You know that person who hums Christmas songs in the grocery store, gets ridiculously happy every time they see a decorated tree and stops to tickle the stuffed Santa on display? Well, that annoying person is me.
You’d think someone who has worked in retail as long as me would have had the holiday joy drummed out of her by now, but it is still alive and thriving. And why?? What could possibly make a brown girl like me love this particular holiday season so much? It’s a question I get asked a lot and by so many different people. With our family business closed for Christmas for the first time since I’ve been born I’ve stopped to give it thought.
When the store first opened in 1964 people were buying hand made gifts for their loved ones, precious things that came from foreign lands that they would treasure for years to come and it set off a spiral that kept our customers returning year after year. That is until two things happened: the advent of electronics and the Dollar Stores. As the years passed, during the height of the time when I ran the store, that gorgeous inlaid box or genuine stone earrings with filigree work around them dropped in appeal compared to XBoxes and iPhones. Secret Santa was something that could easily be taken care of at the Dollar Store where a $10 gift limit meant you pick up a present for someone and still have money left over for the gift bag and tissue.
I distinctly remember one customer many years ago who came in with a list during the holidays. He said he had to give five coworkers something for Christmas and there was a $10 limit on each gift.
Me: Okay, no problem. Describe one of your coworkers. What kind of things do they like?
Him: What does that matter?
Me: It will help me to narrow down what you can give them so that they’ll like the gift.
Him: I don’t care. It just has to be under $10.
Me: I got that part. Would they like incense?
Him: What’s that?
Me: That smell you took in when you first walked in here. That’s from incense. It might be something they’d like to have in their home. To help them relax.
Him: Sure, fine. If it’s under $10.
Me: Do you like the people you work with?
Him (indignantly): Why would you ask me that?
Me: Because you don’t seem to want to put any thought into their happiness. That’s what giving a gift is all about.
Him: No it isn’t.
Me: Yes, it is.
Him: Listen, it’s just a token gift. I have to give them something.
Me: Will you get fired if you don’t give them a gift?
Him: No. But I’ll look like a douche.
Me: Does that matter?
Him: Why would you say that?
Me: Because this is your opportunity to tell the people that you work with that you are grateful for their presence in your life. This is a nice way for you to say, “Hey, I saw this and I thought of you. I want you to feel happy when you see it too.”
He paused. I could tell he wanted to turn around and leave or tell me off but he actually took a moment to stop and let the words seep in.
Him: You know, I don’t even believe in Christmas.
Me: I don’t celebrate it either but I do take the time this holiday affords me to tell people that I’m grateful for them. Really it’s something we ought to do every day, don’t you think?
Him: (after a moment) That incense is very calming. Where is it?
In the end, this man spent more than $20 on each person, he put thought into each gift and left with an armful of fragrant sticks for himself and a smile on his face that made him look years younger and lighter. He returned in the New Year with a single rose for me. He told me the gifts were a massive hit at the office, that his co-workers were sniffing the tissue paper they were wrapped in and that one of the people he wasn’t even that fond of was being nicer to him since he had presented her with a thoughtful gift. He became one of my favourite customers over the many, many years that followed. His co-workers changed, his price limit fluctuated but his list was always well thought out. He once told me that since our first discussion, he began making a point of paying more attention at work to his co-worker’s likes and dislikes so that when the urge to give a gift came upon him, he would know exactly what might bring them joy. As a result, he was happier at work than he had ever been. He said he actually looked forward to the yearly Christmas party instead of dreading it as he had for so many years before.
For me, that’s what this time of year is all about. It’s about taking a moment to tell the people that are around you, that contribute to your life, that they mean something to you. That you are grateful for them. It’s a time when no matter your religion or race, we all seem to slow down a bit, nestle into the winter and reflect on what matters. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Eid or any other festivity, this particular time of year, for me, has always been about wrapping up the long year that has passed and stopping to say a heartfelt thank you before turning the calendar and making new starts.
And believe me when I say, as commercial as this time of year can be (and it certainly can!) it can also bring out the very best in people. And that’s what I love about the holidays the most.
I am always mindful of the fact that there are also so many people who are paralyzed by loneliness around the holidays. A gift can be the smile you give them on the street, the friendly ‘hello’ as you pass by or the gift of your time at a shelter, a food bank, or just by their side. We have all been through something in life. We are all going through something at any given time. As we get ready to turn the calendar on another year, I want to take a moment to say a Merry Thank You to everyone who has passed by my blog, supported my work or has been a part of my journey.
I wish you a happy-whatever-you-celebrate and a peaceful New Year.