In case anybody asks, I didn’t go shopping last Friday. For one thing, I intensely dislike shopping the big sales. When you have worked in retail for any length of time, the last thing you want to do on the day after Thanksgiving is to go back into that mob scene. I’d sooner have all my toenails chewed off by angry Christmas mice than to attempt to stroll into a discount department store at six o’clock in the morning the day after having loaded myself up with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. But I have an even deeper reasoning behind my avoidance of “Black Friday” shopping: I don’t need to shop that day. I hunt for gifts all year long.
Of course, if you know anything about shopping, some of the best bargains are offered the three weeks following Christmas, so it’s a really good time to pick up the non-perishables you wanted to find for that relatively special someone. A nifty pair of gloves, a nice nose-mitten, and a boxed set of Christmas cards... all for a dollar -- irresistible. And, every time another season ends, more items get marked down, so you can pick up that perfect pair of earrings or a lovely teapot for a song in March, a pizza oven in July, a silk purse in September. That way, you won’t have a huge credit card bill in January, so you can pay to heat your house, as well. Many times, too, I’ve found odd little bits of something at an auction, a yard sale, or a flea market that, while extraordinarily inexpensive, are also precisely what somebody has been looking for. I’m not ashamed to admit I find my gifts in somebody else’s discards. What would embarrass me is if I let a good thing get away.
You see, for me, it’s not really about the bargains. I will admit that I can’t spend huge (or even paltry) sums on anything, but that’s not the greater issue, for me. When I buy gifts, it’s because I’m thinking about somebody special in my life. I look at a book (especially the lovely rare ones) and instantly I see the face of the person I know would most like to have it. I hold an unusual figurine, and I visualize someone special beside me, looking at it. I want to make that person smile. And, I want that person to understand that he or she was on my mind for more than just one flashing moment of “omigosh I’ve forgotten to buy for Aunt Hilda!”
I can’t get that sense when I’m pressed to put on body armor, when I’m forced into mortal combat for the last fifteen-dollar DVD player on the shelf. I don’t know if anybody can. So, while I don’t advocate forcing retailers out of business by skipping the sales completely, I do ask that people remember why you went to the store in the first place. Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t for the singing reindeer head or the latest electronic game player. And, it certainly wasn’t to be rude to the poor schlub working the cash register.
The whole point behind exchanging gifts during this season is not about the acquisition, or one-upmanship, or any such nonsense (although, I had been known to try that route occasionally, when I was younger and more reckless). This gift exchange is not even about listening to kids squeal with glee when they peel away the paper and find out Santa got them what they asked for. It’s about remembering the gifts given long ago -- gifts of love and faith and hope and joy. For Christians, the gift came in the form of a small child. For Jews, the gift was light where they had no reason to expect it. For the rest of us, it is in our inclusion. No matter what we believe, we are warmly welcomed into homes and houses. We are feasted, we are celebrated, we are loved. And, in return, we share what little we have with others -- even with complete strangers.
It seems to me, that’s not something that should be relegated to a single day, a single week, or a single month. Swapping packages may be a one-shot deal each year, but the thought behind it needs to go a wee dram more, and love be poured from a measureless cask.
Note: Last week, my column in the Daily Review Atlas was run a day later than usual (due to the holiday), and under Lee Thompson’s by-line. At the time I write this, no correction has yet been printed for the crediting error. For any who may have been confused, I would like to apologize, myself. I’m sure that Mr. Thompson was never an atheistic woman, that he was never pregnant out of wedlock, and that we have had entirely separate journeys of faith. He has my respect, and deserves credit for his own words, not mine.
Update: Is MY face red!. I've just learned that Lee Thompson has a husband. My humblest and sincerest apologies for having twice subjected her to incorrect attributes and attributions.
And another thing: Hunh. Somebody else has brought me some new, convincing evidence that Lee Thompson is male. Or that we're talking about two separate faith-based columnists. I dunno where I'm at, on that. All I know for certain is, Lee didn't say what I wrote last week. Sorry, Lee (whichever chromosomal structure you carry).