There are 12 days of Christmas but I’ve managed to isolate the five or six stages of Christmas shopping, in which I go from anger to grief to acceptance.
I begin in my annual Scrooge-like denial — the grumpy vow that I haven’t got it in me any longer to fight the crowds and to try to come up with clever gifts for everyone. But somehow I stumble through the aisles yet again, a crumpled gift list clenched in my clammy hand, and come up with something that will have to make do. It may not be clever, but, by god, it’ll be smartly wrapped. This is my defiant mode.
In this stage I consider abandoning shopping altogether and begin browsing my house for things I’ve never used, or even opened, that might be disguised as Christmas gifts. The problem here is that it’s hard to think of someone who might be the right recipient of a set of steak knives I ordered off the TV set in a rash moment, or a biography of Harpo Marx I got at a library sale for $3. This is even chintzier than re-gifting, and it so depresses me that I’m finally forced to hit the stores — if not exactly running, tiptoeing.
I am the opposite of those discouragingly efficient Christmas shoppers who have bought gifts throughout the year — or, even worse, who awaken at 3 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving and storm the outlet stores for stupendous bargains. “I got everything done by 10 a.m.!” they cry triumphantly, rubbing it in just how woefully inadequate I am when it comes to shopping for others. This would be the grieving stage.
To try to warm up, I buy a bunch of stuff just for me, until it is impossible to avoid the dread chore of shopping for other, less needy folks. This gets me out of the house and “into the mood,” which needs weeks of whipping up, aided by thoughts of having to listen to 300 more renditions of “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Winter Wonderland” and “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas.” Nothing like a rollicking Burl Ives song to move the process along and send me fleeing Macy’s.
I’m the opposite of those smug shopping efficiency experts who know precisely what they want to get for everybody, marching confidently from one counter to the next, crisply checking off each name on their list. I, meanwhile, am slogging through the notions department unable even to find the floor I want, let alone the right gift — assuming I have any in mind. Once I depart the men’s department, I am totally lost.
My new methodology, however, is to quit trying to match each person with a precise gift, far too daunting a task. I realized a few years ago that all my friends pretty much like the same things I do — mainly books and sweets — so now I just snap up interesting sounding book titles and anything coated with chocolate.
I then go home, spread them all out on the dining room table and decide who shall get what. It doesn’t much matter, as their tastes are interchangeable, and it’s cut down wonderfully on all of my shopping anxiety. Sometimes I purchase the same gift for two or three people — engagement calendars, say, the lazy shopper’s favorite Christmas item.
The sorry fact is that, after my annual holiday grumbling stage, eventually I find myself sort of caught up in the messy catch-as-catch-can dilemma called Christmas shopping. I loosen up after buying a gift or two and turn into Father Christmas himself, buying up stuff left and right, until I find I have over-shopped and have too many presents and not enough friends.
This turns out to be a fortuitous dilemma, allowing for the inevitable emergency gift when someone unexpectedly hands me a present out of the blue. “…Oh, and here’s yours,” I say ever-so brightly, plucking a French Impressionists engagement calendar from my extras pile. “It struck me as the absolutely perfect gift for you!”