It's easy to let the holiday spirit sag when decorated trees start sprouting in stores before the leaves on the trees have a chance to change color.
It's easy to say Bah! Humbug! when the stores start their Christmas sales in July and you're still trying to find a bathing suit that fits. So on the day after Thanksgiving, when the mall is full, the parking lot is knotted, and the lines are long, it would be easy to assume the shoppers are less–than Christmas spirited.
But on that busiest shopping day of the year, the shoppers come clad in their Santa hats and red shirts decorated with wreaths and candy canes and reindeer. They are carrying Christmas along with their credit cards. Angela and her mother-in-law, Kathy, carry out a five-year tradition on this day. They wake at 3 a.m., dress silently, and confront the shopping hordes, armed with a plan and the coupons and the advertisements they reviewed while their turkey dinner was digesting.
It isn't the first day they make Christmas purchases; that began in July. But it's the time that the two women can shop without the kids. ``It's the one day my son will take the kids and watch them,'' says Kathy, her Santa cap bobbing as she speaks. It's also the day that the two women can mix shopping for sales with together time, frequently breaking for coffee or lunch or a movie.
Curtis is confident, too, as he stands before a glass case filled with precious gems and metals fashioned into rings, bracelets, watches, and pendants. He's looking for a gift for his wife of four years. Curtis says he knows what she likes and what she doesn't.
``No turtlenecks, no pleated blouses,'' he says, with no trace of the white-knuckled fear some spouses have while shopping for their mates. He does admit that she's made it easier for him by dropping hints and pointing out things she wants.
Not so for George. He and his wife have been married for 60 years. While she's never complained about the gifts he's given her, he never knows just what to buy. ``She says she doesn't need anything anymore, so she's no help,'' he says while waiting for her to do her shopping.
He doesn't mind waiting on a bench outside of a department store; he's brought along plenty of reading material. And while he's not quite sure what he's going to give her, he does know how she'll react. ``She's polite.''
And besides, she says, there's nothing to be afraid of when it's Santa Claus. ``He's nice,'' she says, adding that she likes his elves best. This is not Santa's first day on the job - he's been in malls and shopping centers for weeks. But his eyes still twinkle, and his lap calls out to children, even those who border on nonbelief.
Four-month-old Natalie has seen Santa already, says her father, Larry. He, his wife, Nicole, and their daughter are looking for special decorations.
This Christmas is important, Larry says, because it's his daughter's first. The infant is taking it in stride, sleeping silently under bundles of blankets in her stroller. The question for Larry and Nicole is not what they'll buy or do for their daughter, but what they won't do.
``What am I NOT going to do?” Larry asks rhetorically, his eyes wide with the joy of his first child's first Christmas.
But will the holiday spirit these shoppers feel on this busy day erode as the season wears on, the lines get longer, and the money gets shorter?
While these things cannot be predicted, perhaps the season's joy cannot be gauged by register receipts, the profit margins of retailers, or the ever-earlier store decorations. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, you just can't keep the Christmas spirit from coming.