Heat waves rise from the smooth rocks along the Nanaimo River where you’re spending a languid day shaking off everyday life—the stress of juggling job and studies—and for a moment time feels like your own. Except that on the way to the river you had to stop at Wal-Mart for sunscreen and there they were neatly stacked on the prime seasonal shelf space at the entrance to the store: school supplies. It’s July and they’re trying to sell you binders. Cue the crazy train.

The marketing machine is the engine chugging mercilessly down the track from here right through to New Year’s Day. We’re inundated with marketing messages that begin earlier each year as retailers clamber over one another to be the first to stock their shelves from the rail cars labelled Back-to-School, (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Halloween, (American) Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Eve.

The conductor pulls out of the station in July when the Aug. issues of magazines filled with Back-to-School tips hit the shelves. They’re flogging new fall wardrobes while we’re still sweltering in shorts. Parents riding the train can only hope their kids won’t outgrow their new clothes before the weather turns.

In the blink of an eye, after Labour Day, it’s time to deck the halls with gourds and ghouls for Thanksgiving and Halloween. Retailers have seen the dollar signs and push Halloween as a major decorating holiday. Celebrants are beckoned to go bigger and nastier when they scary up their front yards. Before the leaves turn, horror movies are well into their marketing plans and television specials like The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror air earlier each year.

Let us not overlook the horror of the snack-sized candy bars and other treats that we buy early (for best selection) and wind up polishing off long before any young Ninja Turtle or Hulk comes to the door. Eggnog, that calorie-laden seasonal beverage, also hits the shelves around this time.

The next car on the crazy train, American Thanksgiving, brims with gastronomic goodness, but it’s really just a stepping stone to Black Friday when they fire the starting pistol on the Christmas shopping season. It’s the day when consumers officially, and collectively, lose their minds. People line up while it’s dark to get the best deals. Some of them get trampled.

Christmas music has invaded the airwaves, the halls are decked (with boughs of holly this time) and Santas will move into malls across the country. From there on, all the way down the track, there are 24/7 messages to buy. And buy. And buy.

(Honourable mention should be made here to Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that’s observed on a kind of floating calendar during the holiday season. Known as the Festival of Lights, the luckiest kids can clean up with presents on each of the eight nights.)

Perplexingly, before we finish juggling our Christmas wants and needs they fire up the Boxing Day sale advertisements. After months of shopping for other people it’s time to turn our attentions, and our credit cards, to ourselves. As with Black Friday, people line up early on Boxing Day morning. Sometimes they get trampled. Retailers, sensitive to our need to keep shopping, have kindly taken to spreading the sales out over the entire Boxing Week.

Then there are the New Year’s resolutions. Exercise equipment and clothing are popular here. As are smoking cessation products and self-help books. These are excellent purchases to make during Boxing Week.

The frenzy of the past months leads us to the caboose where we find New Year’s Eve. Here, we seek release, often at the bottom of a bottle, in preparation for the inevitable letdown, failed resolutions, and depression that comes with the still-dark days ahead. (Unless you’re a flower wholesaler. Then your own private hell starts right around now.)

Your journey on the crazy train changes as you age: children look out the windows, along for the ride; young adults and older unmarried singles enjoy the bar car; parents move valiantly between cars, holding on for dear life; and retirees take their turkey poolside in Arizona if they can afford it. Meanwhile the engine pulls into the terminal for a short rest until it can fire up and we do it all over again. Cue the crazy train.


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