I have been stressed about this post for the past week. I have absolutely no suggestions to give. The whole topic is distasteful to me right now.
It started when I realized that stores would be open on Thanksgiving Day... and yes, it counts as the day even if the sun has set. It got me thinking about shopping in general and about a small item on NPR last week. It seems that Governor Chris Christie revoked New Jersey's Blue Laws, saying that the post-Sandy recovery required it.
And here we have a clear division among the denizens. Those of you old enough to remember Blue Laws, or who live in New Jersey, know exactly what I mean. Those of you who have always been able to shop on every day except Christmas (and, until this year, Thanksgiving) are scratching your heads. Blue Laws, children, are regulations enacted to enforce a strict, religious standard. Can't buy alcohol on Sunday in your neighborhood? That's a blue law. New Jersey still enforces them.... but then, again, you can't pump your own gas in New Jersey, so who's to say where the craziness starts and stops?
Enough digression; back to shopping.
I was never much of a shopper, except in stationary and book stores. Still, it irked me no end that someone was telling a shopkeeper that her doors must stay shuttered. The notion that another could decide how I chose to spend my day was worrisome.... my initiation into the concept of the slippery slope... not that I wanted to shop but I wanted the option. It was like the High Holy Days. No money could be touched.... I might go days without using cash, but the prohibition made me nutty every year... even those years when Hebrew School really touched my soul. I want to make my own decisions, thank you very much.
As I mellowed with age, or just aged, I began to appreciate the absence of options. Sharing the same experience with almost everyone else didn't happen that often; it was special. The mall lots were empty. The streets were silent. There was a peacefulness to being restricted. No one was telling us not to shop; we just didn't do it. Shopkeepers were at home with their families, too.
Then the shopkeepers weren't running the shops any more. Instead, there were stockholders and corporations (even before they were people, too) and they were interested in profit above all.... as well they should, since that is their purpose in life. Just as government can't be run like a business, a business cannot be run like a family... or so the argument goes. A corporation exists for the benefit of its owners. Owners care about maximizing their investments. Therefore, profit becomes the most significant factor.
And so, the managers leave their families with the dirty dishes, the sales clerks and cashiers abandon home and hearth. We give up leisure to boost the economy. The shareholders may be shopping, and so might the CEO's. The working class is working. They have no options.
BlogHer has a poll this week on the same subject. What Is Your Status With Holiday Shopping? they ask. Most people are shopping on-line and continuing until they are through. That makes sense for the site's web-centric audience, but it makes sense to me, too.
Every year for the last decade or so, our family has ordered design-your-own sneakers from Nike. We create them on-line, and it's a collaborative process. We'd gather 'round the laptop, changing laces and mid-soles and mesh and colors and patterns. We were laughing and teasing and oohing and aahing. We were doing it together. There's something wonderful about getting exactly what you want, about anticipating its arrival, about remembering the fun you had creating it. There's an extra shot of joy in the phone call announcing that those pink laces do look as good as you'd predicted; it's not only self-congratulatory, it's remembering the moment.
That's what has been bothering me about this post, about shopping, about living so far from those I love. What I want is what I felt at the wedding - family and warmth and perfection. No one wanted anything else than to be right there, in the moment. There were no cell phones recording the moment; there were only humans enjoying the moment. Everyone had everything which could possibly be wanted, and those who didn't had friendly shoulders right nearby to help carry the load of the loss. There was no music (remember the noise ordinance and the sheriff's appearance?) except the quiet jazz on the radio. There weren't any gifts or fireworks (we put the kibosh on the floating lanterns; setting fire to the desert wasn't deemed a good idea). There was just love. Lots and lots of love, oozing from the pores of those we wanted to see.
That's what I'd suggest for this week's shopping secret: spend some time with those you love. Maybe the gift involves tickets to an exhibit at the museum or the planetarium or the bird sanctuary or the arboretum. Maybe it's my Wordscraper-buddy Steve's 150+ pieces and 55 pages of instructions ..... 4-inch by 6-inch beauty shop. Maybe it's the game on the tube and the chips open on the coffee table.
It's whatever puts you next to those you love. It's sharing the experience, not the credit card.
And now that I've written this, it seems obvious that our be-finished-with-your-holiday-gifting-before-December-first series ends here. If it's not in your house by tonight, don't get it. You're done shopping. From this moment forward, your gifting is coming from your imagination, your knowledge of the recipient, your interests, your memories, your love. It's not coming from a store.