[This Commentary originally appeared in the December 7, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Those picture postcards really have it. The small chateau with the roof thickened by a foot of snow. The gentle rolling hills of white. The soft pillar of smoke rising mildly from the brick chimney. The Charlie Brown size snowflakes feathering down from the pleasantly gray sky. The scene conjures all the familial imagery of a country Christmas.
A far cry from the maddening malls of suburban shopping centers. These hubs of hysteria make even the slushy city glisten with tradition. Somehow, when they invented Christmas, overfilled parking lots and intolerably long lines weren’t part of the idea. The blissful solitude of faith and inner peace signified by the Manger Scene has effectively been blotted out by the real world of the annual consumer feeding frenzy this season has become.
To a certain degree, antiseptic technology (which brought us mass production and mass marketing) must be held to blame. Gift giving, once an act from a heart rich in spirit but poor in the pocket, has turned into a laborious chore. One wonders how today’s children interpret this. The placid settings of long ago no longer captivate the childhood experience. Has our society forever lost the warmth of a small town Christmas?
Certainly not. Indeed, our own towns and villages in the Mendon, Honeoye Falls and Lima community find themselves blessed with the sparkle of the old-fashioned Christmas. Within the business districts of our hamlets and villages, we discover the wholesome shops of yore. In these mostly small family-owned stores lay hidden the kind of thoughtful gifts which draw pleasant smiles.
We associate three fundamental problems with mall shopping during the Christmas season. The presence and utilization of our own local merchants erases each of these difficulties.
In an attempt to quash the video-game craving two weeks before Thanksgiving, I found it more challenging to locate a mall parking space. In fact, fifteen minutes of driving all around the huge parking lot nearly convinced me that the nearest available parking space must have been in an adjacent county. Nonetheless, my electronic urge far exceeded my common sense, and I parked somewhere in the stratosphere. Local shopping offers two advantages in the parking game. First, you never have far to walk wherever you end up parking (sometimes you can even walk to the store from your own home). Second, because these businesses dwell within our own neighborhoods, we can often shop at more flexible hours. This means we can always pick a convenient time when nearby parking spaces might be available.
There have been times when, although a store might have the perfect gift, the line at the cash register convinced me to buy somewhere else. Why, sometimes even the mall’s drug stores have lengthy lines. I might tolerate endless queues should I need only one gift. But, with a typical Italian family to consider, I cannot spend three hours waiting for some soulless cashier to ring me up. Again, the local stores can offer more personalized (and quicker) service. You can spend more time actually selecting the gift than paying for it.
Service and Selection:
These two go hand in hand. Ideally, you want to describe the person you plan to give to and have an able salesman (or woman) assist you with genuine sincerity. Try that at the mall. While you might get the service when buying big ticket items, most of us have a more modest gift budget. With the proliferation of part-time staff wrought by Christmas, you’ll be lucky to find someone who knows what aisle the potential gift is in. Even if you can get someone to help you pick a gift, the selection is often limited to a line of clones of questionable craftsmanship. Well, for a breath of fresh air, try our local folks. Not only are they more willing to help you pick that special gift, but, chances are, they have a gift of bona fide uniqueness which will leave the recipient with a warm spot in his or her heart (not to mention yours).
I’ve tried to get around the Christmas rush in many ways. None can be better, though, than taking advantage of the opportunities offered to us right here in our own environs. For me, the friendly and neighborly atmosphere of the local shops evokes the same feeling as the snow-filled scene on that picture perfect postcard.
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]