not in our stars, but in ourselves
There’s a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin’s dad tries to have a little bit of fun at his son’s expense, and not only sends Calvin into a near-nervous breakdown, but also gets a nice little threat from Calvin’s mom. He mutters, “This season gets less jolly every year.” I know what he means.
Here’s the thing. This year, I’ll be spending Christmas with my boyfriend’s family. They are, without any hyperbole or exaggeration, insanely generous. His mother asked him what was on both our wish lists, because she intends to get everything on both of them, plus other little goodies to boot. It’s not because they like to show off; it’s just because they like to give their family members nice things, and I’m lucky enough to be included.
And so, I felt compelled to participate in the madcap dash that is the holiday shopping season. It’s not that I abstain from buying gifts at Christmas; far from it. I enjoy being generous, too, whatever the occasion (and however feeble my bank account may be at the time). Due to a combination of laziness, procrastination, neurosis, and inertia, I didn’t attempt to begin in earnest until yesterday afternoon. My plan, such as it was, involved going up and down Newbury Street in hopes that something(s) would grab my eye – not only for my boyfriend’s parents, but for my own parents, my grandmother, my friends, my cousins, etc., etc., etc. (fortunately, I’ve already gotten presents for my fella). It didn’t go great. I got a couple of things, but my aversion to shopping at big stores – I really tried to stick to independently owned and operated places, as far as I knew that they were – led to my seeking out only very small, very charming, very expensive boutiques. Plenty of them had lovely things, but alas: I do not have $1500 to spare for a cute necklace, when I’m not even sure what kind of jewelry someone likes.
After I’d wandered from the Mass Ave side down to the Arlington St side and back again, past countless tourists and families and homeless people and conspicuous consumers and dogs (I liked the dogs, got to pet one, that was good), and fell into something like a fugue state. No more did I have conscious control of my own thoughts or actions: I was just a zombie shuffling down the sidewalk, annoyed at slow people in front of me without having any idea of where else to go or what else to look for. Like some sort of spaceship sucked in by the Death Star’s tractor beam, I found myself at the Pru. The Shops at Prudential Center, as it’s more formally known, comprise a would-be high-class mall. I worked there for a couple of years, in one of the poshlost-y stores, and I can’t abide it. And yet, and yet. There I was. I wandered the chaotic Barnes & Noble. I did laps around the perimeter of the mall. I went over the footbridge to Copley Place, the even fancier Not-A-Mall connected to the Pru, and looked absently at useless kitchen gadgets in Williams Sonoma. (Obviously, Williams Sonoma sells plenty of not-useless kitchen gadgets, even if they are très cher, but my boyfriend’s mother almost certainly has every useful kitchen gadget known to man – so I gravitated towards the useless ones.) Fortunately, around the time I was wondering if I should look at things in Free People (what an ironic name), my boyfriend finished at work and so I was able to escape the mall and drown my sorrows in beer and pub grub.
The short version is that I did not have a good time. I don’t think I’ve had an especially good time at Christmas since I graduated from college. This isn’t to say that they’ve been calamities: they’ve still involved family and love and togetherness and all that good stuff. But I grow increasingly disgusted with the spectacle, the consumerism, the waste of it all, year after year. I yell at the diamond commercials. I scoff at the carols. I roll my eyes at the appeals to cheap sentiment in order to drive a higher ADPT. It all makes me so grouchy and angry and tired – not least because it’s the darkest and worst time of year – and it’s getting worse and worse.
All the same, I want to give gifts to people I care about. I’m not crafty or talented, so I can’t make anything. My choices are to remain complicit in the voracious consumerist machine that is the holiday shopping season, or risk insulting people – worse, risk hurting their feelings – due to some dumbass, lofty “principle.” I don’t know. I’ve been asked what I want for Christmas this year, and all I want is a dog, and I can’t have a dog in my apartment, so I don’t want anything. I’ll get things anyway. They’ll be very much appreciated, and I’ll be very happy to have them, but I am ever so slightly miserable that the emphasis is always on things. What else should the holiday be about? I don’t know that, either. Probably just Krampus.
So no, in other words, I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping.