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Wattle Twaddle

turkey

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Please Have Snow and Mistletoe*

The sand is draining from the hourglass and the flying monkeys are on their way.  A sensible holiday shopper realizes it might be time to panic.  Just a bit.  Perhaps you spent this weekend (with the very best of intentions) perusing the malls and holiday markets?  Perhaps, like me, you awoke slightly exhausted, a bit dehydrated and with a mild pit in your stomach thinking something along the lines of; “I didn’t really buy that dancing troll dressed as Santa, did I?”  Before you indulge in a refreshing bout of robust self flagellation, let’s consider reassigning the blame.

The dancing troll is not (entirely) your fault.  You were probably tired, overheated and improperly fed.  In that weakened state you had trudged through the maize of malls and markets with layouts and repetitive merchandise like Escher drawings.  At every turn you were face to face with that same sequined scarf, knit cap, knock-off Van Cleef & Arpels necklace.  After an hour or so, you could be easily convinced that those items are really all there is.  In your already weakened state, your hopes dulled and dashed by the stunning lack of retail creativity, you found yourself in line, clutching your troll as if it were the bronze medal.

If you don’t want to spend the next few weeks feeling you are settling (and why in the world would anyone ever want to “settle” let alone during such a festive time) I offer you some tips:

  • Prepare.  Sit down with a nice cup of tea and a notepad (virtual or paper) and write a list.  Do not venture out (in December) thinking you will be magically inspired.  You may, but that’s not a plan, it’s luck.
  • Stay away from “Holiday Markets” unless they are specifically artist or craftspeople organized.  Often they are just outdoor malls, which will waste your time and deplete your stamina.
  • Authentic artist/craftspeople markets, antique stores and real vintage flea markets are a veritable pot of gold.  Unique, lovely and often reasonably priced items are just waiting for a good home.
  • Museum, library and arts organizations often have gift shops.  Venture carefully, and preferably with a membership card, as often items can be pricey.  However, you really can find some very special items, and support a favorite institution.
  • Memberships and/or tickets to these institutions can also make lovely gifts.  Do make sure the recipient is a fan and lives in proximity, otherwise you may fall into that “I’m giving to my favorite charity in your name” trap.
  • Food and Drink should always be considered.  A carefully chosen bottle of wine or spirits can be very thoughtful.  Perhaps a bottle of the wine your friends are still talking about which they had in Napa?  Maybe a lovely bottle of sherry to go with those vintage glasses you picked up for your sister at the flea market?  Chocolate lovers make the best gift recipients, don’t they?  There is no shortage of artisanal selections out there.  Strangely, the same can be said for salamis.
  • Music.  Anyone who can hear, enjoys listening to music.  Steer clear of any genre which conjures associated attire (country western, heavy metal) and stick to classics if you are not entirely certain of someone’s preference.
  • Books (electronic or paper) make splendid gifts.  You may want to stay out of the chain stores however, as their displays may lead you to the literary equivalent of a dancing troll.

Remember to bring a snack, stop and sit periodically, and don’t bring a shopping companion.  There are too many distractions as it is.  So have another cup of tea, and go find the troll receipt.  And remember, like most things in life, with gift giving; “I suppose this will do” shouldn’t be the goal.  Happy Holidays!

* and presents by the tree – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1943)

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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Fill Up The Stockings*

Have you written your list?  Checked it twice, choosing to ignore who’s been naughty or nice?  Are you still at the “I’m giving only lovely gifts this year” stage?  The panic has yet to set in and you’re still looking at the gifts in the chain drugstore with condescending disdain?  Perfect!  We can calmly discuss the season of gift-giving.

Giving and receiving gifts should be a simple and joyful expression, but it has a tendency to get a bit muddled, especially during this frenzied time of year.  Receiving an utterly thoughtless gift can smart, particularly when some well-meaning, if a bit daft person, reminds you that “it’s the thought that counts.”  Exactly!  That is precisely why it stings to receive a maternity top when one is a size four single woman with no thoughts or signs of pregnancy.  What were they thinking?  Probably the same thing the giver of the coconut/banana scented lotion gift basket thought; “It’s December, I think I’ll clean out my closet!”  So before we go one tiny step forward, I implore you dear reader to try not to see gift-giving as retribution.  If you do not care enough to give a thoughtful gift, do not give a gift.  It’s really that simple.  Gifts are not contracts.  It is an act of generosity and thoughtfulness not obligation.  Your list will be shorter, your focus sharper, and your heart fuller, if gift giving feels meaningful.

So with our edited lists in tow, we head out to fill up our sacks and sleighs.  If you are (like me) not blessed with any gift making skills whatsoever, it is time to shop.  Let’s pause for a moment, yes?  Shop does not mean buy a gift card.  Gift cards are the work of the devil.  Many cards come with an expiration date(!) and teeny tiny print which when deciphered states “ha ha ha ha ha ha.”  Also, how is a gift card less offensive than cash?  It is not.  Sometimes it is far worse.  I don’t want to know what discount chain you think I would enjoy.  Our relationship is not strong enough for that.  So to be clear, we are shopping for things, not cards.

The easiest and most fun shopping is that for recipients who share our tastes!  Narcissistic?  Perhaps a tad.  But isn’t it fun to stroll though a holiday market, vintage fair, department store, museum shop, and think: “I would like that!” and buy it?  For the recipient who doesn’t share our taste or gender, it’s a bit more of a challenge.  The better you know someone of course, the easier it is.  Never underestimate the power of sentimentality.  Was there a favorite childhood toy or book?  Imagine the look on Uncle Stephen’s face when you “Rosebud” his behind!  Is there a cause that really means a great deal to your partner’s father?  A donation in his name is a beautiful gift.  For older recipients, a drop of nostalgia will yield joyful results.  Old photos scanned into a photo book or a single photo restored and framed makes a fine gift.  Teenagers (or savvy adults) can give the gift of technology navigation.  A gift certificate for: setting the DVR, setting up the contact list in the mobile, making the computer stop doing that thing it does, will be truly appreciated.

And the children, what about the children!?  I could talk until I’m blue in the face (not an attractive color on me) and people will still buy children simply horrid things.  There is no more than 5 minutes of enjoyment that can be derived from any gift which does not engage the child whatsoever.  Try and remember the gifts that gave you exquisite joy when you were young.  I’m guessing they had little to do with cross-marketing of television or film.  They might have been something you hadn’t even known you’d wanted.  That element of surprise and wonder is what we’re after here.  Consider books (I still recall the weight of the entire Little House collection) toys made from something other than plastic (what I would give to have that dollhouse again,) games which engage the mind (Miss Scarlett in the Conservatory, anyone?) music (such sweet memories of torturing my parents with my Creative Playthings instruments) or a beautiful item of clothing (I miss my first big-girl party skirt!)

Gift giving should be fun.  Truly.  Beyond the mall (real and virtual) there is an embarrassment of lovely possibilities.  You may still be the unfortunate recipient a theme sweater or prepackaged “food gift” this year, but you will feel a lightness of spirit knowing you a part of the solution.  Happy Holidays!

* We Need A Little Christmas – Jerry Herman (1966)

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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