The Christmas stuff starts arriving in early September. It has to because shortly after that, in early October, it’s going on the shelves. So when you work retail, your first encounter with Christmas stuff comes when it’s still hot outside. You’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt and you’re shrink-wrapping pallets of Christmas stuff, already looking forward to January when you’ll finally be done with all this Christmas stuff.
Christmas “stuff” isn’t what you call it, though. That’s the PG version of what everyone in retail actually says: “Christmas s–t.” This is the industry-standard term. Whether it’s high-end or discount, Tiffany’s or Walmart, that’s what you call it because, in retail, that’s what it’s called. (I suppose maybe, somewhere in Utah, some nice Mormon folks who never, ever cuss do say “Christmas stuff,” but even they probably manage to say it in that way they have that indicates they really mean the saltier word: “Goodness gracious, the confounded Christmas … stuff is here already?”)
Even without Christmas creep, holidays skew early at the Big Box where I work. We’re a home improvement chain, so most of what we sell holiday-wise is decorations — lights and lawn displays and such (plus tons of extension cords and timers, etc.). Christmas-gift shopping starts later, and lasts all the way up until Christmas Eve,* but Christmas-decoration shopping can’t wait until Black Friday because people want to have their Christmas decorations already in place as soon as Thanksgiving ends.
The same is true for Halloween decorations. We sell a lot of those — rubber skeletons and animatronic witches, glittery spiders with LED eyes — but by a week or so before Halloween those sales slow down to a trickle. After all, if you’re going to invest in purple and orange lights and fake cobwebs and a giant plastic skeleton that springs into motion to startle trick-or-treaters, then you probably don’t want those up for just one or two nights. So for us, as soon as the Halloween [stuff] slows down we start replacing it with Christmas [stuff]. In mid-October.
So even though Thanksgiving isn’t until next week, Christmas is already in full-swing at the Big Box. I’ve been stocking stockings and lights and artificial trees and lawn ornaments and wreaths all week. (And yes, I showered, but I’ve still got red and green glitter in my hair. Occupational hazard.)
Our Christmas decorations are sold beneath big signs that say “Christmas Decorations,” which may be helpful to anyone who otherwise failed to notice the small forest of brightly lit plastic trees and glowing wreaths and the life-size animatronic Santa who shouts “Ho ho ho, Merrrrrrrry Christmas!” whenever anyone gets within a few feet of it (meaning, more or less, that it shouts this constantly if you’re re-stocking Christmas [stuff] anywhere in his vicinity). Smaller signs throughout the store label the various items individually: “Christmas tree,” “Christmas wreath,” “Christmas lights.” Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. The word is everywhere. It is inescapable.
That’s true at the Big Box, and also at pretty much every other Big Box. And at Target, and Nordstrom, and the Dollar Store.
This is a big part of why those of us who work retail usually say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Customers are already beset on all sides with product and signage declaring “Merry Christmas,” restating that phrase would be redundant. And, of course, “Happy Holidays” — plural — makes more sense than “Merry Christmas” when it’s only mid-October and your greetings need to also cover Halloween, Armistice Day, Thanksgiving, and Mark Twain’s Birthday, after which there’s still several weeks before Christmas and Hannukah and Solstice actually arrive, followed shortly thereafter by yet another holiday, New Year’s.
“Happy Holidays” also serves as a bit of a sheepish apology for retail’s Christmas creep. For every offense-seeking, Fox-addled foot-soldier of the culture wars eager to feign indignation over a retail clerk not wishing them an explicitly sectarian “Merry Christmas,” there are dozens of normal people — well-adjusted, decent folks — who find all of our Pre-Week-Before-Black-Friday Christmas Shopping pressure a bit overly aggressive. “Happy Holidays” is, in part, a way of acknowledging that — an unspoken, “Yes, I know, we’re barraging you with Christmas decorations and the World Series isn’t until next week. Sorry about that.”
Imagine if you didn’t do that. Imagine if you started wishing all your co-workers a cheery, aggressively pious “Merry Christmas” every day starting in late September, as soon as Walgreen’s started replacing back-to-school supplies with plastic candy canes filled with Hershey’s kisses in red and green foil.
Your co-workers wouldn’t be happy about that. It would not fill them with Christmas cheer. Nor would it make them think that you were filled with Christmas cheer. They wouldn’t think of you as “That person with such great Christmas spirit!” but rather as “That weirdo. I mean, what’s with them? Jeez, they’re worse than Sharon in accounting with the garland all over her cubicle, and the apple-cinnamon Glade thing, and the Christmas music? She’s got, like, 200 of those little Christmas Minion figurines all over her desk. Minions are so 2016, Sharon.”
The only thing worse than being the person who did that would be being the person who pretends to be all offended that everybody else isn’t doing that.
Let’s be totally clear on that point. All of you angry shock-troops who fantasize you’re on the front lines against some imaginary “War on Christmas”? All of you folks who (unconvincingly) pretend to be appalled and offended that some retail clerk says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? We see you. We see you coming, and we dread your arrival. We dread your presence during the Christmas season and we dread your presence the rest of the year.
Everybody does. This is a direct consequence of what you have chosen to become. You have worked hard to make yourself utterly unlikeable to everyone you encounter and thus — unsurprisingly — no one likes you. No one.
No, not even your family members who have to pretend to like you. They’re embarrassed by your behavior. Mortified. They mouth apologies to the rest of the world behind your back. Ask anyone in retail. Or in the restaurant biz, or hospitality, or any other form of customer service and they’ll all tell you the same thing. “No, of course not,” they’ll say. “Your children/friends/co-workers were absolutely not mouthing silent apologies for your behavior behind your back.”
And then, as soon as you look away, they’ll exchange winks and eye-rolls and knowing looks with those same children/friends/co-workers because this is how the entire world treats you all the time because they all know you’re not mature or stable or happy enough to handle reality. It’s not that everyone’s against you, but that everyone is aware that you’re against them. Because this is what you’ve told them and shown them on every occasion, including your bizarre insistence on taking offense at their wishes of happiness for you during the holidays.
But so anyway, tonight I’ll be knee-deep in Christmas [stuff] prepping for tomorrow — the Friday before Black Friday. And this weekend I’ll be snagging some OT prepping for actual Black Friday, and taking a deep breath before plunging into the full-on Christmas frenzy, racing to keep the Christmas [stuff] on the shelves from now until the first day of winter.
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* I apologize for the way the Big Box insists on gendering our selection of special deals and bargains for the holidays. “The power tools that Dad wants” and such. It’s quite likely Mom would also like that nice cordless DeWalt. That’s how it works here — the ‘vixen owns and uses a much more impressive set of power tools than I’ve got. Having said that, though, let me also note that this selection of deals is also pretty good. More saving, more etc. Stop on by, we’ll hook you up.