Yesterday a customer, fruitlessly seeking a particular atlas, told me, “It’s no fun to have grandchildren any more.”

She was a Stage 3 shopper, of course, and they often no longer like the people they are buying gifts for, so I was going to offer rueful sympathy and let it go at that, but she asked me, “Do you have any?”
“Not yet,” I answered, “but I’m looking forward to it.”
“I was looking forward to it, too. I thought how much fun it would be to buy things for them. But it isn’t like that any more.”
“They have lists?” I guessed, thinking of the stressed parents and grandparents who come in apparently filling orders.
“You have to have the right model number, or their picky mothers return them. And they have so much stuff, they don’t even care.”
A sad silence ensued. “Maybe it’ll be better when they get older,” I hazarded.
“No. Then they’ll just want money.” She started out the door. “Thank you for being so helpful. I’m just a little bitter about this.”

Leonidas says, rightly, that working in retail can give you a jaded view of the holidays. But at some point you have to buy into it. Or refuse to.

Someone spoiled the children to the point where they are no longer fun to give things to. Someone made presents the center of the holiday. Someone changed the surprise of someone wanting to give you something into an entitlement — and it had better be the right thing. But once that has happened, it is very hard to get back out of it.

One of our choristers has let us know that we should all give $5 so a gift certificate to the mall can be bought for the director and the organist. I would never give anyone a gift certificate to the mall, and thoughtlessly ponying up for a group gift is not the same to me as carefully choosing or making a gift for someone out of love. But in many workplaces across the country, this is the custom. Or people draw names and are told to buy something — often with a specified price range — for someone they hardly know and may not even like. They then receive an item — of the exact monetary value as the item they have given — which, being bought for them by someone who was told to do so, is neither surprising nor exciting. It is very hard to refuse to participate in this kind of thing.

But it is only December 14th. It is not too late to choose what kind of Christmas to have.

Here you can hear actual people singing “O Magnum Mysterium,” a gorgeous motet by the Spanish Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria. I hope it gives you some contemplative moments. http://www.mab.jpn.org/musictex/chorus/tv_mysterium_e.html

There are many recordings of this piece. If you are not a Renaissance music fan in general, you might prefer Linda Ronstadt’s Christmas album. It is not the best available recording of this piece, but it is still very lovely, and it has “White Christmas” and suchlike, as well. This is a standard and in the public domain, so you can also easily find sheet music on the web as well as in your local library. However, while I like to imagine everyone who chances upon this blog singing the song of the day, I am not so delusional as to think that you are going to belt this out while you wrap your gifts today. We don’t even sing it at our house unless we are rehearsing it. So I hope you will enjoy listening to it instead.