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Category Archives: Holiday

On The Second Day Of Shopping…

Today is Small Business Saturday. Yesterday was Black Friday and in a couple of days it will be Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Yes, it’s a lot to keep track of, but we’re an odd/even day gas, opposite side of the street parking kind of people. If we were to create a timeline of seasonal consumer events; Black Friday would be on the far left and Giving Tuesday on the far right. Cyber Monday is more towards the left but is only as old as clicking technology. What is wonderfully fascinating/encouraging is that right side of the timeline and the recent creation of Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday.

Shopping local independent shops and artisans is always a great way to support communities and their individual residents. Local independent shops stock unique, lovely things that are often locally made. Many communities hold arts and/or craft holiday fairs and local restaurants and pubs are always happy for the foot traffic. Today (and for the next five weeks) we can shop meaningfully and give creatively. Giving (and receiving!) a framed watercolor, a glass pendant, a crochet miniature giraffe is more memorable than the exchange of a chain store gift card. If gift cards must be exchanged, consider a certificate to a restaurant or shop in the recipient’s neighborhood.

In the tri-state area, Small Business Saturday comes at the perfect time. Yes, there are businesses still struggling to open, but there are plenty that are up and running. Find a community (perhaps your own) that suffered in the storm and shop a little (or a lot.) (And while you’re there think about local restaurants for on-site holiday parties or catering.) Consider gift certificates to theatre companies and performing arts organizations forced to close for days or weeks. Is there someone who’s been particularly nice this year? Perhaps a season subscription to a downtown theatre is in order.

On Monday office productivity will plummet as workers click their way down their gift list. This Tuesday will be the day to take a closer look at that gift list and consider a charitable gift. You needn’t worry about sizes, makes or models, colors or cuts. Not for profit organizations large and small, international, national or local will be a grateful recipient. This is the best holiday grab bag opportunity ever created. You choose what to give to whom. The gift feels meaningful to you and the recipient and you needn’t pretend to love the bath beads or Santa coffee mug you receive in exchange. You can broaden the reach of your gift by giving in someone’s name. Is there someone on your gift list who loves animals? A gift to the The New York Aquarium will help to repair the damage of the storm and delight the ‘benefactor.’

We like to think of leisurely slow roasted family dinners, skating parties at twilight or evenings by the fire with a glass of port and a musty smelling Dickens this time of year. But the reality is that it’s mostly several weeks of frenzied shortening days. Our social lives ramp up (or sputter back to life), our workloads increase in preparation of days off and our to-do lists prod us awake at 3:00 AM. There isn’t much resting or merry gentlemen/women to be found this time of year. However an interesting thing happens to our innards when we feel we’ve done some good. There is an underlying tranquility beneath our frenzy. Things might not go as planned, crowds might wear us down but we’ve coated our soul with a thin layer of “I made a difference.”

Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday make it effortless for us to do some good for ourselves and for others. We needn’t limit ourselves to these two days but they are a great start to a wonderful habit!

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Thanksgiving

Christmas seems to start earlier every year. The holiday is on the same day (December 25) every year, which is a rare character trait in a religious holiday. But the engines seem to start before the leaves on the tree have become the leaves on the ground. A completely unscientific and utterly unsubstantiated analysis (known more commonly as the “because I say so” analysis) would suggest that the retailing of Christmas pushes back one full week every five years. Now before you get all “wait a minute, how many revolutions of the calendar are we on now”, no this phenomenon did not start 2012 years ago. It began somewhere around the time when shopping became more than a means to an end.

Christmas is make or break time for most retailers. End of year sales account for the biggest percentage of their annual sales. (Depending on the type of retail, back-to-school can be a close second.) Naturally, retailers long for a longer period of time to bolster sales. It isn’t necessarily intuitive that a longer period creates more sales. The goal (i.e., presents under the tree) is theoretically the same regardless of the time it’s given to achieve. But sales must increase or why else would it be done? It is hard to imagine how a longer span of time spent with blaring Christmas songs pummeled into our ears makes us spend more. Increased exposure to Christmas themed merchandise wears down the novelty. Ten weeks of eyeing Santa themed apparel will lead to the realization; “Wait. I’m giving this to him/her on Christmas Day! When will they wear this? Next late October?!” What’s clearer is that ‘doorbuster’ sales gets ’em in the store. It’s safe to assume that a fair percentage of those $5 flat screen televisions aren’t going under the tree but up on the bleary eyed shoppers’ wall.

This year even more retailers are pushing their ‘busting’ back. Black Friday is becoming the power-shopping day for amateurs as Thanksgiving Day shopping comes into its own. This rankles some people. Thanksgiving is seen as a sacred family time. It is one of the few times of year that people come together simply to be together. The dining table is heaped with tangible proof of tradition and longevity. It’s also the holiday (perhaps like Christmas) when most of the responsibility for making it happen falls to one member of the family. Unlike Christmas it’s a holiday when some people (who perhaps did not prepare the meal and unearth all the serving ware) park themselves in front of the television for a sport marathon. For some (if not many) the holiday is spent with people who are (or who have been) mean to them or are flat out obnoxious. For many others there is no one to share the holiday (either by choice or not.) In other words; Thanksgiving is not sacred to everyone.

If shopping is a way out of the house, and a way to choose how one’s time is spent, so be it. Those 5 AM drastically reduced priced household appliances and toys are a huge help to many families. They will help to make Christmas happen for many who could really use a break. For others who are doing okay, those heavily discounted items will help them with their (much needed) gift donations this year.

There is nothing sacred about Thanksgiving; it just feels like that because all the other really sacred holidays have been co-opted. It is a delicious holiday, with a great parade and for some of us lucky ones, some wonderful and loving memories. For some it’s a much needed and rare day off with an opportunity to make a serious impact on their to-do list. There’s more than one way to experience this or any other day. I would no more take to the sprawling front lawn with a football in hand than I would take a fork to a tofurky. But lots of people would (okay, lots of people would play touch football and some people would eat tofurky.) Just like there’s always room for more pie, there’s room for everyone and their choices this time and every time of year.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Any moment now we will enter into the acceptance stage of the holiday season. The music is already being piped in. The displays are up and the ads are out. Our bodies and souls will catch up (probably around the same time we realize there really is no such thing as a perfectly browned turkey and who cares anyway, carving should be do in the privacy and sanitizing friendly confines of one’s kitchen.)

So what better way to herald in this magical time of giving than to remember holiday gifts past? There have been so many wonderful gifts over the years: the thought of them still causing me to smile. There was my first handbag (with matching scarf and hat) that made me feel terribly grown-up. I was rendered speechless by the baby bunny shyly hopping into my bedroom one Easter morning. The toys I remember most fondly were not ones I had requested but ones that were selected by people who knew me better than I did. It is these memories that fill my being with warmth and gratitude and offset the seemingly endless bestowing of dreadful gifts.

The maternity sweater (for my most definitely non-pregnant size four self), and the Winnie-The-Pooh sweatshirt (for my 35 year old self) are offset by the fabulously posh stockings a boyfriend’s brother once gave me. The countless teddy bears given by well meaning if not very imaginative boyfriends are tempered by the excruciatingly romantic gift of a Harry Connick Jr recording. For my 30th birthday my parents and brother gave me crystal champagne glasses and a Waterford ashtray; I’m not sure I had ever felt so fully understood! (To be fair my brother does have a gift giving super power that few can rival: He was still in college when he gave me a dramatic yet work-appropriate hounds tooth suit.)

It’s a ridiculous generalization but here we go: women don’t really care for gadget gifts. A VCR (back in the day) is an unromantic gift from a boyfriend (unless it comes with a stack of favorite films.) Installing a CD player in my car (and tossing the only cassette player I owned) is not such a great gift either. In fact stay away from my car. That loving gesture of a remote starter (when I lived in a cold climate)? It shorted out my car. A good rule of thumb is that if the gift comes with batteries, we’re likely to be offended (seriously; think about it.) You can run the risk of offending with the gift of; “I think you should be doing X” as well. Cross-country skis and all of the necessary accessories would be a fantastic gift if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a consummate indoorsy gal.

Some of the greatest gifts I ever received involved time. A friend once planned an entire weekend in L.A. for me (including lots of brushes with celebrities, dinner at Spago and long chats in our jammies.) A workaholic boyfriend swept me away for a surprise birthday weekend in between two business trips.  Shortly before Christmas, a bronchial me spent the entire afternoon playing board games with my (non-custodial) father. These gifts of time and attention accomplish the very best intentions of gift giving. They say in a clear and distinct manner; I care about you and I’ve put thought into what would make you happy. We feel that we are seen, that those who matter most to us in fact ‘get us.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Holiday

 

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Over Here

It’s Memorial Day and somewhere between the sales, barbecues, summer rentals and beach, we will honor those who died while in the military.  There will be beautiful and touching ceremonies and some lovely parades.  If you are lucky enough to come upon a person in uniform, you might even have the opportunity to give thanks.

And tomorrow will be Tuesday, and we will go on with our lives and joys of summer.  Wouldn’t it be great if we really did honor those who serve?  Thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan but hundreds of thousands have returned.  Due to advances in medicine and weaponry, some of these soldiers have survived devastating injuries.  Head injuries alone, account for survival of injuries previously unknown.  Advances in mobile medical treatment and robotics, mean soldiers with severe and multiple amputations are coming home.  For the soldiers’ families, and often for the soldiers themselves, it’s a blessing to be home.

For some, coming home is only a euphemism.  They may have joined the military, partly to have a place to live.  They may be coming back to families who have lost their home.  They may have injuries that prevent them from being in their home.  (Most homes are not wheelchair accessible.)  They may not be able to find any work, or work that is suited to their new self.

The number of Iraq and Afghanistan homeless veterans are rapidly rising.  (You can understand why the Veteran’s Administration doesn’t have actual data on this phenomenon.)  Like any homeless population there is not one path to the status.  Soldiers with head injuries (the invisible injury) can have a very challenging time resuming a normal life.  Some soldiers may have entered the military with a sensibility unsuited to the shock and awe they experienced over there.  Some soldiers return to civilian life feeling overwhelming unsettled by now being a civilian.

There are some injuries and experiences from which one never recovers.  But every person, most of all those who have put themselves in danger in the name of national security, deserves basic help.  A soldier deserves a home.  Whether we need to modify their current home, or create veteran housing (perhaps with all those empty military bases and prisons.)  A soldier deserves job training and placement (cue W.P.A.)  And perhaps less sexy and sound bite, a soldier deserves lifetime mental health care.

These are not difficult or even expensive undertakings.  These are not “sending a man to the moon” or even “war on drugs” expenditures.  These are basic human rights.  All the flag waving in the world doesn’t change the fact that for many returning soldiers, our country has let them down.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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The Mother’s Day Mystique

Mother’s Day is coming around. Even if you don’t own a calendar app, you would know. You can not open a newspaper, walk through a pharmacy, or click on anything, without a pinkish flower festooned banner reminding you that the day is near. The ‘holiday’ was first conceived as a call to disarmament (a family friendly version of Lysistrata) and later revised as a way to honor mothers. But it did not take hold in the public’s imagination until an enormous department store got behind it (evidently the miracle of motherhood takes place on 34th street too.) So it really should come as no surprise that the day is seen as such a major retail event.

What always does take me somewhat by surprise is how marketers and publicists view mothers and motherhood. If you were to try and understand motherhood by reading greeting cards (presumably created for adults to give to their mothers) you would believe that throughout her entire lifespan a mother gives selflessly of herself, denying herself to the extent of needing a ‘special day’ on which she can put up her feet. You would be hard pressed to find even one card that speaks to how an adult may feel about his/her mother (ex. “Thank you for helping to make me the person I am today.” OR “Isn’t it nice we’re still speaking?”)

The gift suggestions that have been bombarding consumers since midnight on Easter would have us believe that every woman who has ever parented is in fact Donna Reed (who in fact is not even Donna Reed.) Her interests (if I can use that term) include; decorative scarves, perfume, manicure devices, make-up sets or cardigans.This time of year is when any and every version of “chicken soup for the postnatal soul” is strategically placed on a table front and center of the store. (Noticeably absent from the displays are copies of Mommie Dearest or that lovely book by Bette Davis’ daughter.) There are stores that offer specially decorated (cue pink and roses) gift cards for the day. You know, for the person who’s never actually met his/her mother.

Mother’s Day is one of the more profitable days for retail. Some of that cash is coming out of husband’s wallets (which from a psychological perspective seems a bit icky.) I suppose when a macaroni necklace simply won’t do… Grown men purchasing gifts and passing them off as being from their children (which is kind of the inverse of Santa, isn’t it?) might explain the Mother’s Day marketing of some youthful apparel. An adult is not buying his/her mother “whimsical/retro apparel” unless there’s a biologically improbably minute difference in their ages. Nor are most adult children buying mommy a diamond tennis bracelet (I said, most; I can just hear the dissent of professional athletes, captains of industry and show people.)

Many of us have (or are) mothers who have actual interests, and who read books not pitched to them from a mass retailer or talk show hosts. We delight in the many gift options we enjoy giving and receiving, and don’t use promotions or advertising to guide us. But isn’t it just mildly offensive to walk through these few weeks with a vague sense of being caricatured? If we were to jot down each and every message being broadcast (re: Mother’s Day) and try to distill it into a portrait of motherhood, we’d find ourselves with some sort of apron wearing, vapid drag version of motherhood. Isn’t the whole point of this holiday to honor the woman (not the cartoon) who has played an important part in our lives?

*Photo – Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Judy Garland

 

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