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Crosstalk: A bird’s eye view of holiday rush

I remember years ago, while living in West Seattle, I gave in to a strange and unusual urge to watch a movie on the big screen and ended up at a mall south of town by the airport.

Having navigated there via some arterial streets mid-morning, I found an open parking spot and wandered into the theater.

I was disappointed to discover that there wasn't a single movie playing that I actually wanted to watch. Or perhaps the urge had left me.

I walked outside to my car, and realized that the parking lot was full – not just the parking spaces, but the access roads and every street in and out of the area.

Major arterials and even the Interstate highway were at a standstill for miles around. I wasn't going anywhere.

I puzzled over it for a moment, and realized I'd made a major tactical error in terms of timing: It was the last shopping day before Christmas and the horde had arrived in force. I was trapped in the middle of the consumer holiday hurricane. I suppose that’s what happens when you ignore an important national holiday.

For a time I entertained myself watching the the ebb and flow of the crowds circulating through the mall to the accompaniment of cheerful songs about red-nosed reindeer, winter wonderlands and dreams of snow. They didn't seem very cheerful, more like stressed-out cattle being driven into the chutes of a meat packing plant than happy holiday shoppers.

Having grown up in the Oregon backwoods, it all seemed very strange. Eventually I curled up in the back seat of my car and took a nap.

A good many hours went by before I managed to exit the area and return home, and by then I was suffering from a bad case of culture shock.

Even today, Christmas shopping makes me shudder, a neurotic condition triggered by large crowds of consumers and Christmas shopping music. My first attack this year occurred on Thanksgiving day when I dropped by the store for an egg, my gingerbread recipe calling for three eggs, and me having only two.

The crowds weren't too bad, nobody in their right mind shops on Thanksgiving afternoon, but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was playing, followed by I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, and I could feel the neurosis building as I bought my eggs and exited past the Salvation Army bell ringer outside as quickly as I could.

Of course, complaining about the shopping crowds in The Dalles is a little silly, compared to those in Seattle or Portland.

The season is upon us and music will flow nonstop from now until Christmas Eve, and the day after Christmas the flow will reverse as gifts are returned or exchanged. Eventually, however, the season will be behind us.

I will avoid it all as much as possible, but in the coming weeks I will in fact enjoy watching the Christmas lights go up around town and walking through the downtown corridor to admire the holiday displays and painted windows. December is a dark month, and there is no better way to lighten the mood than stringing lights and tinsel, or painting snowmen or Christmas bells on a window.

There will be plenty of Christmas music to enjoy, like the many grade school performances planned. They may well sing Rudolph or White Christmas, but their enthusiasm and free-form renditions of these holiday standards are far less painful than the polished elevator music you hear at the store.

Kids, unlike retail marketers, understand what the holiday is all about. I knew what it was all about myself, back in the last century when I was a kid and could actually enjoy a Christmas story or sing all 12 versus of a Christmas song without going postal.

Merry Christmas!

— Mark Gibson

The one thing about turning on the TV the day after Thanksgiving is that you get to watch Black Friday brawls instead of finding out which celebrity has accused a politician or film producer/actor of sexual assault. Gheesh!

Some type of madness sweeps over this nation each year and the behavior of shoppers flies in the face of the spirit of giving.

Let’s recount a few 2017 eyeopeners that highlight our problem of materialism:

• In Alabama, an outbreak of violence caused a late-night shopping session Thursday to be shut down early.

• Police in Hoover, Ala., broke up fights at a shopping center and one person was treated for injuries.

• Shoppers beat Walmart crowds, and those at other Big Box stores by disguising themselves as seasonal employees.

• The temporary insanity in the United States went global with shoppers in South Africa shattering glass to get inside a store for steep discounts on a wide variety of goods.

• In Britain, a woman threw a shoe at a competitor and hit a baby in the face.

Good grief! Welcome to the godforsaken holiday season…

Thanks to smartphones that can instantly capture video, those of us not out spending money on Black Friday get to watch greed in action.

Remember in 2014 when four people ended up piling on top of a box to lay claim to a $218 50-inch flatscreen TV? Cops had to pull them off the appliance, as well as each other.

The problem with calling a halt to materialism is that society is caught in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to Christmas shopping. Numerous media reports remind us that businesses rely on the major sales of November and December to get them through the leaner months that follow.

Also, if you don’t exchange gifts with everyone you know, they are wounded because you are not following the cultural expectation of showing love by giving people stuff.

However, it’s hard to do that when you see excessive commercialism — America is the leading consumer nation — as a societal problem.

Our affulence seems to be making people less caring, not more. As an example, volunteerism is down across the country.

We somehow think that things are going to make us happy and, like dragons hoarding their gold, we collect treasures and jealously guard them.

We run up credit cards that endanger our long-term security to buy the perfect gadget that is “what we always wanted, and such a good bargain, too.”

The expansion of technology has led to more and more “must have” goods and planned obsolescence.

Perhaps the bright spot of the holidays is that, for one short month of the year, people remember that there are troops in harm’s way overseas, that people are going hungry in the streets and that children in the foster care system are going through the trauma of being ripped away from a dysfunctional family.

For this snapshot in time, people want to help others in need, or in harm’s way, and it is beautiful to see.

However, I am the mother of a combat veterans and have often wondered why people don’t feel as compelled to support our troops the rest of the year.

Wouldn’t it be spectacular if we, as a nation, committed to spending less on ourselves and more on others year-round?

If, instead of heaping gifts on people at Christmas time, we looked for opportunities to do random acts of kindness every day?

Investing regularly in others would keep the economy stable and have the added benefit of building relationships that endure and meeting societal needs. Plus, we get to grow as compassionate human beings.

— RaeLynn Ricarte


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