There are three things you can absolutely count on every holiday season. First, there's never any figgy pudding around when you need it. Second, almost no one remembers the words to "Frosty the Snowman." And third, the Christmas season starts earlier every year.
Last week, two Boston radio stations began playing all Christmas songs, all the time — which may be an all-time record. The program director for one station told the Boston Herald: "People are ready for a change. The holiday music really helps to erase your problems temporarily."
Yeah, like for two minutes and thirty seconds. Then you're back to the Economic Roll Call of the Damned. As in:
Unemployment is at a 14-year high.
General Motors is hemorrhaging $2 billion a month.
Art auctions are coming up emptier than a Salvador Dali landscape.
And the stock market is down 35 percent, roughly half the great 1929 nosedive. As my father-in-law Marvin used to say, tough sledding on Wall Street. No snow.
It's hardly better on the retail front, where October sales suffered their worst decline since 1969. The upscale Neiman Marcus, for instance, is down 28 percent, although that hasn't kept their Christmas catalog from including a $1,500 Steif bear dressed as Karl Lagerfeld, or that traditional $94,000 wristwatch.
No his-and-her jet planes or his-and-her elephants, as in past years, however.
Macy's, on the other hand, has gone old-school, appropriating the classic "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" editorial from the old New York Sun.
One holiday TV spot features Macy's spokes-celebrities reciting bits of the Sun editor's reply to Virginia's letter in 1897.
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS
HE EXISTS JUST AS LOVE AND GENEROSITY EXIST
HOW DREARY WOULD BE THE WORLD
IF THERE WERE NO SANTA CLAUS
That last line is delivered by Donald Trump, a man long known to be filled with the buttermilk of human kindness.
Unfortunately, that's not the only jarring note in the Macy's campaign. The old New York Sun folded in 1950. The new New York Sun, revived six years, folded last month.
Want a leading indicator of where the U.S. economy is right now?
X-mas marks the spot.
John Carroll is WBUR's senior media analyst and a mass-communication professor at Boston University.
This program aired on November 12, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.