When I was a kid, I'd visit downtown Boston and be mightily impressed by the Christmas lights that seemed to be everywhere. The streets were bustling despite the presence of traffic. Downtown Crossing was yet to come and Filenes reigned supreme. The Basement was still your best bet. Jordan Marsh was next door, while across the street stood Gilchrists. And don't forget Raymond's or R.H.White. These Washington Street havens formed a compound of holiday activity complemented by Salvation Army chorales and the ringing of its bell. Electrical Santa Claus's hung on high and it was magic time. The spirit of Christmas permeated everything and everyone. Carrying wrapped gifts was the right of passage. A smile was the password of the day and snow was the perfect complement. Bing Crosby's dream had been fulfilled. None of the future malls would ever came close to replicating this concentrated space of the nice kind of excitement.
All that is gone. Macy's tries hard, but it cannot overcome the symbolic dreariness created by the transformation into Downtown Crossing, where the streets become precarious for pedestrians after dark. Today, people seem to slog along, burdened with the chore of staying within financial limits, as they strive to cover their gift lists, with strained incomes making the chore most perplexing and challenging. Is it all the fault of the economy or has the way it is today, in all things, become a joint venturer? Foreign wars seem to have existed forever. We have come to live with the constant threat of terrorism. Has a toll been taken on the nation's mood?
Entering a supermarket, today, I spotted a man soliciting donations for the Salvation Army. He was dressed in familiar garb, holding a bell in one hand and a receptacle in the other. But there was no movement of enthusiasm to his manner of indifference, no ringing sound or oral greeting. He looked just a little depressed. Are we wading through an "On The Beach" atmosphere or is all this a figment of my imagination?
Driving home, listening to the radio, all I could get was news or sports talk.
Then, by chance, I found a station playing universal Christmas songs, exclusively.
A breath of old but fresh air.