Holiday Shopping: Some Rules for the Road
by Marjorie Dorfman

Here we are again! It's that time of year for credit cards and fruitcakes and bright and shiny lights! No one is excluded and all checkbooks are welcome everywhere! If you are wondering what to buy for whom, read on for a little holiday advice. It won't help at all, but maybe you will have a change of attitude and be able to relax enough to have a laugh or two.

Well, friends, it’s almost time for the merry merchantmen of our fair cities and towns to prepare for the biggest shopping sprees of the year for everyone over seven years old. Even if you are one of those organized members of society who shops for presents all year round, there is no way you can escape the madness and the crowds. If you are not organized, like me, sad to tell, you might find yourself shopping even up to the last week before the holiday. I know one gentleman (although there are probably many who walk among us) who waits until the morning of Christmas Eve to do all of his holiday shopping. He claims it keeps him on his toes and renders desperation to decisions that make them easier. Still, I hope that with sensible planning and foresight I can offer an end to the madness wholesale and some light at the end of the shopping tunnel retail.

First of all, start thinking Christmas and Chanukah and Kwanza or whatever else you celebrate at about the end of August. Think snow, not air-conditioning; imagine evergreens, not beach towels. If you live in California or Florida, you might have a small problem. Start watching for sales, auctions, flea markets, craft fairs and the like. This leisurely attitude may net you an early present or two. If it doesn’t, no need to fret. There is still plenty of time to check out other channels.

Secondly, arm yourself with a list of gifts for those onto whom you wish to bestow your generosity. Have a mental picture in your mind of the sights and smells associated with that person. For example, if Uncle Harry likes the best cigars, close your eyes and think of him each time you pass a tobacco specialty store or your nearest Cuban fly by night operation. Associate and conquer. It might help to add at least a second present to this mental picture, just in case the fly by night operation has run out of cigars.

Thirdly, share your gift ideas with at least one other family member (preferably the one with the biggest mouth and leaving out your ideas for their present, of course.) This is a highly recommended course of action to prevent ending up with duplicate gifts. I will illustrate the repercussions of such, for as Mark Twain once said: "There is nothing so annoying as a good example to follow." One Christmas, too long ago to be honest about unless I still think I’m twenty-four, my mother and sister and I were pressed for time and not being very creative. As women we all needed the same basic things, but I couldn’t believe that our collective lack of ingenuity brought us all to the same embarrassing conclusion. I bought my mother and sister a black slip, my sister brought my mother and I a black slip and my mother bought each of her daughters a black slip. I think that makes three slips per person and to make matter even worse, they were exactly the same style and length. No variety in delusion, I think someone once said. (Maybe it was me.)

As if that wasn’t bad enough, about ten years ago something similar but even worse happened. My father was a very difficult man to shop for as everything he wanted he already had and his tastes were very specifically defined. One of his loves was books and the previous year one of his favorite authors, the humorist, S.J.Perelman, had passed away. Without anyone in the family speaking to anyone else, we each bought him a copy of the author’s last book, The Last Laugh. Well, Perelman was wrong. The last laugh was on us. Not only had my mother, sister and myself bought my father a copy of the very same book for Christmas, but he had already bought a copy of his own!

And so, consult with others; share your ideas before proceeding to act upon one of your brainstorms. Consider eavesdropping any chance you get if you’re not someone who can face things directly. An idea whose time has come maybe should go back where it came from. (In my case all too often that’s the return department of the store that I bought it in.)

Something should be said and it might as well be here about catalogue shopping. The convenience of shopping while taking a bath has its own price to pay. It can save a lot of time, but make sure you’re wearing your glasses when you order and watch out for order numbers, size and availability. (Make sure you tell them it’s this Christmas you want the gift). Watch out too for that credit card which accrues that nasty enemy of the people, interest.

Last but not least, stay patient and courteous to your fellow humans. Remember that one shove deserves another and that the madness of the malls is like the call of the wild except for the fact that wolves and sheep don’t need cash or presents or credit cards. Shop with your head and not above it or you’ll end up carrying it under your arm!

Happy holidays!

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