The spirit of the season is upon us.
The Pomp is starting to play with dancing lights and decorated houses.
Holiday songs and the smell of snow are in the air.
We're almost there.
We just have to get through the Circumstance:
Even shorter tempers.
The list of holiday stressors, perennially in need of trimming, seems to grow unchecked.
I used to love this time year. It always felt like a warm pocket filled with festive delights: Evergreens. Snow days. Dressed up trees. Small gifts for growing children. Even “Zuzu's petals.”
But somehow, time and deepening pockets makes me feel lost in all the wrapping paper.
That's what I tell myself, anyway, as I wander the aisles looking for the perfect something for cousin Elliott, or auntie Saya or Dappa John. I am disappointed to find the same old same old.
Decisions seem tangled up in thoughts I can't iron out, no matter how many gift guides I commit to memory.
Each year I feel myself transitioning more completely from the cool auntie who found the ideal gizmo for a toddler, to the crazy loon who knitted a full-sized pink bunny costume for a boy pushing the button on eleven.
I just can't keep up with technology.
Take Amazon planning to send drones bearing boxes of shoes to our backyard landing pads a mere 30 minutes after we place the order.
Well … that is if the FAA ever gives the A-OK.
I'm not sure I'll ever be ready.
I'd miss the store … or at least the friendly face of our mail carrier. And the idea of life without other humans seems totally unappealing, despite the current political hocus-pocus.
But if I must think about this holiday through the lens of consumerism, I'd prefer to imagine the true spirit of holiday shopping is sitting in an overstuffed, plaid lounge chair answering phones at a flagship outdoors outfitter named for a legume.
And now I can, thanks to my mother-in-law and a story she tells about being flabbergasted and just a little embarrassed when a store clerk whisked away her 15-year-old muck boots and replaced them – free of charge – with a brand new pair.
Fifteen years -- lifetime warrantee notwithstanding -- seemed to be a fitting age for any respectable footwear to go heels up.
But she was even more embarrassed to realize she'd forgotten to remove her new custom-made arch supports, which couldn't be found even the next day when she returned to the store to wade through all the unhappy returns.
However, when she unexpectedly received a check from Legume HQ for the cost of her lost lady arches, she was faced with yet another dilemma. She would never – literally or figuratively -- be able to buy another boot.
And for every person who hears that amazing tale, another tells similar story:
“I had a printed throw blanket from Bean's that I loved,” says another satisfied shopper. “But it got damaged. Ripped by the dog maybe? I don't remember exactly. Anyway ... I went back to find another one, and they were out. They searched stores across the Eastern seaboard, found one, shipped it to my house and didn't charge me a dime.”
I can't help but picture a grandmotherly woman answering the phone at customer service. A portly man in a red flannel shirt and a white beard listens to her end of the conversation as you explain the situation.
“What's this now? Your dog ate your throw blanket. Oh, you don't say … Why that's just a shame. …” she'll cluck.
He kindly offers advice, which she will shush because she's already ten steps ahead of him.
“What's happening, Martha? It's Christmas, for Pete's sake. Send them another throw blanket.”
“Now, papa, don't get yourself in a tizzy, we're taking care of this. Have yourself a nice cup of cocoa there, and stop droning on.”
Of course, these days receiving excellent customer service seems out of a bygone era if not an According to Hoyle miracle.
Sometimes I think that's all it takes to get back into the holiday spirit: A pleasant voice at the end of an 800 number and free shipping. No fairy dust required.