A Retail-Worker’s Christmas Survival Guide: Vol 2

Ever since I started working retail I have struggled with Christmas.

At one point in time, Christmas was my favourite holiday. Presents were cool. As a Christian I think I put it up at #1 because I felt like I had to, December 25th being Jesus’ birthday and all, even though I now know that Christmas isn’t actually Jesus’ birthday and all that. Christmas just feels like it’s supposed to be everyone’s favourite holiday. The songs tell you so. The commercials tell you so. The stores tell you so. The sales tell you so. Capitalism has made it so.

At one point in my mid-20s, I wrote a survival guide for retail workers. I’m going to do it again. A retail worker 10+ years in the making, I know that there’s no mistaking the awfulness of the capitalized holiday season. But I’m not about to put a bloody gun in my mouth and neither should you.

1. The Christmas music is going to come early but find some way to enjoy it.

I grew up singing old Christmas hymns. Apart from “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and that stupid Britney Spears song that I identified with in high school because I was a sad angsty teen who couldn’t get a boyfriend and didn’t yet have access to Taylor Swift. I didn’t endure the true awfulness of mainstream Christmas music until I survived my first Christmas in retail.

After that, nothing was the same as listening to Xtina drag out every syllable of “This Christmas”. Nothing was the same as listening to 70 different renditions of “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” every day. Nothing was the same was wondering how the hell one woman could obsess over a guy for an entire year while never seeing him in the song “Christmas Wrapping”. Nothing was the same as HATING MICHAEL BUBLE AND WANTING TO KILL HIM FOR SINGING EVERY CHRISTMAS SONG IN EXISTENCE. JUST STOP MICHAEL, LET SOME THINGS BE SACRED.

I used to pick my most hated Christmas song every year. My suggestion now is to find just one that you can laugh at in a light-hearted slap on the shoulder kind of way. Now, I wait for the Jimmy Eat World version of “Last Christmas” to play during my work day? Why? Because “Last Christmas” is a song that I somehow found myself ironically enjoying. I know it’s a stupid song. I know it’s actually the worst mainstream Christmas song of all time (except maybe “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, but we need not speak of that abomination). I don’t care. I like it. The WHAM original is pretty epic (and 80’s!) BUT the Jimmy Eat World version is just truly the best. THE BEST. It’s all my teen angst spit-shined into a Christmas song that 30-year-old me can appreciate. I’ll listen to it on repeat play. I love it. It makes me feel like it’s Christmas. It’s childhood and teenhood and adulthood all fused into magic that makes me feel goosebumps even at the peak busy hours of the day. (The Puppini Sisters’ version of “Last Christmas” is also pretty good, with some 40’s Parisian influence!)

My point is, find a song that makes you feel this way. Christmas is so over-rated that there WILL be a rendition of a song out there for you. If there’s anything beneficial about the modern holiday season, it is that.

2. Have a drink.

As in alcohol. Sometimes a glass of wine after an extended into 1AM evening shift (because now your work opens late all holiday season!) is all you need. Then go to bed watching Netflix on your phone. Binge watch a new show. Wake up late. Enjoy waking up late. Enjoy it.

3. Have some tea.

It’s hard to really realize the impact tea can have until you swap your coffee for a big mug of Earl Grey in the morning. The hydration is like an extra kick in the face. Also, at the end of the night, swap your drink of booze for some soothing rooibos. Read a book. Make another cup. Variety is always nice.

Buy some (preferably caffeinated) tea.

Keep your tea in your work locker.

Have a cup of tea on EVERY SINGLE BREAK.

You’ll understand once you’ve done it.

4. Find ONE thing about working retail during the Christmas season that you can handle.

For me, it’s making feature gift tables. Last year I made a killer duo of “Gifts for Him” and “Gifts for Her” tables that I kept spiffy and beautiful until I no longer had merchandise to fill them with. A part of surviving Christmas as a retail worker is having some kind of pride in what you do.

5. Find an alternative way to decorate your house that is comforting.

Eh, it's a start.

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The year I probably hated Christmas the most, I decorated my house all goth. I got a black tree. I got red, white and silver ornaments. I went nuts. I haven’t decorated my house so much since that year. Now, I go a little more subdued in a more standard route with mid-century-inspired red, green, and gold on my white tree. It’s still “traditional” but it makes me feel happy to see my clean white tree when I come home from work. Over the years I’ve grown very fond of all things “Kitchmas”, which sort of leads me to my next point…

6. Make a tradition.

I know the hardest part of being a retail worker at Christmas is trying to find a way to find “Christmas spirit”. Traditions help, even if only you abide by them. For several years I used to make shortbread cookies with tea and put them in mason jars with custom-designed labels to give to all of my managers. It just felt good to bake for other people, to give back. I realize that not everyone might be in the situation where the particularly like their managers, but you can always bake for your family or friends, but there are other things you can do.

Aaaaaaand, the finished product!

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Another tradition I’ve started was to make a simple paper bell ornament honouring my favourite politician of the year. In 2015 it was Justin Trudeau (who I know shrug my shoulders at, but it’s the action that counts!) In 2016 it was Bernie Sanders. Still deciding on the special politician this year, but I’m gonna do it again because it’s fun and stupid and at least something that I have to stick myself to.

Another suggestion would be to make a retro-inspired putz house. Retro Renovation puts out a new design every year and it’s a fun way to do some arts and crafts while maybe enjoying one of your drinks from tip #2.

7. Plan a KILLER Christmas party outfit.

Hey, this is just me as a clothes-fiend speaking, but now is the time to truly dazzle yourself. Even if you’re not the sort to dress up every day, you might as well use the workplace Christmas party (no matter how lame it may be) to dress the hell up. Buy new stuff. Spend too much money. Why not? Everyone else is. At the very least you’ll get some decent mirror selfies for your Instagram profile and you can do a better job pretending like your life is perfect than you do the other 364 days of the year.

8. Remember that Christams is just a day.

When all is said and done, it’s just a day. I’ve had awful Christmas’. The Christmas after my grandfather died was the worst one I’ve ever had. My parents went on vacation and it was just my sister and I can the grandmother that we’d realized by then we didn’t really know all that well (because generational gaps can be difficult, yo). I woke up that morning to my boyfriend and his friend playing tower defense games on the computer and then my sister and I picked up my grandma (suffering from demendia) from her senior home and spent Christmas with some family friends. It was hard because it was different. It was hard because my parents weren’t there. It was hard because my grandpa wasn’t there for the first time, and my parents weren’t around for Christmas for the first time, and it was a real karate kick into adulthood that made me realize that hey, Christmas isn’t predictible and won’t always be the same and everything is just a real gamble.

That year my sister and I gave my grandma a framed photo we’d taken with my grandfather in the hospice he spent his last days of battle with stomach cancer in. My grandma cried when she opened it. She said she said she loved it. Despite never feeling like we understood her or that she really understood us, my sister and I always knew that her husband was her life and that she loved him and missed him and that photo meant something to her. I’d struggled all my life trying to understand my grandmother and I never felt like I truly did until that depressing Christmas.

After I had my daughter, my mom lost her eldest sister and had to travel abroad to be with her family. She missed Maggie’s first Christmas and I was upset about it. My dad also forgot to pick up the turkey from the grocery store, so we had to scramble together a half-decent fancy roast beef recipe to salvage Christmas dinner. We made a decent roast but my dad still felt like crap for forgetting. My point is that Christmas is never predictable and sometimes you have to make the best of things.

That all said, I can honestly admit that Christmas is not my favourite holiday.

The feeling is forced.

The music is awful.

The commercialism is tiring.

My parents are impossible to buy gifts for.

I never watched Christmas movies as a kid (save for Home Alone!) so that whole thing where you wrap up Christmas movie DVD’s and what one every day is so annoying to me that I wanna punch people in the face who love garbage Christmas movies that much.

Halloween is my favourite holiday.

Then St. Patrick’s Day.

THEN Christmas.

But that’s okay.

If you’re an angsty exhausted retail worker reading this, I empathize with your pain. If you work retail long enough, the dread will subside a little, but not entirely. It might take time, but eventually you will feel “the holiday spirit” again. You’ll find a way to get through it.

As a customer once told me, “You only get to listen to this music once a year!”

I realize that you can actually listen to it whenever the hell you want to, but you’re only FORCED to listen to it once a year, or in actuality like 2-3 months of the year, which is only like a 1/4 of the year.

It doesn’t last forever.

It gets better.

It’ll be St. Patrick’s Day soon!

9. Put on some Irish music.

“The Rocky Road to Dublin” is always a hit. Also, this tip goes well with tip #2.

More about Rebecca

Rebecca is a neo-noir author from Kamloops, British Columbia. Her first collection of gritty short fiction, Vile Men was published by Dark House Press in 2015. She also writes about her writer lifestyle on her personal blog at rebeccajoneshowe.com

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