Saturday, November 25, 2006

Black Mood Friday, Bah Humbug


The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday, so-called because if all goes well, shopkeepers begin to recoup their years' losses and edge back into the black, indicating profits.

I wouldn't be caught dead in a store on that day.

Apparently, many of the huge chains like Target, Circuit City, Wal-mart, CompUSA, Macy's, and all the other soulless mercantile entities competed this year to see who could open their doors the earliest. Best Buy was the winner (probably) as they made their wares available at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Fist fights ensued in many cities as people got quite nasty in their attempts to land the best deals.

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

Some of the stores advertised tremendous bargains on big-ticket items, but customers who arrived as the doors opened were told they were mysteriously "sold out." A 250" flat screen TV for $99 is a mythical beast, and yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

Sales clerks were pinned against counters in many stores, eerily reminiscent of rock concerts in which attendees have been trampled to death by hysterical, surging crowds.

Is this really what the season of love and joy is about? Somehow the concept of gifts from the heart has been replaced by this orgy of competitive overspending, but it has to be a bargain, too.

This is insanity.

I love to give presents to those I love, and even on occasion, to strangers. But I am put off by the idea that shopkeepers have decreed that everyone I know must get stuff on the same day. And while I like getting presents as much as anyone, I sincerely hope my family doesn't give me the gorgeous gifts they do out of obligation.

The ghost of Christmases past is with me still. It reminds me of strolling down 5th Avenue to gaze rapturously at the marvelous window displays, followed by skating in Rockefeller Plaza by the giant Christmas tree. How I yearned for a short skating skirt when I was a child. I didn't know how to figure skate, but that was of no concern; the outfit was what mattered.

Years later, I took my own children there. The hot chocolate with clouds of whipped cream was still wonderful, sipped outdoors in air so cold we could see our breath. I bought chestnuts roasted over braziers by old men, my favorite delicacy until my 6-year old daughter noted that the chestnut man had wiped his nose on his sleeve right before scooping our chestnuts into the little brown bag.

I fantasize sometimes about a homestyle Christmas in which everyone gives handmade goods or offers of personal services like a back massage or childcare. And then I visit one of the palatial emporiums with their glorious merchandise piled seductively right at my eye level, the luscious cashmere that insinuates itself into my passing hand, the yummy perfumes, the handbags and shoes so soft and elegant, the jewelry that cries out for my neck, my ears, my wrists and fingers, and I know. I know, deep down, that I will not bake cupcakes for loved ones this year either.

I will push off from shore and brave the rapids. I will risk life and limb. I who hate crowds will become a face in the crowd and do everything it takes to get my family the best holiday gifts I can. Because I really do love the process of sifting through countless items in dozens of stores until I've found the very ones that scream out for my husband, my daughters, my son, the others on my list.

I will lovingly wrap every one of them and barely contain myself until it's finally Christmas and we're all together, the smell of pine and great food is overpowering, and I realize once again that no gifts could possibly express the love I have for these people.

Besides, I don't bake all that well.

28 comments:

~Macarena~ said...

Oh, this is so warm and lovely.

You could give homemade gifts and buy stuff during the post-Xmas sale as New Year's gifts or for burthdays or what have you. My mom said computers and other big-ticket items are always reduced then.

You'd think people would realize that it can't be a real bargain if shopping is encouraged. There must be a catch.

If I had known early enough, I would have observed Buy Nothing Day.

Anonymous said...

As an Aussie who enjoys a "hot" christmas spent at the beach and enjoying many bbq's and seafood banquets your description of Christmas left me feeling like i am really missing out on something whimsical and surreal. (Excluding the snotty nose wipe on the sleeve and the crazy shopping frenzies, we have that here to, though we endure it soaring temps).

I love your blog !

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Macarena,

Hi! long time, no write.

When I was growing up, most items were reduced after Christmas, but at some point, stores began doing it before to drum up business.

I don't think I bought anything yesterday except some picture hooks, pebbles for forcing Paper White Narcissus, and a wreath. No crowds in the hardware store or the nursery.

Anonymous,

I would so love to visit Australia, especially your hot beaches and the Great Barrier Reef, kangeroos and koala bears.

NYC is magical at Christmas. Or maybe it just seems so to me because ones childhood is always somehow magical, which has nothing to do with being happy. I think it's magical because it's gone, and because perhaps our memories infuse events of long ago with mythical qualities.

But I do love and miss New York in this season. (Except the snotty nose wipe chestnut man, as you mentioned. Yukkk.)

Thank you for your vist!

Thailand Gal said...

I am one of a rare breed, having voluntarily checked out of the whole Christmas thing 20 or 30 years ago. Something about it just didn't fit and as one famous writer wrote "if it's miffy, let it go". That's not to say I don't enjoy giving gifts. I do. But I give them when they are least expected and give them on a whim. It might be some useless tschotschke or it might be something I noticed the person is missing. (Example: someone I know who lives on a very limited income broke her coffee maker. I bought her a new one.) One never knows when it will happen, including me.

I have also adopted the Thai custom of not opening gifts in front of others and I don't ask them to be opened in front of me. That way, no one has to pretend to like it.

Peace,


~Chani

kim said...

ive dreamed for years about disapearing with my family to a cabin in the wilderness for a whole week of christmas, but ive never made it *sigh* they think it sounds like a peculiar form of torture and i get out voted every year!
but after these kids are grown im going to have them trekking to the mountains hauling all my grandchildren just to see me on christmas :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani,

I love the authenticity of your way. I would much prefer to give gifts when I feel the impulse or see a need.

But if I'm going to do the Christmas thing at all, then I want to do it to the limits of my ability.

I am not a Christian, but I believe it is terribly out of keeping with the spirit of Christmas, as I understand it, to turn a deeply meaningful occasion into an orgy of materialism.

It seems that our society has divested itself of anything spiritual, and that we worship the god of money far too zealously.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Kim,

That sounds so lovely to me. I hope you get to do it next year.

My youngest child and I lived for a year in an unheated cottage in the Vermont mountains. I made a stove out of a galvanized garbage can and chopped wood constantly, and every day we visited a hottub in Montpelier, 35 miles away, so we could shower, since the pipes froze in September. We regularly hauled a dozen plastic gallon jugs filled with water on a rope up the 3-mile hill so we could wash dishes and brush our teeth.

We were surrounded by 100 acres of pristine woodland with ponds, and never had a cold because germs couldn't survive in that house.

Though it was beautiful, I can't imagine my family willingly visiting me in such a place again.

Make sure your cabin has proper heat, indoor plumbing that works, and something to cook on besides a Coleman propane camp stove, and then maybe this could work.

Roonie said...

I stayed far, far away from stores all weekend. Blech, consumerism.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Roonie,

Yeah, really. I have never regarded shopping as a competitive sport, and prefer to do it as necessary when the stores are least crowded. Since I also do not have the foresight to do my Christmas shopping in July, it isn't easy.

But to deliberately and knowingly surrender myself to the gods of retail on Black Friday makes a hemlock tea party sound like a day at the beach.

Crankster said...

This year, I lucked out, as I've spent much of the year doing genealogical research, so I'm able to compile some of it for my sisters. Therefore, it will be the first year on record where I'm actually making Christmas gifts.

I understand your pain, though, and I also feel the need to avoid falling into the pre-made gift merchandise trap. The worst part is that my sister gave me a gift list for my brother-in-law this year. While I appreciate the trouble it's saving me, I'm kinda annoyed at the presumption.

mist1 said...

This year, my sister and I have decided to make everyone's gifts. They are going to be really impressed that I made that coffee press for Dad with my bare hands.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Crankster,

Your geneological material is a wonderful personal gift. I didn't know you had two sisters, though, only the one you raised.

The gift list for your other sister's husband would make me a bit uncomfortable, too. Anything he really wants he can get for himself without you as purchasing agent, and most of the fun should be the surprise element, what YOU think he would like.

Mist,

I am sure there is no end to your creativity.

Will you post pictures? Please, oh please.

Christina_the_wench said...

I bought a pizza on Friday and I didn't even have to tackle anyone. Does that count as shopping?

Happy Bloated Monday After Thanksgiving!

Island Spice said...

all this shopping causes some major bah humbug vibes. I think the name Black Friday has such a ominous tone to it I would stay indoors just in case.
I'm giving love on Christmas day. I may go to one store and buy everyone something there. Hope its a nice store :P

Steven Novak said...

My mother told me over the weekend that she went to Walmart at 3:30 in the morning...waited in the cold tillthey opened the doors at 5, then had someone steal things right out of her cart.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! ;)

Steve~

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Christina,

No. That definitely does not count as shopping. Especially since there was no hand-to-hand combat involved.

Spice Girl,

I was surprised to hear that the term "Black Friday" has been around for decades because I'd never heard it before. (It's true. I live on the moon.) It certainly does have a negative connotation, and from what I hear, with good reason.

I think too many people give expensive presents to make up for not enough love. (Of course, love + great gifts = Heaven.)

Steve,

That's horrible. It's a cruel, cruel world out there.

You'll have to ride shotgun for her next time, although I can't imagine being in a store for any reason at that hour.

Happy Holidays indeed. As I've noted previously, the Prince of Peace must be rolling in his shroud of Turin.

katrice said...

You're right. We're supposed to give gifts in recognition of the great gift that was given for us. The gifts shouldn't be the focal point. Alas, every year we say we'll only buy for the kids, and that on a shoestring. But we get caught up in the euphoria of giving and buy much more. Not an entirely bad thing, but not meant to be the main thing.

Like Thanksgiving though, to me the food is a huge deal. We usually have friends over who have no family to spend it with. That works out well.

I want to experience one of those hot Christmases on the beach too. Maybe Trinidad next year...

Bird on a Wire said...

Great post.

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well, indeed. We sure have to dig deep to unearth the true spirit of Christmas, but I know it's there somewhere.

Cece said...

I have always wanted to visit NYC at Christmas time. I will get there one day with my kids.

P.S. I'm also one of the crazy shoppers who was out of the house at 5:00 a.m. to pick up my mom, go to Starbucks and stand outside of Target til they opened at 6am. LOL

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Katrice,

Mmmm, Trinidad. Mmmmmmmmm.

We are a society of overkill. Christmas gifts are no exception.

Sometimes I think of the old Belafonte song, Scarlet Ribbons, about a child whose only wish for Christmas is ribbons for her hair. Her parents are very poor and it doesn't look good, but the ribbons appear, magically.

While I do enjoy many of the sophisticated pleasures, I also feel wistful about simpler times and desires.

Bird,

I guess we still can dig some more.

"Attention: Christmas Spirit! We know you're in there. Come out with your hands up."

Think that'll work?

Cece,

You have my admiration and respect, but not my envy. I don't think I'll ever be at a store in the pre-dawn.

I hope it was worth it and you got some great stuff at killer prices.

Michael C said...

Very, very nice. I really enjoyed reading this. The beginning of the Christmas season always makes me think of Linus' speech about what Christmas is really about on the Peanuts Christmas show.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Michael,

Linus has always been my favorite Peanuts character.

What are Lucy and Ethel getting this year?

Odat said...

LOL...Oh NYC misses you, I bet...it is the one place where the spirit does get you (except when one is trying to get to work, lol). I usually do all my shopping at lunch time...It's a little easier that way.
Peace

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Odat,

I'm glad NY misses me. SF is a gorgeous city and I love it, but the energy of NY is unique.

You seem to do a lot of things on your lunch break. When do you eat?

velvet girl said...

What a great post!

I refuse to go out shopping on Black Friday because no deal is worth ruining the good feelings that I have for the Christmas season. Love the bit about the cashmere etc. though. I hear you there.

My husband took off to NYC with his parents the day after Thanksgiving and I had to suffer through his talking about going to the Met, looking at the windows on 5th Avenue, seeing the Rockefeller Center tree and skaters and such (and grabbing some great dim sum). On the outside I was calm, but on the inside I was crying! I love NYC during the holidays.

Happy Holiday season.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Velvet girl.

Oh, no, not the MET! I cry with you. And I sincerely hope you get to go next time.

Tell him to avoid the chestnuts, though.

Aisby said...

You wouldn't catch me dead in a store on Black Friday. I think the people who go shopping on that day have a particular madness that is not conducive to my well-being.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Aisby,

Couldn't agree more! Which is not to say I don't have my own particular kind of madness, but that's not it.