It’s Not a Con, It’s Magic

This woman obviously is not enjoying shopping. Who shops in high heels, anyway?

This woman obviously is not enjoying shopping. Who shops in high heels, anyway?

Each Christmas I trudge store to store in search of the perfect gifts that will delight, amaze, and astonish.

My motives are clearly admirable, but the result of all that trekking causes me to thrash around in frustration, irritability and price-escalation-disgust. At that point, Christmas becomes less a joy and more a chore.

After purchasing multiple gifts, I juggle everything to the car, drive home, plop the contents on my bed, organize the items, (hoping to remember who gets what) and drag out the wrapping paper. Since I have hundreds of children and grandchildren, the boxing, tissue-papering, wrapping, labeling seem endless. (Note: I don’t really have hundreds of children and grandchildren. To my alert readers that already know this, you have earned 100 In Spite Of Myself readership-points.)

After several discussions with my adult kids about my determination to put the “Christ” back in Christmas, I was getting a little depressed about my attitude. But a few days ago, my attitude experienced a profound adjustment.

It started when the clerk that rang up my purchases asked this question: “Will you need boxes?” I looked at her uncomprehendingly, my eyes Con artsquinting.

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“They’re free,” she said, smiling.

Free? Nothing’s really free, anymore, is it? Besides, she was smiling, and that is not normal for a counter clerk in the northeast. My eyes were tiny slits. I sensed a con coming. Maybe they wanted me to fill out the application for their credit card or call a number and fill out a survey.

con pictShe bent down to retrieve several boxes from under the counter, and pushed them into the bag with my purchases. Then she shocked me by not requesting a credit card app or a survey, and furthermore, she continued, “Do you want free gift wrapping? In Customer Service upstairs?”

I peeked in my bags at the twelve-ish items I’d purchased. “They’ll wrap all this, um, for nothing?” She nodded, yawned, and crossed her arms, waiting. I am unable to formulate a response. The silence stretched from seconds to minutes.

“This happens all the time,” she said, breaking the silence, and shrugged. “People don’t believe me. They go into kind of a “shock” mode for a few minutes. I have to wait until they can talk again.” She uncrossed her arms, placed her palms on the counter, leaned toward me and whispered, “But if you don’t go upstairs right now, you’ll have to stand in a long line later, when the after-work shopping crowd comes in.”

My “shock” faded, and I was able to manage a few squeaks as I tried to speak. I felt the tiniest sparks of Christmas joy return. After clearing my throat, I shouted,” Thanks! And Merry Christmas!” as I sprinted to the escalator.

I slid to a stop in front of Customer Service, panting a little. The clerk, who was wearing a jaunty, red Santa hat, stepped right up. She smiled, and counted the packages. My eyes devolved into suspicious slits again, because I was thinking, could anyonecon art 1 really be happy about wrapping twelve little boxes?

“What paper would you like?” she asked, and waved to a nice assortment on the wall. “And how do you want me to indicate each recipient?”

After I picked myself up off the floor, we came up with an efficient labeling plan. She had them wrapped in less than ten minutes, AND labeled. Then she asked what kind of bows I wanted on each. To top it off, when everything was conveniently bagged, she handed the bundle to me and said, “Merry Christmas! They are going to love these gifts!”

I felt the corners of my mouth tug upward. Not only had I enjoyed a ten-minute break in a comfy chair provided for Customer-Service-attendees, I had experienced generosity, friendliness, and a huge dose of Christmas spirit. I thanked her profusely, and walked to the escalator.

con pictuMy gift-shopping-disgruntlement had been replaced by a kinder, gentler, attitude.  I left the store swinging bags full of brightly-wrapped gifts, singing Christmas carols. Seriously, I did.

Boscov’s decision to lighten the load of Christmas shoppers had a restorative effect on me. If I’d purchased these items and left the store without experiencing the miracle of free-gift-wrap-with-a-smile, I would’ve driven home in a bah humbug mood. Thanks to Boscov’s, the drive home was a floaty mix of Christmas carols on XM radio and happy memories of Christmases past.con phot

What is it about a generous heart? A smile from a stranger? A desire to help?

I know what it is.

It’s magic.

A Thanksgiving Epiphany

Relationships. Football. Fireplaces. A great family meal. Kicking around autumn leaves during after-turkey walks. I love Thanksgiving! It is, after all, about giving thanks. Something lovely and satisfying about that.

It is not about countless trips to Boscov’s, Belk’s, TJMaxx, Marshal’s, Target, Macy’s, Pier One; anxiously selecting gifts that family members may or may not want, like, or need.

Black Friday shopping-mania. Would you get in a fistfight for the New HALO game? A 42″ flatscreen? These people must really, really need this stuff to risk life & limb for it.

I have been thoughtful this year, introspective. I have come to the conclusion that I prefer Thanksgiving over Christmas, and have explored this epiphany (I really love the word ‘epiphany’) from every angle to discover why.

Stress! Spending thousands of dollars, wrapping hundreds of gifts, mailing to those that are not close by is stressful.  I understand it’s the thought that counts and all that, but hey, let’s get real here. Depending on how many people one is buying for, the temporary insanity brought about by Christmas commercials promising ‘great deals’ on everything from furby’s to flatscreens can set one’s debt-reduction goals back by five years.

After approximately 25 years of planning, buying, wrapping, I am weary. The stress of select-spend-and-wrap far outweighs the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth, and I do not understand the mercenary hoopla around the holiday. Furthermore, I am stomping my foot and saying, “Enough!”

Trying to, anyway.

I decided to introduce this theme after the Thanksgiving meal, when we were all fat, full and happy. Warm and fuzzy. What better time to elicit input from my adult kids and their families?

Apparently, this was not the time.

I was  unprepared for the backdraft of retaliation that nearly burned my face off. One daughter, the most conflict-avoidant among us, was immediately amenable. “That’s fine, Mom. Whatever you want to do, Mom. Uh, we could draw names?” She cautiously sipped her wine, glanced first at her husband, then her siblings, hoping to head off a heated exchange.

The other daughter, very opinion-forward, “That’s crazy! Why, it won’t even be Christmas. No. No. No!  That way everyone would just get ONE GIFT! What is all this about anyway? How much trouble is it really, Mom, to buy and wrap 435 gifts and put them under the tree? Just start shopping, um, sometime early summer.” Indignant glare. My son, the youngest, said, “No way, Mom. No way. This is about money, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” When I responded it wasn’t just the money, it was also the time and stress of selection and wrapping, he said, “Look, I’ll help wrap every, single present. I will.“ Indignant glare.

I was stunned, to say the least.  To have such resistance to a plea to reduce the mercenary aspect of a holiday that is supposed to honor Christ, not gifts, was disappointing. The spouse/fiancee of each of my children wisely held opinions to themselves, and found ways to extricate themselves from the table during the conversation. My husband joined them, secretly hoping our Christmas-related blood pressure levels would go down this year, unwilling to dive into the fray with his relatively new stepkids.

I tried to get a concensus, but they stood their ground. It seemed that Christmas-related uber-gifting was not going down without a fight.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy giving. It is what Christ would have me do, and it’s fun! But to go to obscene lengths because I feel  guilted into it is wrong. I was basically told, in the end, to do whatever I wanted, and that they would do whatever they wanted. I couldn’t believe it. Warm and fuzzy flew right out the window.

Change is hard, but sometimes change is necessary. The people-pleaser part of me was cringing at the Thanksgiving table during the conversation, but the Mom part of me was standing up, putting a stake in the ground. Mom wants Christmas to focus on Christ, like it used to when they were young. When we didn’t even have two nickels to rub together, and managed to enjoy homemade gifts or whatever else we could come up with. When decorating the tree, listening to holiday music, going to Christmas eve services, reading Luke 2 were enough. More than enough. When the gifts were icing on the cake, not the whole cake.

So, I am still not sure what Christmas will look like this year. I hope it will look like a group of people happy to be a family, excited to remember Christ’s birth, glad to receive whatever is given in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I hope it will not be about looking at how much something cost, or if someone got more than another. Somehow my family traditions have become more gift-centered than Christmas-centered, and I am sad about it.

This guy is not my idea of the personnification
of Christmas…just sayin’

Christmas should be about more than giving. It should be about giving thanks, too. If it was up to me, I’d combine Thanksgiving and Christmas and have a month of celebration where gifts are limited. I’d declare a TV-commercial-free month. I’d outlaw Santa Claus, as the whole ‘better not shout, better not cry, better not pout, I’m tellin’ you why’ thing causes kids to look to him as the meaning of Christmas. (Okay, you may disagree, but I have given this a lot of thought and this is my blog.) News flash: Christ’s birth is the reason for the season.

I am hopeful my epiphany will reduce the stress around our family’s Christmas. I know my kids have great hearts, and are considering our conversation. It will take them a little time to adjust, consider, and come to their own conclusions. I am confident that, as a family, we will move a few steps closer to the manger.

Happy Holidays to each of  you, dear readers! May Jesus Christ richly bless you and your family this Christmas and into the New Year!