Shopping for, not at, Christmas

Christmas Tree 17-1The house I grew up in from the age of four on had a funny little built in cupboard off the upstairs hall, My parents called it the box closet. It was lined with narrow shelves, perfect for small boxes. I was told the gardener whose cottage this was originally, used them to ripen fruit. My parents kept boxes of different sizes that could be reused there, as well as to hide presents until Christmas came around. That’s how I got into the habit of doing my shopping for Christmas all year.

“Where do you do your Christmas shopping,” asked my physical therapist as she and I worked on helping my hip get better. I shook my head and smiled. “We don’t,” I told her, “At least not in the usual sense. We collect Christmas gifts all year long from wherever we find them—yard sales, thrift shops, white elephant tables, or any other alternative shopping experience you can think of. It’s more fun that way.”

In one sense what that means is that Stephen and I think about Christmas and people we like to give to, all year long. It is such fun to think about and to give presents. Many of our dear friends live at a distance from us, so we end up spending as much money on postage as we do on the gifts. What we save by not shopping in stores will most likely get spent on the mailing of them. However, we’ve avoided much stress and discomfort.

One can of course shop from catalogues and the Internet, and many do and will. Christmas catalogues flood our mailbox from October on. I used to try to tell them not to send me any, however no one paid any attention, so I gave up. I know you can also specify which you want to receive; however that too becomes tedious. I figure at least the printers and designers are making money producing them, so I don’t feel too bad about throwing them away. . It’s too easy to order and then be disappointed when the item is not what you thought.

Occasionally I buy a gift for Stephen from a catalogue–usually because he saw it and pointed it out to me. I seldom purchase from them for anyone else. I peruse one or two of my favorites but most go into the trash. While they are filed with lovely enticing pictures and descriptions, for the most part I prefer the physical experience of seeing and touching my purchases.

I find Christmas shopping at retail stores to be daunting. There is too much to see and think about. They are too full of hopeful shoppers trying to cross people off their Christmas lists. The glittery items do not attract me; I prefer to give useful, practical gifts. That’s what I like to receive. Furthermore, most children have lots of toys and games as well as stuffed animals. Our friends and relations often receive books we have found at the Friends of the Library. By supporting alternative spending there and elsewhere, we recycle and reuse. This is really a gift to Mother Earth as well, and surely she deserves one too.

Riding a Time Machine into the Past

Reflections in SummerWhat fun it would be to hop onto a time machine and return to the Christmas shopping of my childhood, after I had turned eight. How I enjoyed buying my parents small stocking presents at Grants and Woolworth’s. I want to return to the days when the ten dollars I had saved up sufficed to purchase about everything I wanted to buy for them. Maybe there would even be enough left over for an ice cream cone. I loved the way the store smelled when I walked in, and the overflowing counters with the glass part in front to make sure items didn’t fall off.

I didn’t mind no longer believing that Santa filled the stockings, because it was such fun to wrap up my inexpensive gifts to fill them for my parents. Best of all would be to write notes on them the way they did. I bought Ponds cold cream and vanishing cream each year. I think they were ten or twenty cents each.

My mother told us a joke once about the latter. It seems a child took off all her clothes, rubbed her whole body with vanishing cream, and then went downstairs where her parents were hosing a party. The polite guests pretended not to see her. The next morning she told her mother gleefully that vanishing cream really worked. My twelve year old self thought that was very funny.

My time machine would whisk me back to my Great Aunt’s dining room with all the relatives gathered together and finger bowls brought in at the end of the Christmas meal–often roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. Sometimes there would be a plum pudding brought in and ignited after brandy was poured over it. The dancing flames were blue and very exciting. I didn’t care much for the plum pudding but the had sauce with it was pretty good.

It would take me down the snowy streets with the sparkling stars way up high, and the carols on the radio. Those times seem quite simple compared to now. The television had only a few channels, and the programs didn’t play all night but ended with a test pattern. Mothers mostly were at home. Most had only one car per family, and my mother’s friends met bi monthly for lunch and chitchat over their mending.

In my time machine I would also visit the wondrous Daniel Lowe’s department store in Salem with all the glittering silver and crystal when you walked in. I did no Christmas shopping there. Salem was the big city to me and we seldom went. Nearby Beverly was smaller. That was where the Woolworth’s and the Grant’s were, as well as Almay’s department store. We did some of our shopping there. In those less frantic times no one thought to purchase gifts until a few weeks before Christmas. The stores waited until after Thanksgiving to decorate for the holidays or play Christmas music. However, that was then. Though different from that time, now has its delights as well. While the past is fine to visit, I wouldn’t wish to live there.