For the love of the last-minute
By Anna Mitchael
I was listening to the radio the other day when the DJ invited listeners to call in and tell him the date they finished their holiday shopping. One lady claimed she had put her final package in the attic for safekeeping on October 5. Another said she had wrapped it all up back in August.
Remember August? When most of us were just trying to avoid the pools of sweat that gathered if you stayed in one place for too long?
I see what’s admirable about that level of organization. You avoid the crowds and the lines and hassling with salespeople who are fed up with forced cheer and are one candy cane length away from totally cracking up. But I’m not going in for tips from shoppers who were thinking of mistletoe last March. If I have visions of sugarplums in my head anytime before November, I want it to be because I’m hallucinating from the heat, not because I’ve decided to get a jumpstart on joy.
Why? Because part of the reason I love the holiday season is because the days seem impossibly busy. There’s too much of everything, and I have to admit, I’m a sucker for excess. I like making it all happen just in the nick of time and will never, ever tie my last bow before December 24. Truth be told, that scurrying noise behind the tree on December 25 is not a Christmas mouse; it’s me, Mom, dropping off a couple of presents I found hiding in Target bags stuffed (and almost completely forgotten) in the back of my closet.
If I had to do it — if someone threatened to tie me up by my toes or maybe take away my allotment of spiked eggnog, lest I not succeed — then I could probably get my shopping done in advance. But the thing that gets me about these overachieving holiday givers is that in order to have your presents wrapped up and ready to go, you’ve got to be the kind of person who buys holiday wrapping paper a year early.
And by the time the holiday wrapping paper goes on sale after Christmas, I can’t be tempted, not even with spiked eggnog. I’ve lost all interest in carols and stocking stuffers and ornaments. I’m usually so maxed on the holidays that I’d put a thick wad of cash in one of those red donation kettles if the person asking for donations would promise to stop ringing the infernal bell.
Surely you know the post-Christmas clearance bins, overstuffed with rolls and rolls of paper that’s marked down to a ridiculously low price. They are the same rolls we all paid triple for just the week before. They are the rolls Suze Orman would urge us to peruse and purchase. Of course, I realize that in 11 months I will be in need of those rolls and will probably have to make at least one-late night trip to a store to buy some, but in the post-apocalyptic — oh wait, I mean holiday — haze that sets in after the last tree needles have been swept up and the final slices of ham have been served in a sandwich, I can’t seem to muster the energy to stock up on the savings.
This same lethargy hits me every year when the winter coats go on sale. After months of bundling up, the very last thing I want to think about is what I’ll choose to bundle up in next year. I want swimsuits and sunglasses and items that encourage sunshine. Of course, when the swimsuits are on sale, I’m already thumbing through fashion magazines, wondering what fall will bring for the wide world of winter coats.
It’s a vicious cycle, and quite frankly, it’s one that I thought would break once I became a mother. I come from a long line of women who were well organized in their holiday gift-giving. At this moment my grandmother is probably pulling down bags and bags of bows that have been saved since the early the 1960s. Given, then retrieved after the presents were unwrapped so they could be reused and regifted, she now has a more extensive selection of bows than a Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
My own mother picked out a pattern of paper for each person in the family, then wrapped all of our gifts in our designated patterns. This made it easy to see which boxes went to which person (and to make sure you weren’t the poor sap who got shortchanged on presents that year) but also made you feel that much more special because the present was individualized down to the wrapping.
I guess I pictured a switch that would flip, one that would send me in a flurry of advanced shopping for presents and stocking up on wrapping paper I could tuck away in a perfectly organized closet of gifting supplies.
But that switch didn’t flip. Upon further investigation I discovered (eek!) it might not exist at all. The “Baby 411” book I refer to for the bulk of my parenting emergencies does not have any chapters on “building holiday traditions.” I Googled a question about starting traditions around wrapping paper, and now it appears the cookies in my computer have been permanently set to show every ad ever made for wrapping paper (as well as, curiously, rap music.)
I guess some traditions are by design, but others do come about more naturally. I hope to pass down to my son a good-natured love of the holiday season, one that takes all the bells and whistles and annoying whistling of fellow shoppers in stride. Sure he’ll end up with some newsprint on his hand after I improvise on the last couple of packages I didn’t have enough paper to wrap, but maybe once he notices I put his presents in the sports section, he’ll feel that extra bit of love.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a candle around here somewhere that’s supposed to simulate the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the oven. It’s time to find some matches and get our holiday started right.
This column appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Wacoan.