Surviving the season
When I was five, I figured I knew what Christmas was really all about. Erstwhile pigtailed thing that I was, I thought Christmas was a time to share, to celebrate the joy of giving. I was young, and boy, was I clueless (I had pigtails, for crying out loud).
Luckily for me, it was only a matter of years before I learned what Christmas was really all about: gladiatorial death-matches for coveted popular gifts. Santa became an icon of the past; my new reality was based on clashes over toys. There were fights approximately as intense as some of the minor battles of WWII, the kinds of brawls that would only erupt if Johnny Depp were dropped, naked and flailing, into a room of teenaged girls.
Essentially, I learned to deal with sheer havoc (I'm an only child, so I didn't get much havoc at home). I think of it as a rite of passage. Or a cruel joke. My family is into both.
Fortunately, I also learned to cope with the pandemonium. So, if you're planning to go Christmas shopping around Dec. 24 this year, here are some tips and tricks you ought to know. Think of the following as your survival manual. Feel free to send me gifts in thanks. In advance, even.
So, let's say you're in a crowded store that's exploding with shoppers. What's the first thing you do?
Drag someone else into the whole mess!
Buddy system, buddy system, buddy system
There are three instances when you should always use the buddy system. Two involve loitering in sketchy alleys after dark, so I won't go into those. The third involves putting yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation; for example, by lighting yourself on fire, refusing to wear your ID, or going shopping on Christmas Eve. No matter what, make sure you take someone along to guard you from stampeding shoppers. Consider befriending a professional wrestler or rabid pit bull. Bear in mind that both are equally hard to charm. Bacon works well enough for this. Wear a helmet.
Fake left, duck right
Never was athleticism so dangerously paired with adrenaline-fueled finesse: while strength is involved in procuring the perfect gift, a fair amount of strategy is involved, too. As far as we're concerned, when shopping is this intense, it's a sport. There's sprinting, ducking, even the occasional skirmish or two. The best way to prepare is by developing a strategy. Draw lots of Xs and Os all over a sheet of paper. Why? I have no idea, I don't follow sports. Just don't get mowed down by a gaggle of mothers speeding toward the Bella Dancerellas. Hope you're still wearing your helmet.
Unless you're a big fan of horde-like swarms of love-starved parents, avoid venturing toward crowded aisles filled with popular toys. This usually means hanging out between the automotive goods and camping gear until crowds die down, at which point you'll be lucky if any "cool toys" (as they're called in the "business") are left. Don't worry too much about this. Since you'll be near fishing and camping gear, buy a few synthetic baits and attach them to lengths of tackle. Box and wrap nicely, and on Christmas morning, present your sister with a set of unique, designer, abstract-modern necklaces. Encourage her to wear them to school. Knowing kids these days, she'll either set a trend (which you can then claim rights to) or come home sobbing after being teased mercilessly. In which case, just promise to buy her something "cool" next year. Hopefully you'll be a bit more creative by then.
Bargains are what you make of them
If you're strapped for cash and can't think of a ridiculous lawsuit to file("I bought this toy and it traumatized my child! I blame your company."), consider clipping coupons. Clipping coupons is not below your dignity. However, using them in public might be. Sorry.
Hauling it home
On the off-chance you manage to snag a really popular toy and the masses of people rushing after you aren't able to wrestle you to the ground and traumatically seize the thing from your hands, consider yourself lucky. However, there might be some more lunatics waiting to ambush you on your way home, so stress to your parents the importance of buying their son and/or daughter an armored car, or renting one. Chances are, they won't believe you, and they'll tell you to take the bus. Chances are, you have "normal parents".
However, this, too, can be overcome. Make up a series of charts with complicated explanations that support your petition for aforementioned armored car. Put the report in a clear plastic report binder, and write up an abstract and a summary of significant statistics. Parents are unable to argue with convoluted logic backed up by bar graphs, especially if the graphs are color-coded (try using green and red to evoke a sense of Christmas cheer). This plan is foolproof. If it fails, you probably bought the wrong kind of plastic binder. But, keep at it, and you'll likely have yourself a Hummer (at least) by Christmas 2005.
Wrapping it up
Out of gift wrap, tissue paper, boxes, gift bags, ribbon, and tape? No problem! If your gift is small enough, wrap it in the gift receipt it came with. If it's large, use newspaper or pages from a magazine. Tell everyone you're into recycling this year. Not only will you seem creative, people will think you're a loveably soft-hearted environmentalist type who loves animals. Some girls (and guys) really go for that, so you may even find yourself a date this holiday season. Take him or her out to dinner over break.
Don't go to a steak house.
Remember, family really is what matters during the holidays.
But, feel free to be difficult and a general pain from January to November. Unless you're still trying to get that Hummer, in which case, good behavior and occasional flattery is wholly recommended. Fruit baskets work marvelously. Be sure to get fruits that your siblings like, too. Between fresh produce and your leftover candy canes, it's assured they'll put in a good word for you. If they don't, tell them high school kids have magic powers, and threaten to use yours.
If they're over twelve, good luck with that.
Ready to do it again?
After 1,000 words on how to do it right the first time? No. Please, no.
You've got a year off to train. Or just sit around watching Three Stooges reruns. Same thing, really. So, relax. If you've managed to keep sane through this year's winter holiday, that's an accomplishment in itself. Drink some eggnog, or cider, or whatever it is your family likes. Settle in, and try not to spit when you realize your family decided not to give gifts this year.
Anuja Shah. Anuja "Otto" Shah, a Junior in the CAP, -is thoroughly excited to be part of SCO, -enjoys the word "fiasco", -aspires to be monstrously cool, -remains prepared to settle for being vaguely nifty, and -probably owes you money, but has fled the country. More »