It was still early fall, but I’d looked ahead to see what was happening. And what I saw gave me pause: The Celtics and Lakers were scheduled to play a 12:30 p.m. game on Christmas Day.
In my young mind’s eye, this didn’t jive. How are you supposed to play a basketball game on that — especially for a toy-hungry kid — holiest of holy days? What of dinner with family? What of toys? At that point, I didn’t even know anything stayed open on Christmas. The sheer logistics of it were staggering.
“How,” I asked in a moment of divine worry, “do the players get to go to church?”
Ever eager to make an impression, Dad handed out yet another of what I later found out was a long, uninterrupted string of lies: “Well, I’m sure they go the day before.”
Right. And the NBA and NFL share their television revenues with the Salvation Army while the commissioners and owners serve dinner at a soup kitchen.
Sociologists tell us human beings are habitual animals, prone to predictable patterns of behavior. We don’t need sociologists to tell us that, of course. Nearly everyone knows exactly when, how and why their Christmas day is going to go down because, well, that’s simply how it’s done. Tradition. Which is very important for a great number of people.
Don’t know about you and yours, but myself and my family are no exception. I’ve lapsed a bit into my own comfortable rut of idle nothingness since leaving the house, but I’m still sure to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” at least once and go to church for the first time since Easter.
There are some things I still end up doing solely because they’ve been part of the routine since I was able to form memories. Christmas Eve never comes and goes without a feast of Chinese food to fuel a wrapping marathon — one of my favorites.
But there are some traditions I’ve never been able to understand — namely, when people choose to share their holiday with thousands of anonymous strangers bent on taking their money: pro sports leagues, teams and their flinty Uncle Scrooge owners.
Having pro sports televised on Christmas isn’t an accident. The leagues — and this year it’s both the NFL and NBA shoving Jesus Christ and Santa Claus out of the spotlight — have a captive audience unlike any other, with faithful fans cooped up in an in-law’s house wearing ridiculous sweaters and counting the hours before they can leave. They’re dying for something to ease the awkward boredom.
Advertisers know full well what a gold mine that market is, and the networks and leagues both make a killing. If anyone needed a reminder how fully our society is commercialized, I could think of few better examples.
That’s not to say a sports fan shouldn’t enjoy sports, especially on a day meant to be enjoyed, whether it’s spiritual, gastronomical, material or otherwise. But whether you’re trying to get some deep inner meaning out of the holiday or simply wanting to connect with peace on Earth and goodwill toward mankind, I don’t think Shaq and Kobe are going to help out. Nor will Bill Parcells or T.O. — though they’re both better, publicist included, than the ghastly ESPN media-marketing machine currently pimping Monday Night Football.
If you think watching sports on Christmas is a natural thing worldwide, guess again. In Europe, soccer is a Dec. 26 tradition. Hockey Night in Canada is silent from Dec. 23 to Dec. 26. And it’s very hard to imagine anything taking precedent over Christ in Mexico.
So leave the TV off, for once. Spend some time actually trying to talk with those relatives you haven’t seen in months. They’re your family — unlike the Los Angeles Lakers. If your jones for games can’t be relieved, go outside and shoot baskets with your cousin or challenge an uncle to a one-on-one.
And if you find the time, spend a few quiet moments in reflection. Take some time off. That’s the reason for the season — not feeding someone else’s cash cow.
Sports Editor Christopher H. Roberts will be on a traditional Christmas vacation next week. To fill his inbox while he’s gone, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.