Santa Baby

No matter how you gauge it, we’re deep into the Holidays

now. The first night of Hanukkah began at sundown on Tuesday.

Winter Solstice visibly approaches as

the days get shorter and darker. And of course, Christmas has

become omni-present.

The streets are lined with twinkling lights, golden bells

and red trimmed ornaments perch atop street lamps. As someone

who works in retail, I saw holiday decorations going up just

after Halloween this year. It was as if, concerned with the

stumbling economy, retailers decided to remind consumers of

their Holiday obligations as early as humanly possible,

without interfering with Back to School sales.

And while it may do you good to stare out into a city

decorated with tiny lights that twinkle like stars, I’d be

willing to bet that you are not enjoying the crush of Holiday

shopping. As someone who works in retail, I will say this: If

people truly knew the spirit of frustration, irritation and

even anger that accompanied the purchase of many of the gifts

people buy during the holidays, I think they would not be so

well received.

The fact of the matter is that Holiday Spirit is supposed

to be about joy, good will and giving. It is difficult to do

this when you’re circling a mall parking lot for half an hour

looking for someplace to park, and waiting in long lines with

mounting bad temper.

So, I will say it again. I have seen countless Holiday

Seasons pass from the inside of retail, and I am forever

compiling tips for myself on how to avoid the frustration of

Holiday shopping in a way that will allow me to truly

experience the joy of Holiday giving, without making me want

to bludgeon anyone with an inflatable, glowing Santa.

I give to you my Holiday Survival List!

– Do not go to a mall on Saturday. Just don’t do it. I

know you think you’ll do it all in one fell swoop, and get it

over with, but that is what everyone is thinking. You

will only end up hating most of humanity, because you will see

them at their very worst. If you have no other options, go to

the mall as early as you can so that you can get out of there

before it gets really busy.

– Most malls have Holiday hours. The thing is, most people

don’t know about them, or have no desire to shop that late. If

a mall is usually open until 9, but they are staying open

until 10 0r 11, you are guaranteed to have better customer

service, short or non-existent lines, close parking spots and

a better overall shopping experience. In fact, most stores use

this time to do re-stocking as well, so you may be able to

find things that appeared sold out during the busiest rushes.

Check your mall website for holiday

hours. They also usually list what sales you can expect to


– Consider not going to a mall. I know they are convenient,

because they have lots of stores in one area, but they are

incredibly loud, and even the ones with high ceilings begin to

feel cramped and can induce claustrophobia with their

incessantly recycled air and blaring Holiday music. As an

alternative, consider outdoor shopping areas.

Some of my favorites in the Easy Bay include the shopping

center in Emeryville. Get there early and get an

enormous $2 breakfast at Ikea, and then shop outdoors at

places like Pottery Barn, Old Navy, Barnes and Noble and the

Gap. Less than a mile away you’ll also find a Best Buy, Toys R

Us and Ross. Granted, it’s still a mall, but the fresh air is

a great way to perk yourself up after the crush of Holiday

shoppers, plus you can get some fantastic peppermint icecream

at Coldstone’s.

Another good one is Solano

Ave. near Berkeley. It’s right off the freeway, and

although parking is a little more difficult, it’s an excellent

place to shop. There’s everything you could want there, from a

small Oaxacan folk art shop, to a Tibetan store that sells

jewelry and clothes. Of course, my very very favorite is The Bone

Room, a store that sells real and cast skeletons, jewelry

cast to shape vertebrae and skulls, mounted butterflies and

bugs trapped in lucite. Nothing says Happy Holidays!!

like a voodoo inspired chicken foot! There’s also some amazing

restaurants on Solano, although the prices can be a little

high. Try Sophia Cafe for some fantastic kosher food and

the nicest servers you could ever hope to meet. Seriously,

they even ask you if you prefer your water with or without


While you’re over there, why not stop by Telegraph Ave,

too? You’ll find a lot of great gift ideas in both the shops

and the tables set up on the street, and you can stop by both

Rasputin and Amoeba to get some great alternatives to the

never-ending Holiday music, as well as truly one of a kind

gifts at the vintage and resale stores like Shark’s Vintage

and Buffalo exchange. If you’re getting cold and hungry, stop

by either Bongo Burger (try the lamb burger, I swear you won’t

regret it!) or Smart Alec’s, which has some of the best

homemade soup I’ve ever tasted! As a word of warning, they

love to give parking tickets in Berkeley, but the good news is

that most of the businesses on Telegraph will happily validate

you for the parking garage just off Telegraph on Durant. Also,

you’ll find some of the most amazing fresh flower merchants on

Telegraph, and I highly recommend the one outside the book

store on Haste. The arrangements they put together truly are

art, and are far less expensive than anything you could buy at

the grocery store.

– A couple miscellaneous tips: Don’t eat at the mall. Far

from being a relaxing way to avoid the Holiday crush, you’ll

wait in long lines, be surrounded by screaming children and

tired frustrated shoppers, and your options of fast food will

leave you feeling bloated and tired. Budget yourself an extra

$20 and treat yourself to dinner after you’re done shopping.

-Don’t bring anything unnecessary. Heavy coats, large bags

and your doggie satchel will only get in your way. However,

remember that most malls are still air conditioned, and

outdoor malls can’t protect you from rain.

-Remember that all of this is about the spirit of

giving. If you find yourself having a really lousy time,

consider just going home. Many people already have more than

enough stuff. Personally, I would rather have some home made

cookies as opposed to a mass produced gift that was bought

under duress and unhappiness.

That’s all I’ve got, but I’m sure other people have great

Holiday survival tips. What’s your favorite way to spread

Holiday cheer?

2 Comments so far

  1. Fred (unregistered) on December 9th, 2004 @ 12:46 pm

    “-Remember that all of this is about the spirit of giving. If you find yourself having a really lousy time, consider just going home. Many people already have more than enough stuff. Personally, I would rather have some home made cookies as opposed to a mass produced gift that was bought under duress and unhappiness.”


    You hit the nail on the head with that one. Every year I go to the mission and help out by helping to feed the homeless. Now, I’m a Los Angeleno, but I happen to know for a fact that S.F. has homeless people too (lots of ’em). The people who run these shelters and/or missions are tremendously understaffed and under appreciated for the work they do. They truly do everything and expect nothing in return.

    So drop by and give them a hand. And if you don’t want to give up your Christmas Day festivities (or whatever multi-culti holiday plans you may have), drop by on December 23rd or the 26th (people are hungry everyday, not just Christmas).

    And the bonus part…you’ll actually leave with REAL holiday spirit, not that commercialized crap.

  2. Alex K. (unregistered) on December 9th, 2004 @ 1:11 pm

    Thank you, Fred!

    You’re absolutely right. Maybe some people will have suggestions for great places that allow volunteers to come in for a day or two?

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