I celebrate the spirit of Christmas by insisting on shopping in person. Amazon is fine for staples, but if I don’t get elbowed in the kidney by someone trying to beat me through a Magnificent Mile revolving door, I don’t really feel like I’m giving Christmas everything I’ve got.
As I’ve mentioned before, the commercial pageantry of Christmas is my favorite thing about the jolly holiday, especially now that I’ve aged out of overdoing the eggnog. Midway airport has wonderful decorations. I love Michigan Avenue with lights. I find Oakbrook and Woodfield and 900 North Michigan somewhere between tedious and excruciating 11 months a year. But not in December. In December they are the glorious sparkling chaotic bloodsport arenas they were meant to be.
I don’t shop much, really. I usually need to get between five and eight gifts total. I’m just happy to participate in the happy prospects of Christmas; browsing, speculating, imagining, treating myself to my annual eggnog latte or maybe a nice dinner and a long cold walk while it snows. Watching for the folks who’re either hoping to see Santa or who just did and it was maybe not precisely the magical family memory they were led to expect because Santa smelled like Scotch and the twins cried in tandem terror. I love all of this. I love the Salvation Army band pounding out carols and people wearing Christmas sweaters and Santa hats and special red-and-green bags.
What I don’t love is Black Friday. Black Friday isn’t something I understand especially. If actual literal sleeping bag camping outside a store for 48 hours in order to save $100 on a TV is the only way you can afford the TV, I got bad news for you. If you are willing to climb into the octagon with 50 people to save $50 on anything, you gotta change your priorities. I know. I was raised in this church. I was taught from an early age to understand that no act of economizing was too pointless or counterproductive. All situational markups — airport, movie theater, etc. — are ripoffs on a par with buying a share of the Brooklyn Bridge. An expired coupon remains negotiable if you are fearless enough. And above all else, there is no distance too far to go in pursuit of even an extra two pennies a gallon on gasoline saved.
The scales fell from my eyes over that very issue some years ago when I realized that a markup of even a quarter a gallon — an extraordinary amount — represented a maximum sum total surcharge of $2.50 on a full tank of gas for my Subaru. While writing once a month for a newspaper read by 14 people has not made me the wealthy man one might expect, I do have $2.50, and driving out to Kane County to save $2.50 is nuts.
Since this realization, I have started to aggressively question my learned habits of scrimping, and what I have learned is that my scrimping is nearly always more effort than it is worth. I can afford to pay an extra quarter for milk at the gas station where I have already stopped instead of going to Jewel, too. I don’t need to buy seven dozen eggs at Costco just to knock the price down from $3 per dozen to $2 per dozen. (Especially because I will for sure spend more at Costco.)
I can even enjoy sleeping in a hotel room without needing to be assured that I am sleeping in the very cheapest hotel room to be had wherever I am. I don’t need a 200-source spreadsheet comparison of options. I can just settle on a price that seems fair to me and pay it. This may not seem revelatory to you, but for those of us raised in the Church of Pointless Economizing, I promise you it is a staggering revelation to learn that the point of life is not to spend the least money possible on everything.
This might be why I like the shopping culture of Christmas so much, come to think of it: The one month a year America unites and with one voice cries “F— it. Let’s spend some money.” Because isn’t that what Christmas is really all about, giving in to temptation? Cookies! Cocktails! Sweaters! Presents! Unleash those wants and throw caution to the wind!
“Peace on Earth” is fine as a motto, but “Let’s spend some money!” is catchy too, and it is surely much, much more fun.