Christmas shopping is the least fun a person can have. Let’s not compare it to torture; torture is never any fun at all. The moment that torture starts to become fun it ceases to be torture, instead becoming some kind of deplorable masochistic act. Unless of course you’re the torturer, but that’s another story.
Food shopping: that’s torture. The screaming drudgery of pushing a shopping trolley down a child-strewn supermarket aisle is torture. Having your fingers severed by four plastic carrier bags full of baked-bean multi-packs and mud-splattered spuds as you wobble home on a cold, rainy day is definitely torture. It’s torture because you have no choice: you have to eat, therefore you have to buy food. When your rent is extortionate and your pay-packet is carrier-bag thin, what else can you do? It’s shop or starve. And starving? That’s torture.
Christmas shopping isn’t torture. The reason it isn’t torture is that you choose to do it, and if you don’t do it you probably won’t starve as a result. In fact the worst possible outcome of not going Christmas shopping is that a few people might look up at you with disappointed faces on Christmas morning, especially if you have children. If you don’t buy presents for people they won’t buy any for you next year – but so what? Just wait for the January sales and then go out and use all that money you’ve saved to buy yourself a load of things you might actually want.
Christmas shopping isn’t just not torture. Christmas shopping is fun. It’s fun because you don’t have to do it, yet you do. When you step onto that bus or climb into that car on December the twenty-whatever, dressed up warm in your winter best, carrying a head full of exciting present ideas and repressed future anxieties, you’re making a free choice. The fact that half the ideas you have were injected into the flabbiest bits of your brain while you propped it in front of a TV to keep it quiet is irrelevant. The possibility that your very understanding of the concept of Christmas was inserted into some dozing lobe by a cola-touting web pop-up while you were pretending to update a spreadsheet doesn’t matter. You choose to go Christmas shopping because you like it, and you like it because it’s fun.
But what crap fun. Imagine:
When you try to move politely through the crowd in BHS (which you were only using as a short-cut to get to the Lego shop but now you’ve ended up somehow buying a stupid racing-car board-game that no right-minded Xbox loving child will ever want to play and you’re only going to take it back tomorrow anyway except you lost the bloody receipt and now its been sitting in your front room gathering dust for three years…)
You see what Christmas shopping does to you? I’ll try again:
When you try to move politely through the crowd in BHS only to find yourself shoved out of the way by a herd of the gift-laden elderly, all conceits of a ‘Christmas Spirit’ dissipate. It strikes you that these sweet old men and women in their dowdy coats and flat-caps probably only got to their advanced stage of life through a mixture of blissful ignorance and ignorant belligerence. They are animals, just apes you realise as an old man hits you with a boxed Christmas tree, pretending – perhaps believing – that he hasn’t actually seen you. Then you trip over a kid and land on a stack of racing-car board-games.
It’s raining outside, a proper storm. What the hell! you mutter, forgetting about the Lego shop entirely, heading further into the depths of town. Christmas lights sway up above, their cheery brilliance smudged into reflective parody by the grim pavement slush. You trudge on, pushing past people, forcing your way into the glittering shops, basking momentarily in the welcoming warmth of their entrance door heaters.
In the shops (or ‘factory outlets’) Sales-people hover around you, asking if they can help you – but you know they can’t. You see something you like and the price is ridiculous. You know you could get it cheaper on-line, but it would never arrive in time for Christmas day, unless… but before you’ve even finished the thought you’ve bought it, fully aware that the price of this gift means that all the other gifts you were planning to buy are no longer good enough. It’s like the cold war. Your carefully planned budget vanishes in a puff of reality that you realise was always inevitable.
It’s about this time that your brain gives up.
Outside again, your thin trainers are saturated with the same rain that is starting to soak through your thick coat. Plastic carrier bags tear into your fingers, weighted down with bulky gifts: books, bottles, DVD box-sets, a hairdryer, the stupid racing-car board-game. But you still have to get the main presents, and you’re not too far from the big shopping mall, the hideous modern one you always try to avoid, with its horrible air-con, its overpriced food-court, and those creepy animatronic teddy-bears.
It’s just a little further down the hill.
The gutter is overflowing now, spilling out onto a pavement that’s fast becoming a river, a new Congo springing up from the paving-slabs and tarmac of the town. And so, shedding the last semblance of civilisation, you follow the great river down into the heart of darkness…
£ £ £
Christmas shopping is the least fun a person can have, so what makes us do it?
Is it as some kind of penance to make up for all the gluttony to come, a sort of sackcloth and ashes in advance, an attempt to accumulate a few moral brownie-points to spend on sin in the holidays?
Is it a kind of collective madness, a mass delusion encouraged by the thousands of carefully controlled advertising campaigns which permeate our lives?
Are we masochists? Or are we simply a species of greedy, rapacious animals following the inescapable currents of our nature?
Whatever. This belligerent ape’s doing his Christmas shopping on-line next year.