This is one of my favorite days of the year. This afternoon I’ll head out to start my Christmas shopping. For a long time I was ashamed to admit that I prepared for the holidays with less than a week to go, but the truth is, this is my favorite part of Christmas.
No, I didn’t procrastinate. I well know the advice about how to make Christmas shopping easier. But there are some things that don’t get better just by being easier. I’ve read many of those How to Get Organized books, but I’ve also lived through enough tragedy to know that trying to organize one’s life is an illusion.
I grant you that there will be a moment this week when I’ll envy those who had their gifts wrapped in August. But that’s kind of like having a good report from the dentist isn’t it? All very wholesome but where’s the fun?
And don’t get me started on the people who buy everything online. How much holiday spirit does that take? Yes you meet the technical requirement of gift given—but then why not just hand everyone a twenty-dollar bill, and say, “Hey, have a go at it”.
I also hate that suggestion that you should keep a stash of generic gifts on hand in case someone surprises you with a gift and you were not prepared to reciprocate. That’s just mean. Someone was just about to feel generous and you cut them off at the knees with a retaliatory box of bath salts. It’s the cruelest one-upmanship.
Those of us who begin our shopping this week will enjoy the real spirit of Christmas: We get to watch humanity test itself and we’ll see kindness and patience and grace enacted –or honored in the breach--in toy stores and next to the stack of 30% off cashmere cardigans. We will also endure the “I was done in August” folks who just learned they need one more thing; they will typically be the ones cutting in line or sighing heavily and making lots of eye contact wanting everyone to share their misery.
No, we who start our shopping now are engaging in a holiday ritual much closer to the original: It’s cold out, traffic is as slow as a lane of donkeys, there is no room in the parking lot, and we get to watch a young family with a triple stroller searching the mall for a baby changing area. It makes you want to drop to your knees and pray.
Yes, shopping in August could make Christmas nice and tidy. But real life is anything but that. Consider the story of the Holy Family: There was no advance plan; Mary was days away from delivering a baby; then they went on a long trip, and she had to give birth in a barn. Not tidy and neat.
The crux of that first Christmas is that sometimes in the midst of mess and stress, angels show up and miracles happen.
But in order to experience that you have to be willing to join the fray and put yourself where human beings are being human. Yes, it’s a gamble, but relationships are like casinos: You must be present to win.
So this weekend I’ll be where humanity is. I’m heading out to the mall, bundled up, grinning and bracing myself for mixed encounters with my fellow man. I’ll be trekking in from the outerloop of the parking lot, looking for a few gifts and the real spirit of Christmas.