This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I’m ready 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 the best part of Christmas.
No, I didn’t procrastinate. I know all 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 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 yes, there will be a moment 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?
No, 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-- 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 or making lots of eye contact wanting everyone to share their misery.
We who start our shopping now know that we are engaging in a holiday ritual that is very close 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 Holy Family: There was no plan; Mary was days away from delivering a baby; they had to go on a long trip, and then she had to give birth in a barn. No tidy and not neat.
The crux of that first Christmas is that sometimes in the midst of mess and stress and fear, angels show up and miracles happen.
But in order to experience the miracles you have to be willing to 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, 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.