Holiday Shopping: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I love the holidays!
I am sentimental by nature, and holidays have always been important to me. Like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I sometimes set standards for holiday excellence that cannot be met. Even if I am disappointed, however, I still eagerly look forward to the next occasion to celebrate.
Like many other folks, Christmas is my favorite holiday. Christmas is rife with traditions, and I love them all. Driving through neighborhoods looking at homes decorated with Christmas lights thrills me. I eagerly check my mailbox each day for Christmas cards from friends and relatives. A Christmas wreath adorns my front door, and a beautiful if modest tree stands proudly in the living room. Mistletoe hangs from the ceiling in silent witness to lovers’ kisses. Although I never serve a holiday meal, I have been known on occasion to randomly offer unsuspecting friends a Christmas goose. Actually, I’m kidding….really.
Christmas shopping as a tradition is a really mixed bag. The nature of Christmas in America makes holiday shopping something that can’t be ignored. I enjoy finding gifts for family and friends, but sometimes it is frustrating. It is the only part of the holiday season that can be simultaneously enjoyable and infuriating. In the spirit of Christmas, I will describe the good, the bad and the ugly of holiday shopping.
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The spirit of the giving
Holiday shopping: the good, the bad and the ugly
What I like about shopping
I enjoy holiday shopping very much, despite my earlier assertion that it frustrates me. It isn’t something I dread or avoid, because sometimes it can be very rewarding. The moments that make holiday shopping especially gratifying include:
1. Spending quality time with friends and relatives. Shopping can be a wonderful social occasion. It is an opportunity to spend time with loved ones in a relaxed setting. It can also be beneficial to have a second opinion available while searching for the perfect gift, especially if the intended recipient is difficult to shop for.
2. The feeling you get when you find exactly the right gift for someone. There is a real joy in finding that perfect gift for someone, especially when it is a surprise. Selecting an item from a wish list can certainly yield the ideal Christmas present, but it lacks the charm and creativity of finding something special on your own. A look of delight when your purchase is opened makes everything worthwhile.
3. Giving gifts for the right reasons. Gifts can be an expression of love and respect; it can make those less fortunate than we are forget their burdens; it can make a child’s Christmas magical. This is the true joy of giving and what makes the holiday season special. It is what I really love about gift-giving.
What I dislike about shopping
Shopping doesn’t always generate warm fuzzy feelings—sometimes it can be aggravating or even a burden. These are the moments that test us. When we endure them with grace and dignity, we salvage a bad moment and maintain the holiday spirit. Such moments include:
1. When shopping becomes pressure-filled. Christmas comes quickly, and when we postpone shopping or don’t know what to buy, our joyous spirit succumbs to stress and anxiety. Shopping takes on an element of panic when store shelves are empty and we don’t know what to buy. Sales associates are weary from a long holiday season and are sometimes less than helpful. Our creativity takes flight and we feel helpless.
2. When someone else bought the same gift or the recipient already has it. There is an indescribable feeling of disappointment that comes with seeing someone open a gift you also bought for them. A lack of communication with fellow shoppers can sometimes result in a duplicate gift, and it is an awkward situation that forces someone back to the stores to remedy. A replacement gift never seems as special—it feels like a game-show consolation prize.
3. When it isn’t exactly what the recipient hoped or expected it to be. It really is the thought that counts, but sometimes a gift can be disappointing. A loved one might be eager for a very specific gift that we can’t quite pull off. Perhaps we didn’t have enough money, or we couldn’t find it in the stores. When that happens, we hope a similar gift will suffice but sometimes it doesn’t. We know it immediately when the gift is a disappointment to the recipient.
What is ugly about shopping
Shopping can become something dreadful when the spirit of giving is lost. When this happens, the holiday can become dark and even something to avoid. Indications that shopping has turned ugly are:
1. Competing with relatives for that perfect gift to buy. It can become ugly and personal when two people want to buy the same gift for someone. A Black Friday race to the stores to pick up that perfect gift for Mom and Dad before your brother or sister can get there turns shopping into a tawdry affair.
2. Comparing gifts given with gifts received. Sometimes it feels as if we give more than we get. There are often valid reasons for this, of course—not everyone has the same resources for giving. When we feel slighted by someone, however, it is a difficult feeling to overcome and can add a dissonant chord to subsequent holiday gatherings.
3. Using gifts as weapons. When a gift is presented to hurt someone’s feelings or make another person look bad, the spirit of giving is lost. Gifts offered with ill intent can ruin an occasion and sour relationships. It is mean and hurtful to use gifts in this way.
The meaning of Christmas?
The spirit of Christmas takes many forms. As Charlie Brown learned from Linus in the classic Peanuts cartoon, Christmas isn’t about giving or receiving presents—it is rather a spiritual and sometimes religious celebration. It is a time for love and family. I will still give a gift or two in celebration, however. In fact, this Christmas someone very special will open a gift I hope will be much appreciated and enjoyed. I will not see them open or use this gift, and they will never know it came from me. My anonymous offering is intended to brighten someone’s holiday season with no other motive involved. I will truly be a “Secret Santa,” and it will be gratifying to know that I did my part to make Christmas memorable for someone very deserving.
I wish you all a joyous and memorable Christmas. Happy holidays, everyone.
Labor Day just ended, and with the end of summer will come early reminders that the holiday season is approaching. No longer content to wait until Thanksgiving or even Halloween to trot out Christmas merchandise, soon we will once again be bombarded by sales pitches disguised as advice about the true meaning of Christmas. When this occurs, I will return to this article to remind myself what the holidays mean to me, and what I get out of it when holiday preparations proceed smoothly. Because I love the holidays so much, it is easy to get lost in the holiday hype. I can be persuaded to overbuy or spend money on the wrong things. Sometimes I don't always get it right, and the things I dislike about the holidays overshadow the good. Some years are simply better than others.
I am hoping this will be a wonderful holiday season. Happy shopping.
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