Thursday, November 10

On the Twelfth Week of Christmas...

Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall.  We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space. [Dave Barry]

I am sort of embarrassed to admit that I enjoy America's shamelessly retail-driven efforts to stretch the Christmas season out as long as possible. I think Christmas is primarily a sacred holiday meant for celebrating the birth of Jesus and also cherishing your family, but c'mon -- if you can't enjoy Christmas shopping, I don't know if you have a pulse.

Of course, I'm talking about Christmas shopping done right. If you go out the weekend before Christmas with no wish list and no budget in mind (which I have certainly done), you probably won't enjoy it all that much. But if you start Christmas shopping, say,
now, it's really delightful. It's more like Christmas browsing. There might not be the "sales" that come along later, but you spread your gift-buying out over several paychecks. You have time to consider the right gift for the right person, and you have time to find that gift at the right price.

Plus the trees and the twinkling lights and the candles and the music -- ahhh, I just love it!

Family members have been asking me a lot lately about Christmas gift ideas, and I don't have much to offer. This has happened the past few years, and it sort of shocks me, because when I was younger, I had about eight million ideas. Don't get me wrong, I love presents. But I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about material things I want anymore.

Okay, that's not really true, but I don't expect anyone to give me a winning lottery ticket or a second car or the charming home for sale in Ben Avon Heights. However, if you insist, I suppose I would accept them. But I actually think more often about just getting together and eating and drinking and talking, my top three favorite things to do. My people eat and drink and talk with skill and passion.

I love seeing my extended family, many of whom live really far away. One of my uncles arrived last year with huge amounts of cheese and wine, and it was one of the best moments of Christmas (Uncle and family > cheese and wine, but both were very welcome, you know).

Every Christmas, cousins used to gather around the TV to watch one of the new movies or around the computer to watch our favorite videos on YouTube. The adults (most of us now), drink copious amounts of "cheer" and typically spend the later evening hours playing guitars and singing all sorts of questionable harmonies to assorted 60s and 70s classics. My favorites were are always "Wake Up, Little Susie" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." You know, your typical holiday musical fare.

These things are all so much better than gifts.

Wow, I got off on a huge tangent there.

So yeah. Go out early this year, and choose thoughtful gifts you can afford. Don't gripe and Grinch on about how crowded it might be, or how early the Christmas season starts these days, or whether people wish you Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Not sure I see what the problem is here. How about, just enjoy the experience of choosing gifts for your loved ones, and having lots of time to soak all the festivity in without cynicism, and the simple act of gratefully receiving good wishes from strangers.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are such wonderful holidays, because both traditionally emphasize thankfulness. Go into these weeks with that spirit. Especially when there is cheese and wine involved.

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