Christmas may still be weeks away—yes, I said weeks, not months, sorry!—but it’s certainly making its presence felt. I popped into the local shopping centre for what was meant to be a very quick visit, and found myself engulfed in the retake maelstrom that seems to start earlier and earlier every year.
Parking lots were worse than the Monash Freeway, every shop was crowded, the lines were long..and the poor souls stuck on checkouts had that terrified look in their eye that I remember seeing in the mirror back in my own retail days, though fear was still a better place to be than the next emotional stage—hopelessness and despair.
T’is the Season?
Despite all the merchandising exhorting us to get into the spirit of the season, there seemed to be very little peace on that patch of earth, and precious little goodwill towards man (or woman) to be found. Even this far out people were already acting like the shops were going to magically disappear overnight, and if they didn’t get what they needed, right now, they would never get another chance.
Families shopping together didn’t look like they were enjoying them, kids were ratty and whiny, while parents looked like they were having second thoughts about the whole parenthood thing. Tempers were fraying almost as you watched, and things that normally would have been shrugged off become flash points. Taking to long to leave a parking spot would get blasts of the horn, and blood seemed in danger of being spilt when two people wanted the same space!
It’ll get worse before it gets better
So, if things are that bad already, imagine what they will be like in the days leading up to Christmas. And, Christmas Eve? I made the mistake of going into one of the big shopping centres for some last minute gifts the night before Christmas and it changed me. I could never be an atheist, because I know now that there is a Hell, and the fact that I managed to escape indicates there is a benevolent God watching over me.
Whatever our religious beliefs or background, I think we can all agree that is not how Christmas is meant to be. It should be a time for celebration, for family, for food and fun, and for faith. It should make us happier, not more stressed. It should make us treat each other better, not worse. But, what can we do about it? Here’s a few practical, simple steps we can take. I don’t claim that it will suddenly transform Christmas completely if we do them, but every little thing we do adds up…and who knows where it will end?
The Retail Blues
I know its frustrating when you are trying to do your shopping and there is a line twenty people deep and only one checkout open. Surely they realise that isn’t enough, especially at this time of year, right? Well, you know who else wishes they would put more staff on, but has absolutely no control over it? The person ringing up your purchases.
One of my first jobs was in retail and I did my time on the checkouts, and it’s not such ancient history that I can’t remember the good and the bad—and what the lead-up to Christmas is like. It’s long hours and hard work, for very little thanks. I try and keep that in mind when I am frustrated and put myself in their shoes, and try to not make things any more difficult for them than necessary.
As you go through the check out, it’s worth remembering that they probably aren’t having any more fun the you are, but they have to be there and probably been there for hours, and will still be there when you are home with your feet up. The lines usually aren’t their fault, but they will bear the brunt of the complaints and just have to stand there and take it.
The Mutterfly Effect
For the customer it’s a fleeting interaction so it may not seem to matter that much about whether it is good or bad—you see them once and you are gone. But, for the person behind the counter it is one go hundreds, or even thousands, and what would be a minor annoyance can become a big deal when you multiply it.
Having to laugh at the same jokes about their name, or sympathise with someone about how long they had to wait, or being asked if that’s really the best price they can do, for the hundredth time doesn’t improve your day. But even a few people being nice and understanding and kind goes a long way.
Not everyone believes the same things in this country, nor should they be forced to, but we observe Christmas for a reason, even if society has changed over the years. Someone wishing you Merry Christmas is not violating your rights, and having a nativity scene in a shopping centre isn’t the first stage of a theocracy. I’ve seen someone scream at someone for saying “Merry Christmas” and it didn’t really prove that they were the tolerant one.
It works both ways, though. Yelling at a teenager in a store for wishing you “Happy Holidays” is hardly demonstrating Christ’s love. If forcing your opinion on someone is more important than the actual sentiment behind the greeting then you are missing the point. Whether it is “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, the only correct response is along the lines of “Thanks, and to you”.
Getting into the Christmas Spirit
In the end these, and whatever other tips I might give you, come down to the same principle; be kind. If you can make the lead up to Christmas easier for other people in some way, however small, do it. It might be reining in your impatience in the parking lot, or giving harried staff some slack, or even asking your family or friends if there is anything you can do to help them out.
These aren’t things that we should only be making an effort to do at Christmas, but isn’t a day we come to celebrate hope and peace and love for all thew world a good time to start?
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html