I never saw myself as one to work in retail. I went to college and even did some grad school in order to avoid having to be “stuck” in such a job. However, I was generally unimpressed with the kind of jobs a college degree got me, and the mortgage crisis of ‘08 soured my taste for being a small-business owner. So after a few false starts since then, the retail lane is where I find myself cruising along for the time being. I am a mid-level manager in a major chain store best known for having a SCOTUS case named after them, and since our store does not have as high a volume of sales as our other stores, we have a smaller crew than most. Consequently I’ve had to wear many hats during my tenure from a trainer, loss prevention (love playing the designated “dummy” till police arrive), complaints handler, ad copy writer (and announcer) and yes even cashier when the situation warrants it.
The job is generally not as bad as most people tend to think it is, and for someone who has the gift of gab, the job has the perks of allowing me to engage with a constant stream of people (many of whom are regulars) on a daily basis. However, what fascinates me most about the job is how, for someone who spends his spare time as a writer, the store is a perfect microcosm of our culture. Every day I encounter and speak with people whose lives are affected by the current events we read about in the news (and sometimes discuss on this site!).
Every day is a little slice of “real life” with people going about their business outside of online comment boxes and ideological echo chambers, where I meet people and personalities from all walks of life. Whether they look up to me for help or down on me as someone to boss around. Whether they are struggling to make ends meet or have more money than they seem to know what to do with. Whether they have a ton of credit cards or are always paying in cash. Whether they speak English, Spanish, Hmong, Somali, Arabic, Lebanese, Russian, Ukrainian, and even Karen on one occasion, I have encountered and helped them all.
It’s the Most Revealing Time of the Year
Nowhere do the best and worst aspects of the current zeitgeist trickle down to everyday people and are more blatantly manifested than during the retail Christmas shopping season. It used to be that the “season” began on Black Friday, but that is not always the case as marketing is 4-6 months ahead of a particular holiday in order to prime the customers’ imaginations and appetites for consumer goods. Having worked through several Christmases now, I have noticed that most of the yule-tide of shoppers fall into one of three categories.
The first are those kind and generous souls who take the time and effort to think deeply about the person they are getting a gift for. Granted it may not be what the recipient asked for but it is something that is so ideally suited to their temperament and personality, that it will be greatly appreciated. These people are some of the most loving and creative people I have ever met, and it is always a pleasure to talk with them and to see the pics they show me on their phones of what they are creating.
Then there are those who give about as much as is expected of them, and are typically going off of a list that the gift recipient wrote themselves. I have always found this to be a little staid and kind of lazy (on both sides), but while I wouldn’t call it the best manner of gift giving it certainly isn’t the worst. These shoppers come in all temperaments, and some are even open to suggestions for improving on what they are getting.
Then there are those who give out of a sense of obligation. Whether as a means of fulfilling some sort of holiday expectation or worse, they turn gift giving into yet another opportunity to virtue signal to others. While there may be some uncertainty about the intentions of the first two groups, there is little guess work involved in the third since they are often quite open about their feelings. To them, the Christmas season is the one time of the year when generosity becomes an onerous duty that they feel beholden to, quite a few even resenting it.
What I have found most interesting though, is that when it comes to the second and third group of shoppers, I have noticed a troubling trend over the years- long before our current inflationary woes. There seems to be more anxiety among shoppers as they shop for what are mostly luxury items. Granted, much of this is rooted in our overly indulgent and entitled culture, that sees money as a means of exercising power over others or their situations. But there is something more to it than just shoppers asserting themselves or trying to get the best deal. There just seems to be a pervasive mood or sense that people don’t feel as though they are in control of their lives. They live their lives as though they are aboard a ship in tumultuous seas without a rudder, a map, or compass. And certainly no light to guide their way when things seem darkest.
So many of them seem aloof, indifferent, disoriented and even alienated from the Christmas season and the people they are shopping for, let alone to any religious connection to the day. And yet they struggle on through the motions, in some vain attempt to chase the dragon in search of hope, happiness, or fulfillment. Something, anything, that will allow them to achieve some vague or inchoate desire.
To Those who “Mourn in Lonely Exile” Christmas Day is Here
Advent is season to prepare our hearts and souls for the birth of Christ, but also to wait in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Lord at the end of time or our lives. However, in our current day, where people are leaving churches or the faith altogether, what I have witnessed in my time in retail is how people are sadly stuck with an ersatz “season” of consumerism that stokes their most base vices such as greed, envy, and the petty vainglory that is rampant in our society where everyone covets fame or notoriety.
This is the danger of having no religious connection to Christmas that I witness every year, as shoppers try to fill an everlasting desire with a lot of worldly goods and cheap thrills. As The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg once pointed out about this is the dark side to Capitalism,
“It provides avenues for accomplishment in certain spheres, but engenders a culture — on the left and the right — that often looks with skepticism or hostility at people who want to measure their accomplishments in terms not easily monetized...Because of its insatiable and ingenious capacity to translate human wants and desires into products, it has the tendency to commercialize things best not commercialized, from sex to Christmas to childhood itself.”
I can only imagine this is why for so many of the people I encounter at work, the Christmas shopping season is not seen as an opportunity to bring joy to those special people in their lives. Instead it is seen as a time of slavish propitiation to what St. Paul referred to as the “hollow and deceptive” philosophies and “the elemental spiritual forces” of the world. In this case, it is a Mamon-fueled consumerism that does just that, it “consumes” its adherents. So that by the time December 25th rolls around they are left physically, emotionally, and especially financially spent; let alone spiritually empty.
And Unto Us a Savior is Born
And thus, we arrive at the great lesson I have seen played out time and time again as a retail worker. It is the great struggle for people to see past the lights and noise and the false idols and promises of the holiday shopping season, and to recognize the need for The light in a dark world and a real holy day that has not been packaged into a marketable contraction. In short, it is the perennial need for a Savior over a fleeting desire for just more savings. Or as a sign we sell at our store so colloquially says, “Y’all Need Jesus.”
And is this not the great fulfillment of the Advent season? That the creator of the universe, who so loved the very creatures who time and again had turned their back on Him, became one of us so that he could save us. And he did so as an infant, the most helpless stage of being human, so that he could come to know all of the pain, the suffering, the loneliness, the alienation, the frustrations and all the other hangups fallen humanity puts up with on this side of the veil. God entered into our world out of love and a desire to be with us, and it was an event like a sonic (or divine in this case) boom that rippled across space, time, and eternity. That is why, as the hymn goes, on one night long ago in Bethlehem the “soul felt its worth.” And worthy we are indeed, in the eyes our dear Savior, who will always outshine all the Christmas light of the world and never leave us wanting more.
From all of us here at The Everyman, thank you for you readership and have a very merry Christmas!
Photo Credit- minnesotacountry. com