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"The Christmas You Think They Have:" A Commentary

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90. Commentator

Dallas, TX – I spent way too many holidays in the rarefied world of upscale retail! Managing a personal shopping salon throughout the 1980s was rather like running a Las Vegas Chapel, where there's a funeral one minute and a wedding the next. I braced for Christmas much the way a turkey might Thanksgiving - with considerable suspicion and no small amount of foreboding. The seasonal scenario was: the wives bought the family and social gifts, and anything for his secretary (whom she frequently resented). The secretaries bought the business gifts and his gift for the wife (whom she invariably resented). The husbands appeared around 4 on Christmas Eve after the open-bar office parties, more decked than our halls, paying cash for pricey leftovers without asking or caring about size. Their women (some of whom did not appear to be the wife) - after Christmas - cashiered these items for their monetary value, much as one would use a gift certificate. No one seemed to see this as ironic, except me.

Their glut; my glory. Like the time I was on "Entertainment Tonight," playing a butler demonstrating the Christmas Catalog's robot teacart; or appearing on evening talk shows verbally romancing the concept of reading magazines in cashmere.

Every day was an accident waiting: like the prominent Ft. Worth Southern Baptist oil company CEO, whose corporate gifts I sent worldwide packaged in that new blue gift-wrap, I later learned was Chanukah. (That's when I realized - I need reading glasses.) And who could forget the woman who, fresh from 'inheriting' millions, spent a three-day nonstop shop-a-thon with me, spending 100 grand for "family and friends" gifts! I was certainly humming "Oh Holy Night" as I loaded all those packages into her car trunk, just as the SWAT team suddenly swarmed in to arrest her.

The improbable story, I later learned, was she swindled some nuns. Noting the glum irony of this Holiday-Religion tie-in, I mentally waved good-bye to my all-but-spent sales commissions as they carried her away.

When at last I was sprung from the stores, and actually free in December, I felt stunned, like a newly released prisoner of war being served prime rib. No more hearing "Little Drummer Boy" (uh,duh,duh,duh) on auto-repeat for ten-hour days? No more taking after-Christmas returns that were often older than the statute of limitations on attempted murder? Free.

Ironically, this year the President asks us to shop 'til we drop. As patriotic as I like to feel I am, it will take more than a pleading President to get me to willingly drive to a mall. No, celebrating my life's post-traumatic-retail reprieve, I see the holidays once more for what they were before and are again: pretty, spiritually moving, evocative.

And darn expensive without that employee discount.

Happy Holidays!

Rawlins Gilliland is a freelance journalist and former National Endowment poet. He lives in Dallas.