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At Last, A Painless Holiday

Anders Hove

It is human nature to whine and carp about what's wrong with the world, and, as the long-time opinion editor of this publication, I can say that for columnists and opinion writers the urge to complain in print is an almost irrepressible one. In this column, however, I would like to take a rare opportunity to discuss something that is absolutely right with the world: Easter.

During the last four decades or so, Americans have poured forth an ever-increasing stream of protest over the increasingly blatant consumerism surrounding the Christmas holiday. Each year, the Christmas buying season starts earlier and earlier. We expressed dismay when it overtook Thanksgiving, and now we complain that Halloween is in danger of being eclipsed as well.

For those who buy their gifts at the last possible moment, a long run-up to Christmas means a long season of guilt and stress. For the many Americans who are not Christian, the hype appears so much quasi-irrelevant hubbub - which it is.

Easter, I am told, has also been a time of gift-giving as well. Not on the scale of Christmas - not hardly. Nevertheless, a half-century ago major department stores and local retailers sortied into the advertising pages of local papers and onto the airwaves to tout their own line of Easter gifts. And even for those not participating in the giving, Easter was still a major shopping day.

Although sales and marketing departments across the nation were initially loath to admit it, shopping over the Easter holiday has been on a long decline. In the 1990s, few exchange gifts on Easter, and each year fewer race to the local mall to while away the holiday shopping.

For a time the Easter shopping binge was supplanted by a far smaller candy-buying one, but now even this phenomenon appears to be in decline. In years gone past, Easter was preceded by a litany of chocolate bunny and caramel egg advertising. Meanwhile, the Easter bunny was caught hawking carpeting, mattresses, and just about anything else related to seasonal household cleaning and refurbishing.

Today even this small bump of shopping excitement has disappeared. True, you can still find a candy display or two in the grocery stores, and the Easter bunny crops up now and then. But how visible is Easter compared with ongoing secular advertising campaigns, like the Energizer bunny, or the Intel bunnies for that matter.

The result in the decline in Easter marketing has been a holiday almost entirely free of consumerism. Yes, many buy flowers and eggs, but who can fault this when the very word "consumerism" raises haunting visions of malls brutally decked with boughs of otherwise non-existent holly. When Easter rolls around, we're just extracting the yuletide elevator music from our heads. The last thing we need is a visit from the Easter bunny.

What impresses me most about this time of year is how civil people are, compared with during the Christmas holiday. With everyone rushing to and fro, nerves are frayed on all sides. It is the Battle of Christmas, fought by those who feel a sense of duty to participate in the holiday, and by those who wish they could conscientiously abstain. Easter and Passover bother nobody: those who wish to participate can do so without distraction or stress, and those who do not can blithely exercise that choice without being reminded of it every time they turn the corner.

Charles Schultz never bothered to make a Charlie Brown Special about Easter consumerism, and it's just as well for him that he did not. Somehow, the forces of society have combined to free this season from the forces of the mass market.