Saturday, December 22, 2007

Shopping and Solstice

For years I've been rather critical of the emphasis on shopping at this time of the year. This disdain serves me well as I hate shopping. I put it on a par with going to the dentist, something one must do but let's get it over with as quickly as possible. Armed with a list of what I want, choosing a time when the store is least crowded, I'll dart in, grab what I want, pay for it and leave. (I used to feel guilty because I felt I had deprived my daughter of the pleasure of happy mother-daughter shopping expeditions, browsing lazily through choices, wandering the mall, but it turns out she hates shopping as much as I do. It's her boyfriend who's the leisurely shopper.)

So it came as a total surprise on the Winter Solstice when I usually observe a day of quiet and rest that I longed to go shopping. I must admit this wasn't a desire to go shopping in general: I wanted to go to Lush. Now if you know Lush, you'll understand (especially if I add that I had just run out of their violet scented soap) and if you don't know Lush, you should check out their website and you'll understand. Still it didn't seem like a good idea to go downtown to the mall and the Lush store three shopping days before Christmas. Especially when I was committed to spending a quiet day with no electricity, no telephone, nothing but silence and candlelight.

But in the quiet of my apartment, with the rain pattering on the windows, just me and the dog who was sleeping, I started thinking maybe shopping at this time of year is a natural activity not an artificial one. Our natural response to darkness is to light lights, whether they're candles on the Advent wreath or the bright lights of the nearest store. And our natural response to loneliness is to gather with others, whether that's at a feast on Christmas eve or in a shopping mall. It also occurred to me that bright lights and parties are a great way to push away the thoughts of death and feelings of loneliness that imbue the season.

So what did I do?I went to Lush. And it was sweet. I had an eggnog latte while waiting for the bus. When we got downtown we passed a group of young black men singing doowop songs a cappella outside one of the big department stores. One of them stopped to help an old lady into her cab. People were holding open the doors to the mall so shoppers laden with bags could pass through. There was a carousel and and a long line of kids bundled in jackets waiting to ride on it. There was another long line at the hot dog stand and inside the Sees candy store. Lush was crowded but no lines. I got the last bit of violet soap (and a few other presents) and jumped back on the bus.

When I got home I went on my solitary, quiet walk through the wintery woods and stood for a long time in the holly grove. And that was just as wonderful.

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