December 13, 2011

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Fight

The holidays.

How many heartwarming, heartwrenching or simply corny stories have been told about them? How many times have we all read about the trials and tribulations of shoppers, hostesses and planners everywhere? How many times have we wanted to scream or barf at the redundancy of these writings--or just recycled them on sight with no thought at all? And yet, here we all are: Time marches and on we must wade through one more season of Christmas in our shared tribulations. 

Don't misunderstand me. I adore the Christmas season. I really do believe that, no matter how old one becomes, there is magic and wonder to be found. I even work diligently to perpetuate this idea in my children. But something seems to be happening to me as I age. 

Time truly does march on, but it marches faster and faster as more of it passes. It is as though I am part of a vast hourglass, and, like any hourglass, the fewer sands there are, the faster they seem to fall. (For you Wizard of Oz fans, you may now imagine the Wicked Witch cackling as the sands run dangerously to their end).

I can remember what my Christmas season was like as a much younger woman working at a local retail store--Fred Meyer, for those of you familiar with the western half of the United States. I keenly recall the start of it all: Black Friday.

We would prepare from July to November, receiving boxes and boxes of special sale freight just for that day. All us girls in the Ready-to-Wear department had to wear nylons and skirts while we whiled away the hours cutting cardboard, sorting product and labeling it all. Just so it could be destroyed by the crazed early morning shoppers insanely wild about getting a 50% off deal on socks--socks that we knew had about a 300% markup in the first place.

On "BF" (not to be confused with today's acronym "BFF"), all was ready. We store employees would dress way up, wearing suits and dresses, and stand back--WAY back--to watch the shoppers enter the store at o'dark thirty.

I ran the "Domestics" department, which included pillows, bedding, towels, curtains, lamps and crafts. The department was in the back of the store, but we weren't completely hidden from the world. There was one very long aisle that led from outside the building and all the way back to Domestics.

I had a special BF vantage point that included this entire aisle, and enjoyed watching the variety of customers entering the store and heading my way. Some would be reserved, almost as though they were there to people-watch, too, while others were like some women who would burst through the door right at 7am, dragging still-pj-clad toddlers all the way down the long aisle to the towels. Some took it a bit further and even pressed through the ever-growing crowd all the way to the bowels of Domestics until they reached the ceiling displays.

These were boxes displayed over rows and rows of towels stacked on glass shelves. The four boxes in my towel section each contained a form shaped to hold a single towel, while giving the illusion of several towels stacked in a shelf, like you might see in your perfectly imagined linen closet. The most desperate of shoppers would occasionally climb the glass shelving and try to tear down the "multiple" towels in the display boxes very high up on the walls, just to get what they thought were those last few towels to complete their mauve set of eight.

We had to rescue many a shopper from potentially shattered glass and certain disappointment.

Those were the days. The long, long days.

Following BF was what seemed an eternity stretching out before the actual day of Christmas. Every day I would enter the store with Christmas music playing, more stock for putting out, cleaning, and selling. I loved helping the customers--especially the crafters who started their special holiday work in July.

We had special sales just for them, year-round. I couldn't believe their foresight, dedication and...paranoia. Why did these people start so early? As an early twenty something, I marveled. There was so much time, even time after Thanksgiving! Were they really so worried about being ready for December 25th that they headed out shopping in July?

This puzzlement has given way to understanding over these past 20 years. I have 6 children to prepare for, a college degree complete with matching profession, a husband, home, church membership and oh, so many more responsibilities. I have also slowly added interests one at a time: cooking, gardening, cross-stitch, sewing, scrap booking, photography....and now knitting. And I simply cannot bring myself to leave any of them behind. I love them all so dearly.

Perhaps I have always assumed that this was what all people did. Maybe I am right. Is this is one of the things driving the time crunch that seems to go with age? Maybe so.

In addition to learning new skills, I really find myself wanting to use them in making things for people: calendars complete with photos of my kids taken by me; slippers and mittens and hats; felted clog slippers (I have 3 done, need 2 more!); home-sewn jammies for Christmas morning; loving decorations in our home that mean something from year to year for my family.

As another December goes hurtling by at an even faster rate, I am, in spite of my industry, aching for time to enjoy it. I love going to mass on Christmas, participating in the drives for warm things for the homeless, helping fill our church food bank, even in a small way. But it feels impossible to do those things effectively, contemplatively, if I wait till after Thanksgiving to start making gifts.

Now I understand: those July crafters may have been getting it right. Perhaps they have discovered the secret to enjoying Christmas: Enjoy it year-round by doing secret thoughtful things for others all the time, only to reveal them at Christmas.

I might never get back that feeling of the vastness of time I had years ago, but perhaps I can make the time that I have richer than ever.

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