Getting into the spirit not a chore anymore

by Ogi Overman

I don’t care what anybody says, I’m a huge fan of Christmas. Sure, I know all the arguments about its being a bloated paean to capitalistic excess, an artificial extravaganza necessary to prop up a sagging economy, a secular bastardization of a religious commemoration. I understand all the inconsistencies with celebrating an event in the dead of winter that happened, if it happened at all, in March or April. And let’s not even get into the problems with the virgin birth and the wise men and the star of the east; let’s just go with the myth and leave the scholarly research for another season.

The way I look at it is that there are many more reasons to celebrate than there are not to. There are times in life when emotion overrides intellect, and this is one of them. Granted, I wish stores wouldn’t start putting out Christmas merchandise the day after Halloween, thereby blasting through Thanksgiving entirely, and that 93.9 FM wouldn’t start playing round-the-clock Christmas music in mid-November, and that Norelco commercial with Santa sliding down the hill on a razor wouldn’t start airing the day before Thanksgiving, but those are minor inconveniences. It doesn’t mean I have to start shopping or listening to “Feliz Navidad” or decorate the house or doing anything differently until I’m ready. And, as of today, I’m ready. Ready to plunge into the retail mania, ready to throw a little Bing Crosby and Mannheim Steamroller on the box, ready to get all the boxes out of the attic, put up the tree and start decking some halls. Ready to bleed that Visa card dry.

Actually, that last sentence is not quite true. I have that one and several others like it in my wallet just in case, but quite a few years ago I discovered the way to take the sting out of Christmas shopping, the way to keep the credit card companies from ruling – and sometimes ruining – your life. It’s painless and it works for almost everybody.

First, let’s backtrack for just a moment. The one valid argument against the way we go about Christmas in America is that everybody cannot share in it. There is that other “inconvenient truth,” the one about poverty that cannot and should not be swept under the rug. But because of the facts that “the Christmas spirit” is a very real thing, that people who can afford it are more than willing – even if it’s only at this time of year – to help those less fortunate, and that there are numerous agencies that exist for the purpose of making sure no one gets completely left out, virtually everyone is able to share in some way in this collective spirit. It may only be a doll for little Jane and a football for little Jimmy or a hot turkey dinner at Urban Ministries, but no one should ever get completely left out at Christmas, unless it is of their own choosing.

Now, as with most truths, I discovered this one while at a low point in life. I won’t get into why; trust me, it was very near rock bottom. It was a turning point in that I had no money to buy presents at Christmas. I did manage to scrape together enough shekels to get everyone in my family a token gift, but I made a vow that I would never, ever let myself get in that position again. What I figured out was so simple even a caveman could do it. (See, I do watch commercials.) It was simply this: Dump out your pockets each night after work, throw all your coins in a jar, and after a year you’ll have several hundred bucks. You’ll never miss it and it’s like found money at Christmastime. Plus, I got in the habit of stashing dollar bills throughout the year, and they really mount up.

It’s become a little ritual of mine. When it’s time to make that final push and dive into the retail outlets – like this weekend – I sit down and roll up all my coins; count, fold and paper clip all my dollars; and take it all to the bank (I’m sure they love to see me coming) and deposit it, and then commence to go out and spend every last cent of it.

I also do one other thing differently these days. I used to dread shopping so badly that, year-in and year-out, I’d put it all off until grab-and-growl time on Christmas Eve. Now, even though I’ll get most of my shopping done fairly early, I’ll purposely not buy a present or two just to go out and be a part of the proverbial hustle and bustle of last-minute shopping. I know it’s nuts, but what would Christmas be without it?

See ya at the mall.

Ogi may be reached at