Friday, December 15, 2006


(News-Herald, December 14) The pre-Christmas season is kind of like beating your head against a wall—not much fun, but it feels so good when you stop.
It’s always to meet the expectation that Christmas be a special, unusual day, more pleasant and blessed than any other. But maybe we’ve cleverly discovered that if we can make the first twenty-four days of December particularly grueling, the twenty-fifth will seem pretty sweet by comparison.
I do the majority of my shopping locally. The choice is partly personal--my salary comes out of the local tax pool, so it’s only right that I put as much of it back there as I can.
The other part is philosophical. I see the free market as a form of democracy. Every dollar is a vote. And while some people have more votes in the bank than others, the beauty of free market democracy is that every vote always counts.
This is different from politics. Recently many of us cast our votes, but in the end only some votes counted. If you voted for a loser, you might as well have voted for Harold Stassen or Winnie the Pooh.
But your economic vote always counts. A buck is always a buck. That’s kind of the genius of Wal-Mart—they got all the people with just a few votes to choose them. That might not be enough to elect Harold Stassen, but it was enough to make Sam rich.
It’s a way to view the Two Mile Treehouse lawsuit. The Beichners are arguing that the government stuffed the ballot box; the park is arguing they’re not running for the same office (in this, I lean toward the park—I’ve been in the prototype tree house, and if that’s the same sort of accommodations that the Beichners are offering, they’re in trouble).
Every time we buy something, we are casting a vote for what kind of products, stores, and service we want to have. If we want to see more successful local businesses, we can put our money where our mouths are. I know some people rank getting the exact right doodad more important than keeping money moving in Venangoland. I’m just not one of those people.
Not that I don’t recognize some of the shortcomings of local shopping. More than once I’ve found myself in a store with staff apparently shocked and surprised by the presence of Christmas shoppers. I imagine the panicked worker running to the back room. “Fiona!! There’s somebody out here in the store,” she hollers at the manager. “And he wants to buy something!!” And I know stores have to work hard to control costs, but there’s something tragic about the spectacle of one harried temp trying to ring up 172 customers.
Many of whom, it must be added, are not exactly brimming with Christmas joy. Here’s a quick Christmas shopping tip—if you don’t want to buy presents for Certain People, then don’t. Stay home and keep out of everyone else’s way.
And while we’re one the subject—I’m not all that excited about the return of the “Merry Christmas” greeting to retailers. Not that it wasn’t stupid to use the “Happy Nonspecific Reasonably Special Day” greeting in hopes of not offending anyone—it was to stupid what the Pacific Ocean is to wet. But I don’t think that it’s a great victory for the True Meaning of Christmas that strangers who’ve just sold me something pretend that we’ve shared a religious moment. The Wise Men were not welcomed to the manger by a Wal-Mart greeter.
But hey—we can all lighten up. Christmas shopping should be fun. We get to run into people we don’t always see. We get to spend an entire shopping trip thinking not about ourselves, but about the people we love.
There really are several holidays wrapped up in this season, and I don’t mean Hannukah or Kwanzaa or Beanie Baby Ascension Day.
There’s Christmas, the religious holiday that celebrates the birth of the Christ child. There’s Christmas, the family holiday that brings relatives together to share fellowship and family traditions. And there’s Christmas, the secular holiday marked by Santa and vague admonitions to be nice to other people.
Let’s add to the list PreChristmas, a community holiday devoted to shopping and festivals and concerts and a hectic schedule that tests the cheeriness of even the most happily medicated. We often see PreChristmas as a sort of anti-Christmas, but maybe that’s not right.
Maybe the commercialism and the shameless huckstering and the weeks that we spend so very much In The World are the perfect set up, so that by the 25th we can remember not only that God came into this world, but why we needed Him to.

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