What do some people wish would be forever banned, or at least toned down, during holiday seasons in the future? Let's start with these.
Who could hate an event that pulls together thousands of merrymakers dressed up in Santa Claus gear, and that also raises money for charity? Lots of people. That's because SantaCon, an annual bar crawl that takes place on a Saturday in December in New York City and San Francisco, is known to devolve into a drunken, sometimes violent mess that annoys the police and horrifies families that happen to stumble into the scrum. Building up to this year's Con, the San Francisco Chronicle urged participants to try hard to not be the mischievous elf who "makes children cry or gets so drunk in public that Santa gets on the naughty list for public urination." SantaCon was actually banned in several neighborhoods in New York City to keep partiers at bay. At least one very Bad Santa was on the loose, however: One man dressed as Santa robbed a bank in San Francisco and then disappeared into the pack of red-and-white revelers on the streets.
Secret Santa Gift Exchanges
Are popular office secret Santa gift exchanges the "worst idea ever"? Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke says so, largely because, well-intentioned or not, in the exchange "the odds of a recipient actually liking, needing, or not being mildly offended by the gift are slim." No one can argue with the other kind of secret Santa that has been popping up during the season, however: One mysterious "Santa" has been visiting fast-food restaurants and handing out $100 tips to workers, while other are anonymously spending tens of thousands of to pay off the layaway accounts of total strangers.
Santa Photo Ops
Santa imagery is used to sell all sorts of things around the holidays. The Dillards department store, for instance, posted a sign in the young girls' section that was supposed to be a letter to Santa Claus, asking for "a big fat bank account and a slim body," before people complained and it was removed. Then there are the different permutations of photo ops—Santa on a Harley-Davidson, Santa with pets, mall Santa photo packages that start at $30 and go higher. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some are critics of Santa's overexposure, especially the Georgia gun range that welcomed children for a Santa photo op, which some called "irresponsible," or worse.
Christmas Trees—Real and Fake
You'd think Christmas tree sellers would be pretty jolly. But the debate about whether natural or fake trees are best has pushed opposing sides to do some nasty trash talking. The artificial tree is little more than "a giant green toilet bowl brush," Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, told the Los Angeles Times. "A real Christmas tree starts as a seed. It comes from nature. Fake ones end in a landfill, and they won't decompose like a plant will." Critics of real trees, meanwhile, point out that because states such as California are suffering from serious droughts, and because it thousands of gallons of water are needed to raise a Christmas tree, the all-natural option isn't entirely environmentally friendly either.
The gift card may very well be the most requested present year in, year out, but it's nonetheless a lazy, thoughtless "crime against Christmas," my colleague Kara Brandeisky argued recently. What message is sent when we give gift cards? “I couldn’t be bothered to think of you this holiday season; help yourself to exactly $25 worth of crap from Target.”
Supposedly Thoughtful Gifts
The best counterargument to the exchanging of "thoughtful" handpicked gifts is the one Jacob Davidson, another Money colleague, makes by showing that the vast majority of people wind up not liking their gifts. "You’re statistically likely to buy an unwanted, meaningless present, so don’t get gray hairs over choosing the right one." Just buy a gift card.
Even though Black Friday at the mall flopped, with foot traffic and sales down substantially on what's traditionally one of the year's biggest shopping days, consumerism is undeniably alive—and so are the critics tired of shopping encroaching on family time during the holidays. By far what agitated the masses the most was how stores insisted on being open on Thanksgiving, starting as early as 6 a.m. Protesters launched campaigns to boycott stores open on the holiday, but it's unclear what, if any, effect they've had.
An atheist group based in New Jersey decided that the holiday season was the perfect time to take pot shots at religion, in the form of roadside billboards in the heartland featuring a girl in a Santa hat and the words on a mock letter, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I'm too old for fairy tales." Some Christian groups are also viewing Tom Ford's provocative new piece of jewelry—a cross penis pendant, available in gold and silver, in sizes small and medium (no large)—as an intentional insult to their religious beliefs.