by Joe Shea
December 27, 2013
IS CHRISTMAS BROKEN?
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 26, 2013 -- Is Christmas broken? It's beginning to look that way.
I only got one Christmas card this year, from a cousin. Usually, I get 10 or so. the only gift I got was from Meals on Wheels and a Girl Scout troop that supports them. They gave me a hairbrush (I'm bald, though) along with three small notebooks, a pair of very soft chasseur socks and shampoo and body lotion.
I got a call from a nurse at Humana, and told her about that; she'd only gotten one card, too. In Google, where I searched to see if anyone had reported a sharp drop in Christmas Card sales, I found a video from a Channel 6 somewhere (the market was unidentified) about a specialty card store called the Paper Shop, and the owner said that social media have eroded card sales quite deeply. Thankfully, I still have the cards I got last year in display!
But when I went to buy a Christmas gift for my home health aide, who is very good to me, I went to nomorerack.com and at some point a survey popped up. There were just four questions, O I answered them. At the end of the survey was a "special offer" for survey-takers. They were offering what looked like a nice watch for just $4.99, so I bought it.
Today, my banking account is overdrawn $54 because an outfit called Watchline charged me the full price of the watch - $95. The bank took my last $40 and will probably debit me a $35 overlimit fee tomorrow; leaving me dead broke until my Social Security check comes.
I tried to call the Watchline phone number in the online banking debit note, but that was a non-working number. You can't get a phone number for nomorerack, either, even though they seem to be a legitimate outfit. The Watchline address was given simply as Burbank, Calif., but there was no Watchline in the 818 area code, and the only one in Google is in Norway. I think Bank of America will refund the amount.
A friend, who is in the hydrogen fuel business, called me this morning and I mentioned the Christmas crash. He noted that a lot of "ritzy" neighborhoods, as he called them, he drove through with his wife in Tampa on Christmas Eve didn't have any decorative lights up this year.
I haven't had any Christmas decorations for several years, since my wife left me - she used to do all the work - but I had a tree and outside lights this year because my home health aide - the one I bought the watch for - had put them up for me. The outside lights ended up falling down, but the Christmas tree is still shining and beautiful.
I do think some of the oldest traditions of Christmas - gift-giving, card-sensing and light-stringing - are beginning to fade away. There may be some evidence of that, too, in the dwindling sales numbers of the major retailers, who have been reporting a 3 percent drop-off in Christmas sales this year.
A lot of that may have been due to the fierce winter storms that battered a large part of the country this year, even before Winter officially started. As bad luck would have it, three successive ice storms hit the United States on the three weekends ahead of Christmas, making it impossible for a lot of shoppers to go anywhere.
Some of those disappointed shoppers were rewarded today, the day after Christmas, with great sales on leftover merchandise. Meanwhile, apparently, millions of people remain disappointed that UPS trucks failed to deliver expected gifts on time for the holiday.
It would be great if some of the commercial aspects of Christmas, including the aforementioned retailers, were to fade away. They have taken the non-commercial basis for Christmas out of the holiday and made it all about what we can and can't afford to buy, particularly for children.
I have lost my transportation and have no money, so I gave my home health aide's two children, aged 6 and 10, some gifts I had on hand in the house: a dinosaur-themed notebook and a giant pen given away at a presidential debate by the Tampa Bay Tribune (then the St. Pete Times), and a teddy bear my stepdaughter left behind and a plastic ball I'd bought about a year ago for any kid who might deserve a gift (and of course they all do). And, of course, I gave the $99.99 watch to my nurse (I haven't been able to walk well since chemotherapy, so she helps out - a lot).
As it turned out, I got a wonderful gift - some warm hugs and a note from each of the kids. "You will all ways be my best friend," the boy wrote in his new notebook, while the girl's note said, "You are the best Joe. I love the gifts" - and I found those very moving.
To me, it meant that Christmas can still bring forth the sweet smiles of children, the generosity of adults and the soul-stirring moments of the season. Now, that's a nice thing!