A different guide to the holidays


THE HOLIDAYS can be stressful, even for those in charge. Here are some ideas about how to stay (relatively) sane, even around certain relatives (Shutterstock).

If you’re like most of us, you are hip-deep in the holiday season. Regardless of your spiritual affiliation, you are stuck in Christmasland for the next two weeks or so, so you have to cope with the crowds, the traffic, the parties, the decorations, etc.

The same, of course, is true at our house.  We went out and got a huge tree which is now in the front room, decorated like the Moulin Rouge and presiding over what is certain to be an empire of wrapped gifts that – in the past – were close to the gross domestic product of certain small nations.

By far, Christmas shopping is the toughest thing to endure. There are too many people in too small a space (no matter how big the mall or store), not enough help, not enough time and – frequently – not enough patience.

So here are some holiday commerce tips that may speed your way toward a happier, or at least, more informed shopping experience.

Park near where the Sears used to be. America’s one-time shopping giant is now staggering in a complex marketplace. The term “Sears fashion” has become an oxymoron.  So if you’re looking for a place to plunk your Trailblazer, consider the Sears part of the mall, or where it used to be. Vast expanses of asphalt near there.

Gift cards. These may seem impersonal, but stop and think – how often, as a gift recipient, have you ever gotten what you really wanted? Not that often, right?  Giving someone a gift card puts the power back in their hands. And what’s additionally cool is that you can buy, for example, cards for Nordstrom’s or Home Depot or Olive Garden right there in your local Vons or Ralphs.

Decode the Language: Store clerks at this time of year are often “seasonal help” who may a) not be fully up-to-speed or b) resent having to work when all their friends are out shopping.

To put it another way, you may not be dealing with the varsity.

When I converse with these folks, I seem to get a familiar series of responses that have another entire meaning.

When you ask, “Do you have any more of these in a different size?” they will answer, “All of our stock is out on the floor.” What they really mean is “I am in no mood to go running back and forth for you. My break is coming up. Go away!”

When you ask, “I bought this here and it’s broken,” they might say “We can send it out to be repaired, but it has to go to Jupiter and you’ll get it back in six to 10 months.” What they really mean is “I’m a temp. Take your problems somewhere else. I’ll be gone in four days.”

When you ask, “How late is this store open,” they might say (accompanied by an eye roll) “Til 10 on weekdays and midnight on weekends.” Which means, “I am in living hell. I am hoping for a power outage.”

Knowing what the help is thinking is useful only because these sorts of answers are hints to find another salesperson, or another store. Things will only get worse from here.

Christmas cards. Don’t bother. It’s now estimated that three billion people are on Facebook, and so it’s likely that everybody you know is still in touch with you.  The volume of holiday paper greetings is in free fall, their absence in the postal system being more than compensated by the flood of unwanted catalogs and come-ons.

And be assured. Those Facebook messages are every bit as sincere and honest as those in the cards you used to send and receive. Smirk not necessary.

Gatherings. As with automobiles, your mileage may vary. Holiday parties and such run the gamut from joyous to catastrophic. In my family, the joy of Christmas morning was usually followed by the dark cloud of grown-up reveling, which meant heavy clouds of tobacco smoke, copious amounts of liquor, and increasingly loud voices.

There’s something about decking the halls that can bring the most, uh, extreme aspects of a personality. Some folks get all emotional and misty and want to hug the farkle out of you. Others, emboldened by too many rum balls (and too much rum) start up with “You know, I’ve always wanted to tell you that ….”

That sentence can end kindly or lead to a fist fight, but as soon as your hear it begin, you’ve got to suddenly remember the call of the stove or a spouse or a ringing cell phone. Christmas can be great for all the memories it brings. Sometimes the key to having a great Christmas is the memories you avoided.

This “Retorts” column is re-purposed (with some light editing) from the Dec. 13, 2012 issue of Garden Grove Journal.


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