Dec 16, 2015 - Family, Saratogian Archives    No Comments

Holiday shopping season is not for sissies

(A version of this post originally appeared on Dec. 14, 2002 in The Saratogian)


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Christmas in 1989 with David and a newborn Joe

Done with your holiday shopping? Then what are you doing reading this? Get going.

Nothing like a Saturday stalled on Route 50 at Exit 15 to get you in the holiday spirit.

Admit it. You whine about parking two blocks from your downtown destination but you’ll burn a half-tank of gas winding up and down the rows of the mall lot for a spot that’s more than two blocks from the stores.

You burn the other half a tank idling, wondering if those people are going to pull out or are just loading up their trunk, and if they are leaving could they please get a move on.

Here’s a bit of holiday song trivia: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” was inspired by the first parking lot to fill to capacity the day after Thanksgiving.

This year I slept in on Black Friday, and was glad to not be one of the nuts on the TV news bursting into Wal-Mart before dawn to load up on electronic equipment. While the e-world evolves from VCRs to DVDs to MP3s, I’m hanging on to those eight-tracks. Change is highly overrated.

To be honest, I should have gone to Wal-Mart on Black Friday because Hanukkah sneaked up on me that night. Like Easter, Hanukkah bounces around the calendar. Unlike Easter, the stores stock no prominently displayed “Hanukkah aisle” loaded witth greeting cards and candy to jog your memory.

As a consequence, my sons and I sang the prayers and lit the candles to commemorate the miracle when one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days until UPS could deliver a new shipment.

The candles burned brightly but my sons’ faces paled as they waited expectantly until reality sank in: No presents. Not even a lousy chocolate coin.

This was a turning point in history rivaled only by the Battle of Saratoga. Tempted to run out and grab whatever the pre-dawn Walmart maniacs had left on the shelves, I instead stood tall and firm (would that I were either) and told my sons they are old enough to understand that Hanukkah is not Christmas Junior but minor holiday that does not warrant a gift each night.

That worked out great, thanks to me cleverly saying the holiday doesn’t warrant a gift each night. That left open the hope that there would be a gift some nights, and it kept them coming back for all eight.

The advantage to celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas is that catalog items that don’t arrive in time for the Holiday of Lights are simply held over to go under the tree.

With Christmas less than two weeks away, one parent confided she hadn’t started shopping because her kids can’t think of anything they want. I know the feeling.

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David documents Jim opening presents in 1989

Thirteen-year-old Joe wants “a surprise,” but not like the kind he got the first night of Hanukkah. The only thing 15-year-old David really wants is something he won’t be able to use until he’s 16 and won’t be getting then, either.

Braving the crowds is bearable when you’re on a mission for merchandise. But wading through the stores in search of a bright idea turns you into a holiday zombie. Forget about finding the perfect gift. After all, it’s not for the perfect person.

Last week, I dragged David along to help pick watches for two nephews. The saleswoman carefully covered the counter with every watch that met the criteria: informal, water-resistant, returnable. Ah, but the evil is in the details. Black or blue? Digital or analog? Buckling band or Velcro? With or without a compass? Do they light up in the dark?

It didn’t take that long to pick out a spouse.

The saleswoman, her best holiday smile wearing thin as I tried on the 37th model, would have looked the other way had I grabbed a couple and bolted. My son, however, wasn’t being paid to be polite, “For pity’s sake, ma, just pick one. they’re going to rip open the package, say, ‘Oh, a watch,’ toss it in the their pile and move on to the next box.”

Just like he would.

Now the watches are waiting to be wrapped and mailed. If they wait much longer, they’ll be under my bed until next year, which isn’t a bad thing – I’ll be all set for the first night of Hanukkah.


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