Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: Are you, too, in a quest for the Christmas spirit?

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LENOX >> Here it is, five days before Christmas, and the lighting display downtown is spectacular. It should be enough to help lift beleaguered spirits.

According to the song written in 1963, popularized by Andy Williams, Garth Brooks and Harry Connick Jr., "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

But for reasons difficult to fathom, the Christmas holiday spirit is elusive this year. I can't seem to catch the good tidings of joy, and a few other people have shared similar thoughts about the lack of merriment.

Several theories abound.

Despite a cool-down to seasonable temperatures this weekend, we expect abnormal warmth during the upcoming week and a white Christmas appears to be out of the question. This is what it must be like to our south, but for New England, even up to the Canadian border, it's downright bizarre.

Even shoppers have been discouraged by the unseasonably balmy breezes, according to a nationwide Associated Press roundup. Planalytics, a weather forecasting firm for retailers, estimates that so far, mall-based clothing stores have lost $343 million in sales compared with last year — the most severe weather-related loss since 1998 when a devastating ice storm hit parts of the Northeast.

"Winter didn't happen and so the clothes, the scarves are not selling," said Ron Friedman, head of the retail and consumer products group at accounting firm Marcum LLP. As a result, he says shoppers will see discounts of 75 percent after Christmas. Macy's is already advertising 70 percent off some men's sweaters and 75 percent off children's outerwear this weekend.

Another reason the spirit of St. Nick is missing: Christmas greetings in the daily mail seem fewer than ever. Many folks and businesses just aren't sending cards anymore. Electronic cards aren't in keeping with the season's traditions. Of course, most of us received but a handful of first-class personal mail from the Postal Service throughout the year.

But greeting cards for the holiday season ought to survive the digital onslaught. Sadly, the Greeting Card Association reported that 1.6 billion cards were sent last December, down from 2.4 billion in 2004.

Maybe the toxic political climate and the fallout from multiple terror attacks around the world continue to cast a pall on the normally celebratory spirit of Yuletide.

Each year, I watch a list of holiday films, including "A Christmas Carol" (multiple versions), "It's a Wonderful Life," "Love, Actually," "White Christmas," "Holiday Inn," and "Miracle on 34th Street," just to name a few. So far this month, not one has made it onto my home screen.

The substitution of "holiday" for "Christmas" by marketers and advertisers continues to be an annual irritant. But when certain cities and towns (Pittsfield, I'm looking at you) promote cheery events for the lighting of their "Holiday Tree," it gets nonsensical. After all, we wouldn't refer to a Holiday Menorah-lighting ceremony. Let the holiday speak its name.

It's not that the Dr. Seuss tale "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" should be taken literally this year. And it's worth noting that Hallmark's cable channels have been running made-for-TV Christmas movies non-stop since early November. Most areas have radio stations that went all-Christmas, all the time for their music playlists well before Thanksgiving. Some people just can't get enough of the Christmas spirit, even in sugar-coated and commercialized forms.

A visit to the Colonial Theatre for the 10th annual community production of Eric Hill's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" might well re-awaken anyone's dormant inner Christmas.

As Hill, who performs Scrooge so memorably, told The Eagle's arts editor Jeff Borak in a recent interview, "This really is a story about transformation. ... If you don't understand the joy of this story you don't understand Christmas, the real Christmas, which is not about stuff."

Well stated. This year, instead of waiting for visitations from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, it may be necessary to go out and search for those good tidings of joy, wherever and however we may find them.

Contact Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com.


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