TO shop or not to shop, that is the question.
With apologies to Will Shakespeare whose Hamlet was pondering a much more serious “what if” kind of query, I, too, venture forth into unsettled waters.
I come from a back-East household that absolutely loves Christmas as much as well, Darren McGavin in the movie “A Christmas Story.” And though I never got a Red Ryder BB gun like Ralphie or received a bizarre lamp in the mail like his father, I did unwrap some nifty toys that my mom and dad worked hard to afford to give me and my sisters and brother every Dec. 25.
My dad was a postman and would deliver mail along the winding streets of a tony, Long Island village. Each Christmas, he’d come home with envelopes filled with cash from thankful patrons. It was my treat to open them. His “bonuses” would mean more presents for me.
One Christmas, must have been like this year when people were struggling, the envelopes stopped. A pizzeria owner who appreciated my dad but couldn’t afford a cash gift gave him the played 45 rpm records from the store’s jukebox. My dad came home with a purple-label recording of Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You” and what became my older sister’s favorite, Nat King Cole’s “I’m The Happiest Christmas Tree” with “Buon Natale” on the B side. We wore those records out on the living room Victrola! We even made them into one of our family plays that we’d perform every year on Christmas Eve.
That year was like this year, when things are tough and people are saving more than spending. This week, my wife, Karen, removed us from her extended family’s Christmas exchange. And my family is only giving presents to the children. In our own household, we’re making Christmas pickles (my wife’s recipe) and Christmas sugar cookies (my mother’s recipe and my personal favorite) as well as almond-flavored rosettes (they’re deep fried but delicate — a Christmas miracle!) as gifts.
But what about you? How do you answer the existential holiday question: To shop or not to shop?
Like any true Italian/Catholic, my answer comes shrouded in layers of guilt — guilt that’s thicker than my mom’s spaghetti sauce. Only this time, it’s not coming from family but of all places, from the White House and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
If we don’t shop, consumers will be guilty of destroying the nation’s economy, Americans are warned. If we do shop and get in over our heads with credit debt, consumers will be guilty of destroying the nation’s economy.
Talk about your mixed messages. Reminds me of that old Henny Youngman joke about his mother-in-law plunging off a cliff in his new Cadillac. But I digress.
After 9/11, President Bush told us to go shopping. After the collapse of Countrywide, we were told it was because of irresponsible borrowers. We stopped buying homes and went shopping. When the credit markets seized up faster than a sore back with muscle spasms, the government blamed irresponsible consumers who maxed out their credit cards and defaulted on credit loans.
I am tired of taking the blame for Wall Street’s greed-mongers, for government’s laissez-faire fat cats, and for failing businesses run by CEOs who get rewarded for running their companies into the ground.
I will Christmas shop but like I’ve always shopped: With restraint, looking for bargains and staying within budget. Because like Hamlet, I can’t “be” without celebrating Christmas with family and friends. But I’m not going to do it out of guilt or to solve the nation’s economic troubles.
Don’t put that trip on me.