Friday into Thanksgiving day, kicking off the gift-buying season a day early. Never mind the employees who won’t be able to be ho-ho-home for the holiday.
Radio is also a haven for excess. In Los Angeles, for example, KOST-FM switches to an all-Christmas-songs format prior to Thanksgiving. As a radio consultant once noted, a cynic tuning in would be tempted to drive his car off a cliff to escape the 20th encore of “A Holly Jolly Christmas” — but ratings inevitably spike upward.
Mercifully, a half-dozen radio stations don’t go all-Christmas in a single media market, which is where the rationale behind all the merry-making on TV becomes a trifle fuzzy-headed.
Networks going hog wild with Christmas fare seem to approach their programming as if no other channels existed. But once multiple players simultaneously take deep dives into the holidays, the din from all those jingling bells can become a drone — and all those over-stuffed stockings quickly reach a numbing level of overkill.
Admittedly, concerns about the over-commercialization of Christmas are nothing new. “We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big Eastern syndicate,” Lucy tells Charlie Brown in the aforementioned 1965 special, before Linus, naturally, delivers an explanation of the holiday’s true meaning.