Saturday, November 29, 2008

Holiday Shopping

I had written this article for the New London Press Star paper last year and felt it worthy of another reading.

Christmas is a conflicted holiday. No, I am not talking about the religious Christmas versus the Santa Clause Christmas. I am talking about “We wish you a merry Christmas” versus “Ba Humbug.” On one hand people contribute generously to those who struggle to provide for their families during the holidays. The Salvation Army’s bell ringers are a cheerful tradition and that organization promotes the Adopt-a-Family program. Bins for Toys for Tots are located in many stores, banks seek toy donations for local children, and food drives are common. There are always less fortunate families we can help at the holidays, and it is heartening to see communities open their pocketbooks to do just that. This is the “We wish you a merry Christmas” side of the season.

However, this spirit of goodwill doesn’t always remain strong once people head out to complete their Christmas shopping. “Ba humbug” tramples down the holiday mood when gift buyers encounter the typical December retail challenges. Anyone who has gone Christmas shopping knows that the stores are more crowded, clerks are overworked, certain products fly off the shelves becoming difficult to find, and driving in parking lots can require nerves of steel. My method of dealing with these situations is to refuse to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving and to avoid the mall after December 15. However, if you find this technique is not an option for you, I would like to offer six suggestions on how to make Christmas shopping more pleasant for all involved.

1) At any time of year it is foolish to shop when one is in a hurry but in December it is ludicrous. Waiting in check-out lines is standard fare this time of year, so if you find yourself in that situation why not spend the time daydreaming, strike up a conversation with another person in line, or take deep breaths and try to relax. You may find the lines less long if you avoid peak shopping times. Stores open earlier and stay open later and are less crowded during those uncommon shopping hours. The mall is often less crowded during the supper hour. Take advantage of these times and you may lessen your gift buying stress level.

2) Store clerks take a brunt of holiday shopper displeasure. Kindly remember those employees are hired to check you out of the store; they are not responsible for the lack of stocked items and do not create store policy. I have seen shoppers verbally abuse store clerks for no other reason than they needed a scapegoat for their holiday frustrations. I have also witnessed a shopper knock over an entire shelf of lotions and cosmetics in a small specialty store and walk out of the shop without apologizing or lifting a finger to clean the mess. If a clerk is rude or truly inept, contact a manager to discuss the employee. Otherwise, remember that the store associates are human beings who are dealing with many many stressed people and your yelling at them solves nothing. Heeding the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) will guide you to appropriate behavior.

3) Shoppers can become self-absorbed and oblivious to those around them. The mall is more crowded than usual and navigating the hallways presents challenges. Adding to those challenges are the groups of people who stop in the middle of the hallway to chat, inconsiderately ignoring the roadblock they create. Whether in the hallway of the mall or aisle of a store, pay attention to those around you and the space you occupy. Move aside to talk so others can pass without wishing you bodily harm. Strollers need to be kept as unobtrusive as possible for the same reasons. There are times when taking small children shopping is necessary, but if a stroller is involved it is important not to block aisles or run up on a person’s heels with that stroller.

4) Good manners can go a long long way during the holiday shopping season. When you bump into someone a simple, sincere “Excuse me” is appreciated. Opening the door for a person whose arms are full is just a basic gesture of courtesy. And if the door is opened for you, remember that a “Thank you” is not an option, it is a must. If a person behind you in line has only one or two items and you have a cartload, it is a thoughtful gesture to allow that person to go ahead of you. Since you have paid attention to suggestion one, you will not be in a hurry and should feel good about your kind actions to a fellow shopper.

5) Smile. If you are crabby when shopping, force a smile. You may be surprised at how your mood can improve by your attempts to smile. It is as though you are fooling yourself into not being crabby! Smile at strangers and lift their moods. It is supposed to be a cheery, happy, jolly time of year and acting accordingly will go a long way into keeping Christmas in our hearts.

6) Internet shopping is a modern way of avoiding the holiday retail pitfalls. Shipping and handling adds to an item’s cost, you say? Yes, it adds to the monetary cost, but you are saving your sanity and your time by avoiding crowds and traffic. Many sites will gift wrap and send the gift right to the recipient.

After looking at this list I realize that these are tips that could be implemented year round! But this busy shopping season is the perfect time of year to begin using them. You may be pleasantly surprised that “Ba humbug” does not run through your mind as often, and others will appreciate your Christmas spirit. Let’s try to make the shopping as stress free as possible and concentrate on the joys of the holiday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Much for Which to Give Thanks

Last week a friend commented that there isn't much to be thankful for in today's economy. 401(k)'s are disappearing, the stock market is a dismal daily reminder of our crashing financial world, companies arrogantly beg for corporate welfare, the unemployment rate keeps rising, and there is no sunshine on the horizon for our economy.

I realize our country is facing dire issues. I understand that many families are facing horrific financial challenges while the holidays are rapidly approaching. But, I disagreed with my friend. There is still much for which to give thanks.

We have elected a new President who has recharged citizens and given the country a new sense of hope. With all the hardships facing our nation we still live in one of the greatest countries on earth. We have family and friends to love and support us. Our children are great sources of joy and pride. Our homes are heated, we have indoor plumbing, paved roads, and lawfulness. (These are things we take for granted and which many 3rd world citizens dream of) We have public education, freedom of speech, public assistance, heat and electricity in the winter even if we can't pay. Most of us have TV's, radios, MP3 players, cell phones, computers, microwaves, and a car. We have come to think that many of these items are necessities when they are actually not essential for our survival.

Maybe we need to make a list of all the tangible things we own and of the non-tangible things we have. I'm betting the non-tangibles are most important to us, but we forget about those more readily.

With all my heart I believe that things happen for a reason. Is it possible that our economic crisis will allow us to reevaluate what we need and what we want and then focus on what is truly important to us? As we sit before our abundant meals on Thursday may we reflect on what we hold dear in our hearts and find thanks for all we have.