ALISON O'CONNOR: Blowdriers and addled shoppers make it far from a silent night

I have to remind myself that working in retail at Christmas must be an awful experience, writes Alison O’Connor.

IT’S beginning to feel a lot like peak Christmas. And that was before I sat in the hairdressers chair earlier this week and heard a stylist tell her client that a sister-in-law, who struggles financially, spends €2,000 each on her two young kids for Christmas.

I was in such shock that I stopped the other woman as we both left, and asked if I had misheard over the din of the blowdriers. Equally taken aback, I’m glad to report, she assured me I had not.

What a leap that amount of money is from the average of between €500/€600 that various surveys claim we spend on average at Christmas. Either way, it’s an extraordinary amount of money, and only the very well off could spend it and not end up in debt. Even the €600, when you consider it, is quite daft.

Earlier, as I had sat there surrounded by what can only be described as a tonsorial frenzy, with women appearing to be sitting on every available surface in various states of hair undress, I got a photo on Whatsapp from a friend whose sister is a teacher in Co Cork. I did actually initially think the photo was a spoof until I checked online and realised that what I had seen is actually a ‘thing’. I was looking at a bottle of wine, as it was photographed, obviously sat on the muinteoir’s desk. In the background I could make out young children, in their uniforms, doing their lessons.

The bottle’s label had a picture of a young girl on it, all decked out in her Christmas best. The smaller label at the top of the bottle included a message from this child, lets call her, Megan, wishing her teacher a Happy Christmas.

Then underneath on the main label was the ‘real’ message. It didn’t explicity say it was from Megan’s parents but when you read it you realised.

“Our child might be the reason you drink,” it stated “So enjoy this bottle on us. Happy Christmas.”

Is this sick, or simply a good laugh? I’m so seasonally addled I’m having trouble deciding, but veering towards the former.

My own stylist told me that day her birthday is on December 21st (which was the next day). However she’d decided to abandon plans to go out with friends because everyone was too busy and any restaurant she wanted to go to was demanding a deposit of €200 in order to secure a booking.

So I left the manically busy hairdressers and a short time later found myself standing in front of a shelf in my local Supervalu. I’m not sure for how long, but for a least a few minutes, I stared intently at a brown coloured poo emoji cushion. I was interrupted by a friend who happened along. I explained, in some seriousness, that I had been having a lengthy internal debate as to whether I should fork out the €5.99 demanded because one of my offsprings’s Christmas stocking looked slightly less generous than that of her sibling on the last occasion that I had checked.

It clearly wasn’t anywhere near the €2,000 stakes, but boy does it all add up, and but it was my own version of Yuletide madness, which had simply got more frenzied and panicked as the weeks have progressed. And yes, I’m ashamed to say I bought it, along with yet another box of just-in-case chocolates.

After that I popped into the pharmacy I had ran into, just prior to the supermarket, where I had bought three gifts and asked the friendly shop assistant there would she mind wrapping them. Not at all, she assured me. Upon my return, I discovered that only one had been wrapped as she had gotten interrupted by another customer. I had to work so hard to quell the irrational annoyance I felt at this “unreasonable” delay, and remind myself that working in retail at Christmas, unless you’re the owner raking in the cash, must be a fairly awful experience. As well as the Christmas carols on a loop since late November, there are the increasingly cranky customers — addled and without their usual boundaries of politeness.

The Yuletide panic is all a particularly female form of madness. It’s seems a cliché to say that the male approach is to leave it all to the last minute, but it’s my experience that this is exactly what happens in the majority of cases.

It can be argued that most men have that luxury of taking a last- minute approach if they are not the person organising all the presents, all the Christmas Day outfits, the turkey, and all the trimmings, and the sherry trifle that granduncle Tom will complain bitterly about if it isn’t made exactly to the way he remembers his dear departed mother use to do. So the bulk of the preparation in most households is left to women, but honestly don’t we still take it all a bit too seriously?

Now I’m no Grinch. I think Christmas can be a wonderful time of year and love to go the whole festive hog on the decorations, preferring a Las Vegas, as opposed to a Scandi approach. It’s a lifetime ambition to go to Lapland to meet Santa. I’ve only spent one Christmas out of the country and that was in Australia many years ago. It was certainly an experience, spent on Bondi Beach along with all the other backpackers. Even then it intrigued me to hear of the expats who went the whole hog on the day, just like they would have had it back home, despite the sweltering temperatures and the Santas dressed in hat, beard, and red speedos.

Having said that, this year I was sorely tempted to try the deep-fried turkey method, as advocated recently by a visiting American friend. I particularly like the bit where she has her husband take over the task since it involves cooking in the great outdoors using a special turkey frier. This method involves buying a special frier and as I discovered with a bit of Googling can be “an inherently dangerous undertaking” — hence the outdoors decision.

As one US cookery blogger puts it: “While there are plenty of precautions that can be taken to minimise the risk, there’s no way to heat up gallons of oil to 350°F using a big propane burner, lower a turkey into it, and be guaranteed not to hurt yourself or others.”

He added further advice: “Responsible turkey friers do not leave things unattended,” plus: “Don’t drink and fry.” Still, the day after Thanksgiving, my friend sent a photo of the skeletal remains of two deep friend turkeys with a one word message: “Delicious”. It was a bit late for us to take this particular culinary route this year but I think I already know what I’ll be getting my spouse as a Christmas present next year.

But I digress. Since it’s now Friday, there are 48 hours to Christmas Day. How far all those ‘first- world issues’ mentioned above are from the people who are homeless this year, and the families that have no idea where they will be this time next year. So I’m going to take a very deep breath and over the two days or so that are left slow down, put away the purse, and just enjoy the season that’s in it.

I have to remind myself that working in retail at Christmas must be an awful experience


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