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Dr. Smith’s Prescription for Holiday Stress

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(Editor’s note – This post also appeared at Medpundit)

Yesterday, I was cruelly reminded of just why it is that so many people hate the holidays. Usually, I steer clear of malls this time of year. It’s not that I dislike Christmas, it’s just that I’m not much for crowds. But yesterday, I had a quick errand to run – just a trip in and out of one department store to buy gift certificates for the office staff. I thought it would be so quick that I decided to do it after picking up my daughter from a birthday party. So, seven year old in tow, I whisked into the store. Everything started out great – easy parking, daughter subdued and well-behaved. But then, I encountered THE SALE.

There, just a few feet from the sales counter which was my destination, sat lovely holiday china with delicate green holly leaves and red holly berries in a very tasteful design. Now, holiday china is something that I’ve always wanted to own, but never felt worth the price. This holiday china had a sign next to it proclaiming 60% off. I quickly did the math. At that discount, I could buy enough plates for a family dinner at just a little above the usual cost of one set of plates. Suddenly, they were worth the price.

With my daughter’s help, I took the plates to the sales counter. No line. Sales person available. What a great day. I purchased the nine gift certificates for the office staff and the holiday china, and was feeling pretty good until I looked at the receipt. The computer hadn’t registered the sale.

What happened next can only be described as the epitomy of holiday hell. The sales clerk was very gracious about the mistake, but the cash-register/computer refused to admit any error. It refused her every attempt to correct it, and no one could come to her aid. Meanwhile, more customers were coming to the counter, and growing more and more impatient by the moment. Before my eyes, my daughter transformed from a polite, well-behaved little girl to a whirling, eye-rubbing human tornado, to a jelly-like life form that suddenly had no skeletal system to support her. Her energy and patience depleted, she unfortunately still had the strength to reach up to my watch, announce the minutes that had passed, and ask in her most pitiful voice, “Why is it taking sooooooo loooooong?,” which only served to further agitate the very cranky and very vocal lady next to me. I could see the tension increase in the poor clerk’s neck muscles with each passing minute. In desperation, I tried to cancel the purchase, but the cash-register/computer wouldn’t allow it. Finally, just as my daughter announced that forty-five minutes had passed, and just when I thought the lady next to me was going to kill us all, the clerk announced success, but at what a price. She handed me the receipt, her hands shaking, her eyes brimming with tears. There was a long line at the counter now, and somehow I knew that her evening was only just beginning. God help those who work in sales, and God help the rest of us who make their lives miserable.

I left the department store with my budget intact, but my Christmas spirit in shreds. It’s time to take back the season, and to that end, I offer Dr. Sydney Smith’s prescription for holiday cheer:

1) Tell your kids they can only ask Santa for one present. If that present is the hottest, hardest-to-come-by toy of the season, tell them they have to ask for a different one. Don’t explain why, and if they whine about it, point out to them that Santa only brings toys to good children. Good children don’t whine.

2) Avoid the malls. Shop online.

3) Don’t knock yourself out trying to find that perfect gift. If nothing comes easily to mind, nothing will ever come to mind. Everyone likes food and drink, so send them something from Henry and David or Wine.com. Added bonus: You don’t have to worry about gift wrapping or schlepping to the post office.

4) If you must go to the malls, go the second weekend after Thanksgiving. The stores are still amply stocked, the crowds aren’t as bad as the weekend right after Thanksgiving, and the store clerks aren’t yet at the end of their patience.

5) If you feel the urge to watch a holiday movie, watch
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
, not
It’s a Wonderful Life
. Watch it and realize that the dysfunctional Griswold family is closer to reality than the Baileys. Closer to the reality for all families, not just your family.

6) Don’t bake unless you really want to, and then just bake for your immediate family. Send everyone else something from Harry and David.

7) Reserve the last weekend before Christmas for yourself. Kick off your shoes, pull up a chair by the fire or the furnace vent, poor yourself a glass of wine, and relax. Christmas will come whether or not the gifts are wrapped, the cookies baked, or the cards are all sent. Just like the Christmas in

That’s my plan this year, anyway. Now, if I could just think of a gift for my husband.
Maybe I could persuade his favorite radio host to return to the airwaves….

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  • Eric Olsen

    Ah, Dr. Syd, that’s awfully nice of you and your husband. I’m going through my usual withdrawl pains, working on some options, we’ll see what happens. That was kind of a weird situation – a little too eccentric and “sophisticated” for a medium-sized market, the web would be ideal but still a tiny market. Something will happen soon.


  • Hope that the “something” will be accessible in this corner of the market. Your show is sincerely missed in the Medpundit household.