The yearly task that is Christmas shopping…

in Features

…a job full of twinkly expectation or a somewhat arduous experience?

Shopping brings out an array of emotions at the best of times but Christmas is a time of hope, fun and a desire for gifts both needed and ones which are spectacularly indulgent.  Either way, the glorious unwrapping of a present is a theatrical experience whether a pair of socks (sorry male relative) or a sparkling diamond necklace.

When should we begin our Christmas present buying?  For some, it literally starts in Boxing Day when those oh so tempting reductions are in the sale.  I have to admire those who bravely stand in a queue at 5 am Boxing Day morning whilst still digesting yesterday’s Christmas dinner with all the trimmings – not to mention a cheeky schooner if sherry.  I actually believe this supremely early gift purchasing is not just about bargain hunting.  There is a sense of community spirit about people waiting together in the cold with one common goal. 

For those who prefer enjoying their Christmas season at home, in the warm watching television repeats on a loop, Christmas shopping can wait until a lot closer to the season.

When August arrives, Christmas products make their first appearance on store shelves.  Do I want to stare at Chocolate Father Christmas figures when the sun is still (possibly) shining, realistically, not particularly.  However, by the time November arrives, I am ready to embrace all manner of Christmas paraphernalia.  By then, I have developed an inner Christmas glow which allows me – guilt free – to wander happily amongst Christmas items.

For many individuals, the Christmas shopping season begins properly when the shops are adorned with decorations and lights create a magical atmosphere in our streets. Shopping becomes a more rounded experience over the Christmas season, it is not solely focused on visiting a shop, buying items you want and leaving. The Christmas purchasing experience is more welcoming with free samples of food and drink in store, cheesy but jolly Christmas songs ringing out and a spirit of conviviality amongst us.

For those who find shopping in-store a challenger simply prefer to buy online, buying can still be a fun activity, if a somewhat solitary one. The most important aspect of any gift is the kindness and thoughtfulness behind it. Whether in a shop or online, at that moment, you are thinking about a person who is special to you. That precise moment is not monetary, it is a desire to give another person a gift, a display of affection, love, friendship. In other words – priceless.

Whatever your budget, how do we choose what to buy? Shops and online retailers offer an array of gift ideas, from the practical to the extravagant. Of course, our spending ability influences some of our decisions but how well we know the recipients of our presents is equally important. A fun Christmas jumper (think Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones) might not be appreciated by some, whereas I personally know more than one person who would be incredibly excited to receive such a gift. With the increasing commercialisation of the season, it is easy to see it as merely a gift giving season, with an enjoyable over indulgence of food and drink. This would be over simplifying what is often a profoundly important time of the year. A season we look back on with great nostalgia and warmth. Many of the most pivotal times in our lives are connected to Christmas.  The gifts we give and receive are a tangible reminder of how we feel about each other and our deep connection to this most poignant time of the year.

Buying for the season rather than gifts can prove to be a food version of a trip down memory lane. Why are snow balls and babycham considered acceptable drinks at Christmas when they are affectionately mocked the rest of the year?  How can it be we are unable to drink a cup of tea without a mince pie? Throughout the year we politely decline accomplishments for fear of widening our waistlines. At Christmas, all the usual rules simply don’t apply – and thank goodness they don’t!  The joy of this time of year is precisely that:  it only lasts a few days so it would dampen our spirits and sense of indulgence if we monitored everything we ate and drank. Those simple pleasures, rituals almost, of a glass of something fizzy in the morning whilst opening presents. When would we ever consider pouring a glass of sherry at that time of the time? That is the uniqueness of Christmas. For that particular day, or a few days, we live in this wonderful, surreal bubble.

Before we even start Christmas shopping, surely one of the most enticing reasons to venture out are the dazzling street decorations and the breath-taking window displays. Liberty and Harvey Nichols in London are just two stores who are renowned for their Christmas displays but walk down any self-respecting High Street and you will be enticed in with a healthy mixture of gifts, treats doused with Christmas nostalgia.

Window displays can be amazing. Visiting Paris with my then eight year old daughter was a memorable experience. The shops displayed dancing mice alongside violin playing mice.  All of them were dressed with a layer of ‘snow’. I had never seen such a display, it was more like a performance and it was utterly compelling.  Street lights and decorations are like an aperitif at dinner – it heightens your appetite for all things Christmas. Visiting shops seem less of a chore and more of a sensory experience.  Who can resist the samples of food and drink that are so often handed out?

There is a feeling of conviviality amongst Christmas shoppers. This is the time of year we genuinely want to embrace the buying experience, after all, we have a vested interest in picking up our favourite Christmas delights as we can enjoy the anticipation of devouring them. Enjoy the experience!

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