It’s the beginning of November and therefore the time of the year when people feel the compulsion to tell you that they’ve already done their Christmas shopping.
Which is strange, because as far as I know shops are open and offering stuff for sale for the entirety of November and December. Usually they’re even open for longer hours and with more staff. I have a sneaking suspicion that the only benefit from doing all your shopping by November is that you can tell people you have all your shopping done by November.
When I was growing up, some low-income houses (like mine) put away bits and pieces to ease the financial burden of Christmas. Cadbury Roses were stashed in the high-up cupboards. Threats of increasing violence and murder would be issued if we kids dared to go near them.
I ended up watching two grown women box the head off each other over the last discounted Christmas tree
But, no, I’m talking about the kind of people who do all their shopping before November, including food and presents. Even presents for the neighbours they don’t like and they’re not even sure they’ll see but feel they should buy just in case the hated neighbours give them a present, setting off a chain of present buying that keeps the entire posh crackers and chutney industry in business.
“Buying presents early is less stressful. There’s no rushing around,” people cry. “It takes the pressure off.”
Really? You’ve just made yourself complete a task two months before it was due. That seems like putting more pressure on yourself. Rushing around shops in October is still rushing. I will allow you to have the small added bonus of not having to listen to Christmas carols, though.
“You just forget the joy of Christmas,” people will say to me. The kind of people who put the tree up on December 1st and put reindeer antlers on their car. “Where’s your Christmas spirit?”
Listen up, I worked in retail for the better part of a decade: I have no Christmas spirit. I’m spiritually dead on the inside now. I can pinpoint the exact time it departed my body. Christmas Eve 2008. I was working two jobs. One of which was in the decorations department at a big-box retailer. I had spent 14 hours on my feet, but the end was in sight. It was an hour until close.
I just had to make it through one more hour and then I wouldn’t have to put up a pricing sticker or talk to a member of the public again for two whole glorious days, until the store reopened for the sales. I was making plans. I might be able to wash my hair. I might actually get to say hello to my family. The possibilities were endless.
Then a manager announced a snap sale on Christmas trees, reduced from $100 down to $20. I was in charge of marking them down so the new festive low price would scan at the register. If we sold enough of these big biodegradable b**tards we wouldn’t have to pack them down and send them back. It was a win-win. That is, until we were swarmed by avid bargain shoppers.
It turns out one anaemic teenage girl was not enough to impose order and I ended up watching two grown women box the head off each other over the last discounted Christmas tree. Eventually we separated them, but the damage was done. The police had to be called. I had to write a statement. The worst of it was that I had to stay back after my shift. While all my friends were at the pub I was left sweeping up hair extensions and one sad, stray acrylic nail left over from battle on the linoleum floor.
Remember in the coming months, with warnings of shortages and waits, to be kind and patient to those behind the tills
I’ve seen what Christmas does to ordinarily sane and rational people. But, equally, I know the power retail workers yield. I have written before about everyone’s ability to shop being held together by an alliance of middle-aged women and hungover students. These are the people standing between you having a good Christmas or a bad Christmas, so be warned.
Don’t insist they “check out the back” one more time for your husband’s size in festive pyjamas if they’ve already told you there are none left. They’ve already been out the back three times in the past 30 minutes. They know that stockroom better than the faces of their loved ones at this point. Don’t argue. Your husband doesn’t want those pyjamas anyway. You just want them to take an Instagram photo on Christmas morning with your kids.
Don’t punish your kids with matching plaid and the sanity of retail workers in the process. If you insist on making me go out the back, my “searching for a size” will actually look a lot like me “smoking a calm-down cigarette” out the fire exit before coming back to tell you what I already knew. There are none left.
So be careful out there whether you’ve done your big shop or not. Remember in the coming months, with warnings of shortages and waits, to be kind and patient to those behind the tills. It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late to keep the magic of Christmas intact for another retail worker.