Christmas shopping is in full swing. It is interesting to see the different styles.

G. comes in with an idea of what he wants, asks a few questions, looks at some alternatives I show him, chooses easily, and asks, “What else do I need?” In twenty minutes, he has done all the shopping for his kids, and leaves looking like Santa Claus, with That Man and me following him like bearers, carrying parcels and easels.

T. comes in at the same time, and leaves just after G., but her approach is different. She has to be shown every single item in the category she has in mind. We look at them, debate them, return to ones we’ve seen earlier, discuss several outside-the-box options, compare them with what she has bought in the past, and consider possible future consequences of all the choices. At last, she leaves with one item.

“I work best under pressure,” she says, “but sometimes I run out of time.”
“You like the suspense, though, right?” say I. On consideration, she admits that this is so.

I know from past experience that, if she doesn’t finish her shopping before Christmas, she will do it for Three Kings Day instead.

There are other shoppers. I have to leave G. and T. to make suggestions for a Science Corner for a five year old, to measure paper, to admire handmade things being laminated.

It’s fun.

A girl in choir works at Wal-mart. She is working 12-hour shifts. She works for seven hours before she gets her first break. She makes significantly less money than I do; no overtime, either, though she is an hourly worker. When I point out that there are laws preventing this sort of thing, she calmly explains that her supervisor falsifies her time card to hide it. I ask her why she doesn’t quit.

“They heard I was thinking about quitting,” she says, “so they’re doing everything they can to keep me.”
“12-hour shifts wouldn’t do it for me,” I say.
“I make a dollar more an hour than I could make anywhere else right now,” she says.

She also has to listen to the Chipmunks and the Beach Boys on a pretty regular basis.

An Episcopalian customer was in yesterday and complained about hearing Christmas carols everywhere so early. The Princess had put the radio on, so we were in fact listening to the Muppets butchering “The Twelve days of Christmas,” and I hardly knew where to look.

I have a good Advent carol for you, though. Written by Scottish reporter James Montgomery, the words promise that Christ will give comfort and strength to the oppressed, that He will come down like showers on the fruitful earth, and that righteousness will flow like fountains from the hills down to the valleys (scholars will have noticed that it is a restatement of Psalm 72). Would singing this song sustain us if we had to work at Wal-mart?

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed is another of the grand and stately German hymns, but not difficult. Everyone can belt this out while strolling around, and in fact it is a good hiking tune, right up there with “My Knapsack on My Back.” You can print out the score here for free, and here is mandolin tab. It has enormously cheerful words, too. The best plan would be for everyone to memorize it, and then gather for the hike, with thermoses of hot soup for when you reach the pinnacle or whatever you plan to reach. Sing the song lustily so everyone can keep in step. The mandolin is optional, I suppose, but I hope that any party of hikers which is taking along a mandolin will invite me.