Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Life-Blood of Christmas

My brother, one of those great people who possess both wisdom and compassion, talked with me last night about the commercialization of Christmas. The amazing thing about the holiday season, he said and I eggregiously paraphrase, is that people actually run around crazy and spend money for others rather than themselves. I countered with haughty retail experience: "The real reason these people buy stuff. . . grumble grumble grumble. . . You ought to see their attitudes. . . grumble grumble grumble. . . Don't even get me started. . . grumble grumble grumble. . ."

How often I forget that my cynicism belongs on the cross, crucified with Christ, along with the rest of my sins.

The truth is my brother is right. A lot of people really do spend so much of their free time thinking about what to buy other people, taking the time to actually go pick it, and agonizing over the deicisions. I am grateful for last night's conversation that opened my eyes to reality today at work.

This morning, a woman came in looking for a specific book. She wanted it for a gift, so she came to this bookseller, and more importantly his database-ridden computer, to find where said book might sit. The computer did its job, and I did mine. I left her trailing me back up to the front of the store, book in hand, mission accomplished. Ten minutes later, I see this same customer back in the section where we had found our book. Her body seemed pulled both towards replacing the book and towards the check-out line, the physical manifestation of an internal struggle that kept her from committing to this book because it might not be perfect enough to convey her feelings for a person she loved.

Closer to lunch, another woman came up to the info desk wanting a recommendation. You see, an elderly couple she knows had just received some bad news. Not bad news like 3-months-to-live bad news, she assured me. It's just that the retirement home might the wife's lot for a long time. She wanted a book that the husband could read while he visited, maybe even read out-loud to the wife. Emotion was written all over her face. We wandered around for a while, as I threw out any option I could think of, wondering which ones might lighten the mood, which ones had sad endings, which ones might be a vehicle of comfort. Eventually, the woman decided on five books, you know, just to give her some options. She thanked me, and I head back to work as she walks slowly to the registers. Thirty minutes later, I finally see her leave the store.

Why are these books such a big deal? Why can't people just pick something and go? It's a fast-paced world out there anyways. What is it that makes them linger?

It is love. I hate cliches, but it can't be avoided here. These folks, and so many more who I see and who I don't see, spend hours picking out gifts, agonizing over the decisions because they recognize what I often miss in the holiday blur of retail. Gift-giving is a rare opportunity in a world that hates awkwardness and vulnerability to show that you love someone. These customers exert so much of their time, their money, and their emotion, yes, their emotion, picking out silly books because they love.

In terms of macro-economics, Christmas fuels commercialization. Borders beat its $22,000 plan last Friday by $8000. The craziness leaves many of my co-workers frazzled, stressed, and angry. The Smith's often do shop in order to keep up with the Jones's (no offense to any readers named Smith or Jones). And honestly, no one really needs a Playstation 3.

But when I look at the micro-economics behind each transaction, economics exit stage left. Gift-giving this time of year allows people to show love, love that may have been bottled up since the last birthday or maybe even since last Christmas. And people take advantage of the opportunity, trying to find the gift that is just perfect enough to convey their feelings towards others.

Commercialization is merely the skin which the world wears during Christmas time. If I take time to stop and actually take the world's pulse, I find that something indescribably beautiful is flowing through its veins.


Anonymous said...

Wow, i never thought about it like that. A very refreshing view of life and Christmas. Thanks man!
David Hebda

Jenn Pappa said...

where did ben go?