I used to be normal. I used to think Christmas was easy. I would simply plan out what to buy for my wife and the rest of the season just somehow magically fell into place. Having this single purchase as my only chore meant that I could leave shopping as late as the 24th if I chose. Only putting up with one store and one item, how bad could it be? If I was really on my game I might find myself finished as early as the 22nd some years. Christmas was a piece of cake, both literally and figuratively. Of course this made Christmas morning even more fun as I would be as surprised as the kids were when they opened their presents; I either forgot what they were getting or often never knew in the first place.
That completely changed one day and I became the involved husband. I was now a part of it all: planning the gifts, purchasing the gifts, the dinners, the family visiting schedule, all of it. Keep in mind I said “a part of it all”; I am in no way claiming complete responsibility. In fact if it was left solely up to me I’m pretty sure Christmas wouldn’t happen at all. My wife is amazing at making this stuff come together and remains the general contractor on the entire season – I’m just a subcontractor with limited responsibilities, working within the specifications I’ve been given.
I have given you this little bit of background into my Christmas involvement so that you may have some understanding of what I now go through with the wonderful chore of Christmas shopping. It’s simply a small disclaimer so that the seasoned professional shoppers do not laugh too heartily at my shopping proficiency, or lack of it. Some of you real professionals are so organized that you start early, avoiding the crowds and rush that invariably occurs. I have some family that starts so early in January that they have their shopping done before I have given up on my new years resolutions. I am not that organized or committed unfortunately.
In the past with only the one gift to buy I would research it, plan it, phone around or look online; I would do everything I could to know exactly what I was getting, where and for how much before I even headed to a store. This was a good system. It worked and served me well for many years. Now however I have this new type of shopping added to my ever expanding skill set: browsing. This style of shopping is best described as complete and utter lunacy. There is no other effective way to portray it, though “mass hysteria” may be kind of close as well.
I am going to blame most of the shopping problems on stress related to the season. Let’s be blunt, it can be a very stressful time of year and I’d like to give my fellow humans the benefit of an excuse; It helps me with my own sanity as I do not believe the world will be able to continue on if shoppers are an accurate representation of the level of intelligence we, as a race, are surviving with. One look in the parking lot at how people park when the lines are covered in snow is all of the evidence I shall present on that case. It is hard to fathom that the same race that put a man on the moon cannot manage to do better than this.
By this time you should have a good picture of how I found myself in a mall packed with people; these same people who can’t park and, like myself, do not know what they are there to buy. I liken this to an ant hill, everyone is scurrying and running but there is no rhyme or reason to it all, some are carrying things, some are not. No one really knows what’s going on but everyone is certainly busy – and sometimes they even climb over top of one another. Perhaps it’s Christmas everyday in the life of an ant.
“Browsing” has a second inherent problem for me and that is it takes away my human ability to do basic math. In the normal world if I were to have a budget of $100 and need five items I instantly know that I have to average $20 per gift. That is math. It’s what it does. Now when I start “browse shopping” this incredible ability to quickly divide and keep running totals is somehow lost. Completely. Using the above budget example (which worked perfectly in my old system I might add) it goes like this: I have $100 to buy five gifts… but I find six items that I “must have” so I add an extra item to each person to keep it fair. Then I add an extra small treat to each because I’m caught up in the holiday spirit. This leads me to remember someone who I forgot to buy for, and that gift is a “tad” more expensive so now I have to pick up “something small” to top up the other gifts… confused yet? Obviously I was because I left the mall with 127 gifts for a total somewhere near the retail price of the space shuttle. To say I blew the budget is an insult to the word ‘understatement’; I wasn’t even in the same galaxy as the planet my budget resided on. On the bright side I believe the Bank of Canada will be reviewing the prime lending rate based on stronger than projected retail activity this quarter. You’re welcome. Now if you will excuse me I have three truckloads of gifts to get under the tree and I’m not very good at wrapping. I’m actually worse at wrapping than I am at sticking to a budget if that gives you any idea. Much like my kindergarten days I get high praise for effort though, so even if the other kids projects look better than mine I will still get a gold star. I’ll just pretend not to notice the look of sympathy I get when I proudly hold up my shoddily wrapped bundles. It’s what’s inside that counts anyway, right?