And so it begins. Today is Black Friday. Yesterday most of us celebrated, in some form or fashion, our most underappreciated holiday…Thanksgiving. We got up early for the big parade, we watched a lot of football, and we chowed down on turkey, stuffing, sweet taters, & pumpkin pie. By now though we have moved on. A Christmas movie or two has been watched. Carols are being played. Trees & other decorations are already up or soon will be. We are in full throttle Christmas mode.
It is commonly stated that today is the busiest shopping day of the year. I have my doubts about that, but I suppose it is a nifty marketing ploy. Some of you may have already been shopping last night/early this morning. Black Friday has become such a hyped event that the sales now begin the day before, but traditionally…and I use that word with some level of revulsion…it has been a midnight or later kind of thing. Apparently lots of folks are really into it. My old buddy Tony V. in Florida LOVES Black Friday. He plans an intricate strategy. Where he’s going. What he’s buying where. Maps out the route. Gets all the sales flyers & coupons as soon as they become available weeks before. His Black Friday battle plan is better than the U.S. exit strategy from The Middle East. The Pentagon should probably hire him as a consultant. Conversely, I couldn’t possibly care less if a $1000 television is available at WalMart for $35. Perhaps that reflects badly on my grasp of economics, but I prefer to look at it as a prudent decision to be home in my warm bed at 3am snuggling with Rocco and having Wacky Dreams instead of traipsing around battling the elements & encountering humanity wallowing in avaricious excess. I have pondered the idea of participating merely as a sociological exercise, but I always talk myself out of it. If that ever changes citizens of The Manoverse will surely get a firsthand account of the occasion, but don’t hold your breath.
There was a time…long ago in the halcyon days of childhood…that I did enjoy the hustle & bustle of the mall at Christmastime. However, a) I didn’t have to drive on slick roads…that was my mother’s problem, b) I didn’t have to find a place to park, c) being in large crowds was fun & exciting, not like now when it is a reason to double the dosage of my blood pressure meds, d) my shopping list was very small & inexpensive, & e) I was a kid who didn’t know any better. Now?? I don’t even enjoy the mall on a boring Tuesday afternoon in the middle of spring, so the idea of going there when it’s actually crowded & noisy makes me nauseous. There is ONE exception. The local United Way has a spot in the middle of the mall where volunteers from its organizations will wrap your presents for a small donation. They even use ribbons & bows, and I like ribbons & bows. They’re festive. Wrapping gifts isn’t really a talent I possess, so I happily fork over a few bucks to have someone else with such skills do the job for me. I choose a day when the weather isn’t horrible, park as close to the appropriate entrance as I can get, take my plunder to the aforementioned location, and wait patiently until they are done. Then I take my lovely wrapped bundles and get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Doing this on a weekday does minimize the agony just a bit, and I am lucky to have had employment situations for much of the past two decades that have enabled me to go about things in this manner.
Now my mother…God bless her soul…always did Christmas shopping the smart way. She’d begin the task as early as the previous spring. I would be totally surprised by a gift on Christmas morning because it was something that I’d casually mentioned wanting back in March and had almost completely forgotten about by the time the holiday season rolled around, but Mom had taken note and bought the thing not long after I’d expressed interest all those months ago. She was the BEST gift giver. Mom would give us things we never knew we’d always wanted. Looking back I now realize that the only reason she endured the hellish retail scene in December was because my sister & I needed/wanted to go. She was already done!! She put up with the mall for US!! What a great mother.
I know a lot of people that refuse to be confined by the limitations of the local mall or other nearby stores. I live about equal distance…a couple of hours give or take…from both Pittsburgh, PA and West Virginia’s capitol city of Charleston. Both offer much more retail variety than our small town, and some enjoy spending a day or even an entire weekend making the trek to take advantage of that expanded assortment of choices. Not this guy. Because of an auto accident many years ago I have a rather debilitating driving phobia, so the thought of braving the highways & byways of Pittsburgh terrifies me. But even if that weren’t the case I just don’t believe those places have anything THAT great to justify the trip. They pretty much have the same stuff we have here…just more of it. Atleast that’s what I tell myself to justify not being adventurous.
Of course shopping malls & retail outlets have largely been rendered pointless because of one thing…The Internet. Yes friends, online shopping is where it’s at!! I already began Christmas shopping earlier this week right here in the comfort of my humble Bachelor Palace. Obviously one can peruse the big sites…Amazon, Ebay, WalMart, etc., but really you can find just about anything in cyberspace if you are persistent in the search. You are only limited by your imagination & bank account. Not only does Christmas shopping online offer almost limitless possibilities, but there are other benefits. You aren’t restricted by the time constraints of when stores open or close. I’m a night owl, so much of my shopping will be done in the wee hours of late night/early morning. Depending on the rules & regulations of your job you may be able to knock out some of your list while at work, atleast on your break or lunch hour. Almost everyone has access to a computer or smartphone at all times these days, right?? You might even make a purchase or two while sitting in traffic!! How cool is that?? Being productive is a good thing. And these trinkets, knick-knacks, baubles, & doodads that you order are delivered…usually right to your front door!! That’s awesome, especially as the weather deteriorates in December. One just needs to be careful and allow enough time for delivery. Sure Amazon will usually have your stuff to you in just a few days, but a more obscure site won’t be quite so expeditious or will make such rapidity cost prohibitive. There really is no downside to this Internet thing other than identity theft.
I do suggest that, even if you’re shopping online, have some kind of strategery. Make a list of who you want to buy gifts for and how much you want to spend, both individually and in total. We still have to pay our rent or mortgage, put gas in the vehicle, feed the dog/cat/ferret/fish/amphibian, eat, & buy toiletries. Christmas doesn’t make that stuff go away. Be smart.
I do not believe that there is anything wrong with asking someone what they want for Christmas. Ideally if it is someone you are close enough to want to buy a Christmas gift for you have some inclination of what their interests are or what they really need, but let’s be real…we all know those people that are just so darn difficult to shop for. They might lead really tedious lives, or perhaps they’re just really persnickety and won’t be all that captivated by anything you give them. I’ve bought my father more than one gift over the years that I know has ended up collecting dust in a closet in his house because Dad is just kind of stuck in his ways and doesn’t really have any hobbies. When he was young & spry he was a golfer so that was my go-to every Christmas, birthday, & Father’s Day…golf balls, golf tees, golf clothing. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Sadly those days are gone which makes things a little more challenging, but I still manage. Anyway, if you’re not sure what to get someone ask them…they might surprise you with an idea. Or they might stonewall you with platitudes like “I just want your friendship” or “You don’t need to get me anything. I’ve already got everything”. That’s the kind of stuff I say because I hate being asked what I want for Christmas. It’s awkward. If you run up against someone like me you’ll just have to be a little more Machiavellian in your inquiry.
What about gift cards?? Ehhhhhhh……I go back & forth on this discussion. I think in the right situation with the right person a gift card is acceptable. However, it can also be lazy, uninspired, & totally lacking in imagination. Proceed with caution.
Experiences make really cool gifts. Concert tickets. Movie tickets. Game tickets. Plane tickets. Vacation getaways. Although it helps if you’re wealthy if you are giving a trip as a Christmas present. If you’re rich and like to give away vacations please leave a comment on this post. Let’s be friends.
Of course I want to be REALLY clear about something…Christmas is NOT about shopping or gifts. My inclination is to assume that everyone knows that, but I have to remind myself that everyone doesn’t. A couple of millennia ago a Child was born in a stable. That Child was the Son of God, born with the express purpose of spreading His Word to the masses and then dying for OUR sins. I respect anyone’s right to disagree but I will not apologize for my beliefs or hide behind closed doors whispering to other believers.
Wow, that got heavy, didn’t it??
Okay, so we’ve got about a month of this Christmas thing. There will be music. There will be movies. There will be horribly mawkish drivel on The Hallmark Channel. You will eat cookies & pies and gain weight (don’t go to the doctor for a check-up until spring). And yes, there will be shopping. Is Christmas too commercialized?? Clearly. Have we minimized Jesus in favor of Santa Claus?? Probably. We can play a part in correcting those problems on an individual basis. Having said that, the old maxim “’tis better to give than receive” has validity. Buying someone a Christmas gift is a way to show that we love, respect, & appreciate them. Be prudent. Be original. Show discernment. Enjoy. It’s Christmas…have fun. God bless.