Maybe it’s because I’m Jewish but I’ve spent many years wavering between love and hate of the days that connect Thanksgiving to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. I adore stepping out into the crisp evening air and inhaling the smell of a wood burning fireplace. I love walking through Rittenhouse Square tucked within a wooly scarf and coat, the illuminated holiday balls dangling sporadically from the branches overhead. And I always sidestep off my intended path to grab a complimentary cup of mulling spices from Williams Sonoma. But that’s about where I stall out.
Working for ten years in retail can do that to you. Being the Jew of the crew, I’ve oftentimes offered to help close on Christmas Eve at my Banana Republic. If I weren’t there, I’d be scarfing down a pre-movie dinner of Sesame Chicken from CinCin or mingling with desperately single Heebs at a Matzo Ball. I can easily live without both of these activities. My generosity to work on the 24th so Christian coworkers don’t have to is always put to the test by last minutes shoppers frantically in search of anything to throw into a box that can be tossed under the Christmas tree.
“What do you mean you don’t have a box?” Scrooge will exclaim.
“We ran out of boxes yesterday, sir,” I pleasantly reply.
“How can you run out of boxes on Christmas Eve?”
“We ran out of boxes yesterday, sir,” I repeat, knowing full well that nothing will appease a box-less customer.
At the core, I’ve always wanted to just tell the shopper to fuck off. It's a box, asshole, not the cure to cancer or the answer to world peace. I may not be Christian but if memory serves me right, Jesus didn’t say anything about gifts or boxes. Ever. Next in line?
Just as I’m ready to resign myself to the belief that the holiday season is nothing more than a marketing campaign by money hungry retailers, people go and change my mind.
Every Wednesday night that I volunteer, I stop off en route at a local bakery to retrieve a dozen cupcakes. It’s a small shop in a small town and I’m a firm believer of supporting the local merchants. Especially when said merchants make a butter cream frosting I could roll around in naked. Plus, cupcakes always make me smile and families at the Ronald McDonald House could use as many smiles as possible. At around three o’clock on the day I’m volunteering, I’ll call over and place my order.
“Let me tell you something,” I said to Baker yesterday as I walked up to the counter. “Last week, those cupcakes were gone in thirty minutes flat.”
She smiled. Then she paused. “You know what? I want to do something special for the house. Can you let me know when you’re going down there next? I just need two days notice.”
I couldn’t believe it. I mean, let’s be honest. This is a struggling bakery in a small town. They’ve been up and running for less than a year and while I’ve done nothing but provide rave reviews to everyone I know, I’m not sure how many cupcakes you have to sell to turn a profit.
“That'd be great. I’ll check my calendar and ring you tomorrow with the day. Wait, you gave me two boxes,” I said as I looked down at the counter.
“One box of the usual cupcakes and another box of gingerbread cookies. Those are on the house.”
“Are you sure?” I asked before offering to pay for the extra goodies.
“I may not be able to spare the time to volunteer but I definitely can spare some cookies.”
I gathered up the boxes and headed out the door. Before putting on my seatbelt and pulling away from the curb, I pushed back a corner of a box and peeked inside. This, I thought to myself, this is what the holidays are about.