From 14 Hours in the Future: The Thing to Say on a Bright Hawaiian Christmas Day

The season of bad shopping, general chaos, and giving.

Christmas has become a holiday of contradictions for me.

If the decorations at the mall where I work were any indication, the Christmas season began this year about three weeks before Halloween. Every year, stores manage to push back the start of the season by a few more days.

Eventually, I think we’ll just have to declare everything from July 4th to New Year’s Eve one long holiday of shopping madness. It could be called “Indipendancimas,” the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Santa and his subsequent signing of the Declaration of Independence. Hallmark could make a bundle in new cards … but I digress.

The official beginning for me, though, was Black Friday. I didn’t figure out why it was called Black Friday until this year. Seriously. I’ve worked in retail sales for eight years now, and the answer just popped into my head a few weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know, Black Friday is the now-traditional name of the day after Thanksgiving. It is the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

And if you also haven’t figured out why it’s called what it’s called, I won’t spoil the fun by giving you the answer. If you’re like me, you get a wonderful tingly feeling when you have a sudden flash of insight that just can’t be compared with anything else. Of course, if you stop to realize that it took you several years to figure out a simple answer, you might start to lose that feeling, so maybe it’s best to stop while you’re ahead.

Back to the issue at hand. Christmas brings contradictions. As I’m sure everyone can agree, Christmas is a time for joy and happiness and what-have-you. And, I’m sure just as many of you will agree that Christmas is also a time of rampant commercialism.

That’s not the part that I mind so much, because I know that everybody has their own version of what Christmas is supposed to be about, and who am I to argue with them? What bothers me is the feelings that I get when I venture out to work.

The mall at Christmastime can be a decidedly frightening place. Where in summertime there stood fountains and walkways, suddenly faux Christmas villages populated with elves and candy canes appear. Where the bench on which you would stop to eat your pretzels used to be, there is now a temporary candy store set up, like some sort of forward military base with a cash register. And where there were once a few people, there are now several hundred.

Crowds, I think, are what bother me most. And I honestly don’t know why. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic, because I’m not afraid of large groups. They just make me agitated. And it’s only a specific type of crowd, too: the kind that I don’t think should be there.

Of course, I don’t really have the authority to dictate where and when I think crowds should exist, but I can still complain if whoever is doesn’t agree with my guidelines. That’s where the contradiction comes in. While I’m happily grooving along with the sounds of “Feliz Navidad,” I’m also internally seething about the vast number of people shopping around me.

I guess, at heart, I just think that there is a better way. I am of the school of shoppers that can only spend about two minutes in a store before wanting to move on. Window shopping is an art lost on me.

When people ask me if I want to look around, I say, “Why bother? I’m not buying anything!” When people tell me that they are dedicating entire days to Christmas shopping, I just look at them in stunned silence.

Then again, I’m not really the best judge of how to Christmas shop properly. I usually wait until about a week into December before I really get things rolling. And even then, I never get it done all at once. If I go out to the mall for about 45 minutes and find a gift or two, I feel generally satisfied.

Things are getting a little rougher this year, however. Since I work in the mall and deal with the populace I so greatly disagree with, I find myself wanting to spend as little additional time around Christmas Village as possible.

The Santa at Christmas village this year looked more dejected than I thought possible. Standing in line to get my lunch, he was just hunkered down in his Christmas Throne with eyes firmly focused on the ceiling and a look of blank detachment on his face.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, but there was a little girl sitting in his lap, reading off her wish list and probably wondering why Santa was only grunting back at her.

I wanted to slide over, and in the spirit of the season, give that Santa a holiday backhand. He may not like his job, I may not like mine, but that’s no reason to ruin the season for anybody else. The holidays may bring contradictions, but underneath it all it’s still about just being nice to people.

And as I mount my soap box, bullhorn in hand, just remember to give everyone a little leeway around the holidays, even the shopping hordes who really ought to be doing something more productive. Though corporate America may tell us what and how much to buy, we still own our smiles.

Hallmark, I will accept the check for that at your leisure.

Next time: I’m going to figure out how we all became displaced in time, just like that guy in Vonnegut’s novel. And, if things go well, I might just eliminate the need for timecards.

Article © 2001 by Joel Haddock