I always know when it is time to start holiday shopping: when I see the ads for Chia Pets and the Clapper.
I have great memories of early Christmas shopping trips to Middletown, New York which was a 45 minute drive from my home town of Liberty. This was where the closest Sears, JC Penney and Montgomery Ward stores were located. We had a Sears catalog "showroom" in Liberty where you could place an order then go down and pick it up, but that wouldn't do for Christmas shopping. Besides a Woolworth's (which is now a Family Dollar store), the only place left was the S&H Green Stamp store. Mom would usually try and cash in her books of stamps for items to give as gifts - after her two boys had lost their sense of taste licking all those stamps.
Growing up, we exchanged gifts only with my great-grandparents and my godparents and their family who lived across the street. My godparents held the Wigila each Christmas Eve and we had a huge gift exchange with them (8 adults and 6 kids). So off to Middletown to buy toys, books, and clothing.
Mom always had her shopping done about a week before Christmas except for a few little items. Unlike her two sisters, Pudgie and Ginny (no one used their real name in my family). Around 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve they would put down their coffee cups, put out their cigarettes and one of them would say to the other, "Well, how about we go down to K-Mart and get this crap over with?" That meant a trip to Kingston about 40 miles away.
My aunts were lucky in that K-Mart was the only place open until midnight. So, they would spend the next fives hours buying presents for about 10 people. Funny they always managed to get what they needed - or at least made it seem like the choice was appropriate to the person. No weird or bizarre gifts. If it were me, I'd be grabbing stuff in the checkout line saying "Here, Tic-Tacs for your mother, Zippo lighters to trim your father's nose hair and eyebrows, etc."
As you can tell, I abhor shopping. I purposely do not participate in Black Friday - in fact I participate in Buy Nothing Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. But I am a big online shopper - God bless the Internet. I was one of the first Ebay members when they started as well as one of the first online shoppers. If it can't be done online, then at the very least the person is getting a gift card. My relatives are amazed - in fact one uncle keeps saying, "I gotta get me some of that Internet."
So I buy toys for my niece and nephew in Virginia Beach, Virginia; gift cards for my niece and nephew here in Chicago; a neat original present from Ancestry for the in-laws; I order new clothes for Mom which are sent to her brother to be labeled before they are delivered to the nursing home.
I've already put my list out to Santa and I was just told one of my presents (can't tell if it is Christmas or birthday): air tickets to Reno, Nevada in January 2008 to see Etta James. I can't wait!
Photo: Marshall Field on State Street, Chicago, Christmas 2005.