Circling 512 miles above the earth, NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite has confirmed what Americans already know: Christmas is the brightest season of all.
The six week period that runs just before Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day produces night skies that are up to 50 percent brighter than any other time of the year.
This, of course, is due to the more than 80 million North American homes that display holiday lights.
On average, more than 150 million Christmas lights are sold each year; estimates of real Christmas trees sales range from 30-40 million.
Although the religious significance of the lights and the trees is paramount, there is plenty of evidence that the festive displays cut across demographics.
Writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, who died in 2012, was not a practicing religious person — yet look at the 16 films she wrote and/or directed. Christmas abounds.
In one of her last published essays, Ephron made a list of what she would miss about life: twinkling lights and Christmas trees are prominently mentioned.
Millions share her enthusiasm and that number is growing.
For example, note the crowds that gather around America’s most famous Christmas tree — Rockefeller Center’s spectacular (always more than 70 feet tall) landmark tree attracts 750,000 visitors per day.
Located in the heart of New York City, this tree usually weighs in at over 24,000 pounds; it supports 50,000 Christmas bulbs. Crowning the top is a Swarovski star.
This year the Norway spruce was lighted on November 28th and was on view until January 7th.
The largest indoor tree in the country can be found just down the road from Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory at the Galleria Mall in Dallas, Texas. It’s an artificial tree which stands 95 feet in height and is garnished with 500,000 lights.
Among the holiday trends that have emerged in the last decade or so is the extension of the Christmas season. Referred to as “holiday creep,” the decorations are definitely going up earlier and staying up longer.
One of the best models of this elongation in 2018 was the Hallmark Channel’s ninth annual “Countdown to Christmas” movies (if you want to see Christmas lights, these made-for-television films have the most completely decorated sets in memory.)
The Countdown, which began October 26th and featured all Xmas-themed stories, dominated ratings, particularly among the female audience. More than 68 million “unduplicated” viewers tuned in — a true advertising juggernaut. And it started before Halloween!
The only unfortunate aspect of the holiday is that these festivities do come to a fairly abrupt end. As Bob Marley remarked, “the good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.”
Post-holiday withdrawal is a real phenomenon: numbers vary, but somewhere around 35 percent of our population experience either stress or depression during and after Christmas.
Situational factors which contribute include spending time with relatives we don’t particularly feel comfortable around, overindulging in alcoholic beverages, spending more money than we should, and memories of those who are no longer alive to share the holiday with — these are all natural components of what psychologists call seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
There is no question that death does not take a holiday during Christmastide: there are more fatal heart attacks in December and January than at any other time of the year. The overall death rate also spikes 5 percent during this period. It has been observed that dying people have the ability to hold out through the holidays in order to see beloved ones before passing.
History tells us that the first Christmas tree in this country was decorated in the 1830’s by a Harvard professor who put candles on an evergreen tree. From that seemingly inconsequential act, an incredible tradition was born that brings widespread joy (and some bittersweet feelings) to millions of Americans today.