My father used to live to Christmas shop. There was a certain spark in his eye, a unique scintillation that was only ignited when he was donning his overcoat and preparing to get lost in the churning vortex of people at the busiest mall in Toronto. His exuberance always makes me think of the childlike excitement of Darren McGavin’s character in A Christmas Story when he opens his prized “leg lamp”. Blood would rush to his cheeks, there was a noticeable spring in his step and his baritone voice softly began to echo the songs of the season. His melodic tone would lure us into his Christmas trance and we were transported into the beauty of all things festive and giving. Until we got to the mall……
Taking a child to that mall during the Christmas rush is like taking a lone goldfish from its tranquil bowl and throwing it into a pond of piranhas. I was honestly terrified. On more than one occasion, my tiny hand was ripped from my father’s grip and I bounced like a raft down a cascading white water rapid, lost in a sea of angry strangers, dangerously close to plunging over the inevitable waterfall.
Never had I seen such a heinous display of the exact opposite of the Christmas spirit – it was full-contact shopping. People pushed, they shoved, they elbowed their way to displays only to begin a game of tug-of-war for an article of clothing that would probably be returned on Boxing Day. Many of the words uttered by adults were foreign to me, but they were said with such venom that I knew that my ears should not be privy to those descriptive bits of verbiage.
That shopping experience would taint me for the decades that followed. For years after that nightmare-inducing display of bad will towards men, I adamantly refused to enter those sliding glass doors into Christmas shopping hell. Even at that tender age, I had become summarily convinced that hand-made gifts would be more appreciated than something that had been plucked from the floor after the department store carnage in those late hours leading up to Christmas. I was a pioneer, I was a rebel, I was scarred for life.
When the holiday season returned the following year and the threat of mall shopping reared its thorny head, I vociferously engaged in a battle of will with the sovereign of commerce. Daughter vs father, I expounded on the virtue of hand-crafted gifts and chalked up a small victory as I watched his car pull out of the driveway on the path to the slaughterhouse.
Today, I am a proud supporter of local businesses, and for those gifts that cannot be found here, I shop online. Parcels are delivered safely, with no malicious intent, and I no longer feel the dread of shopping for the holidays. The mall is now vague memory of a life once lived by a child who still wanted to believe in the true Christmas spirit, but didn’t want to get bruised in the process.