Not in Tune with the Holiday Season

I have long said that shopping is America’s national sport. It certainly seems to inspire Olympic-level frenzy among the media and many citizens. Hands up anybody who knew ten years ago what “Black Friday” meant? Today, how could you not know?

America’s Thanksgiving headlines this year, as most years, were largely obvious and useless: the age-old stories on weather, traffic, and turkeys. There’s no need to rewrite these every year – change a few details of location and statistics from last year’s stories, and you’re done.

But this year the standard holiday stories had competition from those about the day after Thanksgiving – “the biggest shopping day of the year”, as we were told breathlessly and endlessly. There were stories about people lining up for hours to be first in line to get some special “door buster” deal at a store. The media rewarded shopping commitment taken to absurd levels, reporting on some man who was wounded by a shotgun blast and nonetheless insisted on standing in line. What a legacy: to be remembered as the guy that obsessed with buying a videogame console.

I have commented on this to Americans before, and got some reactions on the order of “But you CAN get really good deals, so it’s worth it.” Not to me. To me, nothing is worth standing in any line unless there is absolutely no alternative. I can’t think of an object that I so desperately need to buy at anydiscount. (Oh, I’m sure someone could come up with a deal to tempt me, but the temptation level of the average American seems to be far lower than mine.)

I am thankful that Italy doesn’t yet make such a big a deal of the Christmas shopping season, though some seem to be trying. In the past, Christmas decorations did not go up until the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8th), a national holiday usually made into a long weekend, hence offering a similar day-after-the-holiday shopping opportunity.

But the Christmas “season” has been inching up in Italy, as elsewhere. Lights went up a few weeks ago, and were turned on last week. Last Sunday many shops were open, and most are already decorated for Christmas, which I find tiring. (But at least I don’t live in the UK, where they start decorating for Christmas in early October!)

So far, in spite of it all, I’m not in a Christmas mood. Any other time of year, I enjoy buying presents for people. Right now it feels like a chore. I have no idea what to get for anybody (except Rossella – she’s easy), and I’m broke anyway. I don’t even know what I’d want for myself. Enrico and Rossella asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I couldn’t think of much (except warm socks – I always need more socks). I have Amazon wish lists, but can’t remember anything on them that I couldn’t live without.

I do enjoy experiences: a good meal, a show, or a weekend like the one we just spent in Bormio, which was my birthday present from Enrico. For this year’s Christmases and birthdays, my dad and his wife got everybody tickets to see “Spamalot” in London when Ross and I visit in January, which will be fabulous. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to do anything analogous for them (or anyone else).

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