Christmas shopping puts me in a melancholy mood. I begin with a smile on my face but seem to wind up wanting to just go home and sit by the fire and listen to Elvis sing “Blue Christmas.” I usually can’t find the Elvis Christmas CD, however, and have to settle for Willie Nelson singing “Pretty Paper,” which only makes matters worse.
I've become uncharacteristically analytical over the past few months. Normally a fly-by-the-seat of my pants kind of fellow, for the first time in my life I find myself trying to understand my own emotions. One day I might even attempt to control them. I think they call that maturity and, on second thought, I probably won't.
But we were discussing Christmas shopping and why it makes my mood match my eyes. They are blue.
Just last weekend, attempting to get a jump on the season (I'm usually a Christmas Eve kind of guy) I headed out to the local mall. My first stop was one of those giant department stores -- the kind that has everything from spaghetti noodles to flat-screen televisions. I went in in a ho-ho-ho mood, humming "Jingle Bells" and speaking to everyone I encountered. I came out thinking "bah, humbug" and ready to drive a stake of holly through the heart of the first person who wished me "Happy holidays." My apologies to Charles Dickens and very few people say "Merry Christmas" these days -- at least not in the giant department stores.
The thing that started my disposition on a downward spiral was the realization that shopping for the people who are special in my life is so futile. Nothing that can be purchased at Target or Walmart or any of the other retail stores could possibly express my love for them or my gratitude for what they have meant in my life -- and isn't that the real reason we give people gifts on the 25th of December?
Take my lovely wife, Lisa, for instance. What could I possibly buy for her that would adequately say thank you for putting up with me over the past three decades? Don't say diamonds or a Lexus. We're broke.
And what can you give three grown children, on a teacher's salary, that will make their eyes light up on Christmas morning? It was so easy when they were young and staggered sleepily down the stairs at the crack of dawn to explore the treasures Santa had left under the tree. It's a lot tougher now. And don't hear something I am not saying. It's not that my kids are spoiled or unappreciative or that they expect elaborate and expensive gifts on Christmas. The pressure to find just the right gift comes from within my own heart and not from their expectations.
Christmas shopping makes me blue, I suppose, because it exposes my inadequacies.
And then I look around at all the people who are shuffling along, as I am, living lives of quiet desperation, (Thoreau) and I see young mothers who know exactly what would make their children's eyes sparkle and realize that they don't have the financial resources to provide even the basic necessities, much less special toys and games and electronics and whatever else Madison Avenue has convinced today's children that they cannot live without.
I wandered into the toy department and stumbled across a situation that made my melancholy even deeper. A grandmother was shopping with her grandchildren and they were spoiled brats. They were dictating their lists to her like she was the hired help and they were the lords of the manor. She was compliant in every way as they inappreciatively loaded her buggy with games and electronics that I knew would be tossed aside before the wrapping paper was disposed of on Christmas Day. Did I mention that the children appeared to be 6 and 8?
I left the store empty-handed and drove straight home. I couldn't find Elvis or Willie. I listened to Kenny G play his saxophone as I gazed into the fire.
I'll come out of my December funk. I always do. I'll brave the last-minute crowds at the mall and check all the names off my list and give everybody presents that they will pretend to like, whether they do or not, and our days will be merry and bright and next year we will do it all again.
In the meantime I will continue to be amazed by the realization that God's grace truly is sufficient -- even for me. Happy Holy-Days, y'all. Here's hoping that somehow, in all this madness, we'll manage to embrace the real reason for the Christmas season.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.