Thursday, February 16, 2006

Between Cupids and Bunnies

I happened to be in Meijer during lunch on Tuesday, which was Valentine's Day. On the grocery side of the store, there were still plenty of Valentine's Day gifts and gift ideas: candy, champagne, flowers, cards, candles...all red, pink, or white. Still plenty of people buying these items, too, no doubt to take home from work at the end of the day for their loved ones.

At the same time, on the other side of the store, the merchandise side side, were Easter displays filled with merchandise: baskets, bunnies, more candy, etc., all of it in bright pastel spring colors. I suppose I could wonder where the green St. Patrick's Day merch was, but that's not the purpose of this post.

Every year we muse about how the Christmas stuff comes out earlier and earlier each year at stores, but there is a reason for that: Christmas sells. If you are a retailer, why not take advantage of the Christmas season and extend it as much as you can get away with it? Truthfully, I have no problem with it, save the tired, insipd pablum they call Christmas music that I am inundated with from the moment I take Step One inside the store until I can get the cheese out of my ever-loving head seven hours after I leave. But other than the musak, I have no problems with stores bringing the holiday decor out after Halloween. After all, we're heading into the cold, Advent will be upon us in a few weeks, and Thanksgiving before that, which is sort of a holiday season Opening Day, if you will. It's emotionally appropriate, and even amidst all the Frostys, Santas, and Bing Crosbys, one doesn't have to look too deep to find Baby Jesus and the Holy Family. How can anyone be offended by a baby born to earstwhile parents amidst angels? Who can say they are put off by hope, peace on Earth and goodwill to all?

But Easter is different, isn't it?

Easter is offensive. Easter draws a distinct line in the sand. Life and death. Belief and unbelief. It isn't hard to ask someone to believe in the birth of a baby -- it's happened 7 billion times within the last century, alone. But to ask a person to believe that a man rose from the dead and changed the landscape of religion, not to mention politics, forever? To challenge the perceived and accepted understanding of the relationship between God and humanity? And if that isn't enough, the man who was raised from the dead wasn't an 85-year old man who died naturally in his sleep that was loved by all and hated by none. He was a young man that was killed because of the unrest caused by the things he said and did, whose followers loved and whose opponents hated. And the culpability for his death is still debated 2,000 years later by the ethnic and geographical descendents of those who were around at the time. Oh, and he claimed to be the Son of God. Kinda hard to create a huggable plush doll for the occassion and sell it at Meijer.

Even still, it feels as though something is missing from the celebration of Easter; for me, anyway. In the Church, we recognize Christ's coming to Earth with the four-week period of Advent. We light candles to remind ourselves and each other why Christ came. We sing songs such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," which is beautiful and plaintive. "O Come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel!" It is a beautiful, aching, longing for what will be while acknowledging what desperate times we are in at present. Which, of course, makes Christ's entrance so much sweeter -- it isn't just good to have Christ, it is absolutely necessary. We can't understand the light without struggling through the dark night of the soul.

The Church also has something of a pre-Easter season of Advent, called Lent. It is a season, traditionally, of sacrifice and willful abstinence. We give up distracting pleasures for the purpose of remembering Christ, why He came, and why He died. Because, ethnic and geographic politics notwithstanding, Christ died because it was the only way we could be clean enough to enter God's presence at the end of our days. Christ died for us. Because we need Him to. Because our sins require payment of death. Also hard to sell in a plush doll at Meijer.

Of course, Lent is also observed by many who have no overtly religious reasons to do so. As if taking a huge gasp of air before diving under the water in an attempt to swim a length of the pool (without cheating?), we buy paczkis and revel with beads and enjoy a guilt-free day of gluttony before getting serious about our diets, or our attempts to stop smoking, or whatever habit we may wish to break. I don't mean to belittle a secularized Lent; anything that might help us reconsider our need to consume can't be a bad thing, regardless of motivation. But again, it's hard to commercialize abstinence of anything. Unless you're Jenny Craig, there isn't a whole lot of money to be made in the business of self-restraint.

So, let us pretend for a moment that Meijer was going to commemorate the six-plus weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter with a display of seasonal merchandise. What would be appropriate? All black for Good Friday? A display of no merchandise at all for Lent? Of course I am not asking Meijer to do this, nor do I expect it to happen. Still, it does seem a bit incongruous to have brightly colored pastel things marketed to me to celebrate Easter, when I haven't yet gone through the season of somber reflection in Lent or the mourning in Good Friday.

*****
Do you commemorate the season of Lent? What do you find meaningful?

1 Comments:

Blogger earthchick said...

I think your idea of no merchandise at all for Lent is brilliant, and it would be great fun if you asked Meijer to do so.

I also find it a bit jarring to see all the Easter decorations when we haven't even gone through Ash Wednesday, let alone all of Lent, yet.

11:58 PM  

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