Duck! and Gather

Twas the Night Before Retailia …

Posted on: December 24, 2008

… and all through the nation, not a heart wasn’t beating, without anxiety and foreboding.

It was in the late 20th century — specifically, 1946 to December 25, 2008 — that the cult known as “Retailia” (pr. re-TAIL-ia) flourished throughout the world. Especially within America.

Interestingly, the rise and fall of Retailia tracked almost exactly with the rise and fall of the American Empire. Although this Empire was the shortest in the history of all world empires known before it, no other empire before it enjoyed quite the reach that the ubiquitous and incandescent American one did.

I remember spending December 25, 1998 in New Delhi, India. New Dehli is about 99% Hindu, with the remaining 1% spread among Muslims, Buddhists, and the Christian underclass who clean the homes of the well-to-do Hindus.

As I walked through the central roundabouts of the city, I was amazed to see everywhere the markings of the American Retailia. It seemed that every store window boasted a picture of the Retailian talisman known in those days as “Santa Claus”.

But 1998 was during the peak years of Retailia. Back in the Depression of the 1930s, before this cult took hold of America, let alone the world, Retailia was simply the impossible dream of retailers. During those dark ages, when the Christians still ruled the day, an ad executive for Macy’s created a cartoon for children. The purpose of the cartoon was to subtly inculcate the occult practices and beliefs of Retailia within the minds of American children.

To make this cartoon, this ad man started with the old “Ugly Ducking” fairy tale. But he replaced the ugly duckling/swan with a reindeer who had a neon red nose; the ducks were replaced with normal reindeer. To this tale, the ad man added the sacred mandala who would show up so many years later in the New Delhi shop windows.

This Macy’s ad man could not have imagined that his simple cartoon would become the most hallowed icon of the Retailia cult. But it did. And many more followed.

For decade upon decade, in the latter half of the twentieth century, Retailians throughout America, and increasingly throughout the world, engaged in an orgy of retail shopping, starting with the day after Thanksgiving (“Black Friday”), and ending on December 26 (“Boxing Day” for you Canadians).

Though extraordinary, the Retailians were not completely original. Indeed, they picked December 25 for their “big day” only because the prior cult — the Christians — had already picked that day. But then again, the Christians picked that day only because the prior cult — the Romans — had already picked that day for Saturnalia. And of course, the Romans picked that time of the year, only because prior, more primitive cults had already picked out the winter solstice for celebration.

So the last week of December is an unbroken trail of plagiarism — with the current group of cultists having appropriated and customized the end-of-year celebration from the last group. This trail runs backward in history, before human memory.

But the Retailians are worthy of special mention in this infinite trail of copycats. This is because all of the previous cultists claimed some mystical, ineffable aspect of this December celebration. But not the Retailians. The Retailians didn’t bother with such mystical namby-pamby notions. Retailia was and would always be about nothing more, and nothing less, than durable goods sold on credit.

Perhaps the simplicity of this idea explains why and how Retailia grew so far, so fast. But then again, maybe this lack of a mystical foundation also explains why Retailia ended after only 62 years, compared with the 1800+ years of Christmas, the millennium of Saturnalia, and the eons of “pagan” solstice worship.

But, for whatever reason, the brief reign of Retailia ended on December 25, 2008. That was the day the cult members woke up, and en masse realized that the party was over.

But the people discovered something else that day too. They rediscovered the simple truism that the best things in life are DIY, communal, and free.

Happy Retailia, all. Even if it is our last one.

2 Responses to "Twas the Night Before Retailia …"

Well written.

Yes, things are changing. Bill noticed that the lines at the post office this time of year were considerably less than previous years. The post office teller workers said this has been their slowest year ever.

Despite that, I don’t think that Retailia will become extinct. It would be like the Americanized world waking up and all of a sudden saying: “let’s move past this consumerism”.

I think it will happen more in dribs and drabs, until you get a watered down version of Retalia. I don’t think it will ever completely disappear where all we do at that time of year is share food, laughter, company and fun.

Some things are too ingrained into the psyche – even if it has only been 62 years.

I predict that children will still be sitting on Santa’s lap 100 years from now.

Why? It’s the symbolism for expressing dreams and desires.

And maybe even if we’re really lucky, that Santa in 100 years, will not be a figure who grants wishes and presents to little boys and girls, but a figure who encourages little boys and girls to create their own dreams.

But yes. The Retailia as we have known it is about to change big gime.

Interesting thoughts Kathy. Thanks. I seem to have this same conversation repeatedly with friends. That is, my friends all argue that the coming changes will be incremental; I counter that changes will be quantum in nature.

But maybe it’s both. That is, graceful, healthy aging is incremental. But some dynamics, like the morning of 9/11, are quantum.

Hmm. I think it might be an interesting exercise to catalog the different kinds of changes into each bucket, and see if there is a pattern to each.

Job for another day. 🙂

Comments are closed.

for the money has gone too far

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