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Posted: January 01, 2009

All I wanted for Christmas

Rundles' wrap-up

Jeff Rundles

Some time back I ceased being a customer of  Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons, but manslaughter wasn’t one of them. Until now.

On Black Friday, the now horrifically ironic name for the holiday shopping kickoff that follows Thanksgiving, an employee of a New York Wal-Mart was apparently trampled to death by shoppers who had lined up, or rather crowded up, for the 5 a.m. opening of the store.

I try to avoid obvious life-and-death situations, which is why I am not a hunter. But who knew bargain hunting could be just as dangerous? As I tell my children all the time, there are few good reasons to be out at 4 or 5 in the morning. The papers are full of otherwise “great guys” and “wonderful husbands” who got seriously injured or met their demise in the wee hours. Until this year I wasn’t talking about shopping.

The world is getting seriously weird, which just may be the understatement of the century.

I’ll give you a good example. In early December a Denver television station, in a single newscast, ran two stories about mall Santas. The first one featured young children sitting on the Old Man’s lap and saying all they want for Christmas is a job for their parents. It was the heartwarming story of a generous St. Nick facing young ones with visions of recessions dancing in their heads. The second Santa story was about people who bring their pets to the mall to see Santa.

The juxtaposition of economically distressed kids begging Santa Claus for a Merry Christmas, with those dropping 30 bucks a pop on photos of a Chihuahua on Kris Kringle’s lap, struck me as absurd. The real Santa, it seems to me, would have introduced the two groups to each other. For the television station it was simply photo opps of children and animals, always good for warm-and-fuzzy ratings.

The holiday season has appalled me for years. As a traditionalist, I think the mention of Christmas before Thanksgiving is over is just not done, but I lost on that one a long time ago. And I don’t have to go into a materialistic rant about The True Meaning of Christmas. Under the heading “Looking for the perfect gift?,” the retailer GameStop has a Holiday Gift Guide that features a game called “Mortal Kombat.” Geez, you’d think Wal-Mart or Toys “R” Us would have wrapped up an exclusive on that one.

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This past holiday season in particular, however, had me shaking my head. Personally, I think it would have been cathartic to take a step back and put Christmas, and the economy, in perspective.

But after better-than-expected retail sales on Thanksgiving weekend, retailers and economic pundits alike were breathing a sigh of relief. I got the impression that since Congress was busy with the most massive financial rescue of shaky banks and car companies in history, it seemed like there was a tacit understanding that all of us could do our part in rescuing the economy through overspending, too.

Isn’t that how we got into this mess in the first place? Am I missing something? Didn’t we all get incentive checks from the government in the spring with the patriotic message to go forth and spend?

After years and years of buying too much house and too much car and too much stuff we don’t really need, this would be a good time to save and conserve. I am not suggesting that we all stop buying. I just think it might be good if, for a change, it wasn’t all-consuming.

But maybe that’s not what people really want. Maybe, just maybe, shopping is cathartic, both to individuals and the economy in general. Far be it from me to trample on your dreams. 

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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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