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Online, in-store shopping both boast advantages

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, especially now that Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday are over. It’s hard to believe that it’s less than a month before Christmas Day.

I have made it a point to avoid all stores during the big shopping sales. It’s not that I’m against saving money or getting great deals, I’ve become allergic to the immense crowds I have to endure to earn them. The crowds in the stores are bad enough, especially on the big shopping days, but the traffic to the malls and the difficulties finding a parking space are even worse.

Last year I had to go to some store (I have consciously forgotten which) on the day after Thanksgiving to get something minor I needed, not even Christmas shopping. By the time I even got into the parking lot, I was admiring the Grinch. By the time I found a space and headed into the store, I had already lost my Christmas spirit for at least two weeks. And the average, everyday, not-on-sale item I was seeking was, well, sold out.

Online shopping is a distinct convenience and a great way to preserve my Christmas cheer. Google can find almost anything, including the best deals, and it’s a whole lot nicer to hit the “submit” button than stand in the long lines at checkout counters.

But the big problem with online shopping is that pictures of stuff are not nearly as much fun, or as useful, as holding, shaking, squeezing, scrutinizing or agonizing over the stuff itself. Sometimes pictures, in catalogs or online, don’t really capture the reality you’re expecting. The item is too big, or too small; too flimsy, or too heavy. The clothes don’t fit. The colors don’t look like the picture. The computer or television or smartphone or tablet just doesn’t have all the specs you think you need but can’t tell from the one-inch description you get at a distance. There’s a reason the returns department is so busy the day after Christmas.

So sometimes, especially at Christmas when selecting the right gift is fraught with undue importance or just overwrought tension, you just gotta go to the store and check it out personally, carefully, thoroughly. But be fair; buy it where you find it. Store owners visibly age when they see someone spend half an hour checking out something, often with the patient help of a salesperson, who then goes out and buys the item online just to save a buck or two.

I’ve learned to appreciate gift cards, to give and to get. Giving cards to a person’s favorite store, activity or food is a painless way to give somebody you like something you know they’ll appreciate. I love gift cards to movie theaters, for instance, because I love movies. Cards are so easy to gift-wrap, too. But be careful to give the right card. The movie card needs to be to a theater that’s accessible, not a chain out of town. Don’t give an Amazon or iTunes card to someone who doesn’t have a computer. And, most importantly, don’t give a card that expires. Those cards are often ripoffs if the recipient doesn’t know or forgets to use it in time.

One thing I miss now in this Christmas season is that I am no longer in the position of publishing the Angel Tree we used to print every year for decades more than I can remember. Each year we’d provide Christmas presents for 50-60 children, first working with the Department of Social Services and later the Salvation Army. Readers were generous, donating specific toys and money, so that we always ended up finding something for every child on that year’s list. It bothers me to think of all the children who don’t get remembered at Christmas.

So do me a favor this season. In memory of what we once did, let’s keep doing. As individuals, families, churches, civic groups or clubs, set aside something for the children’s Christmas and find somewhere to give it — DSS, perhaps, or the Salvation Army, or even families you know. If you know of another Angel Tree, please support it. Let the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — be your gift guide.

The older I get, and frankly the more I’ve accumulated over the years, the more I realize the eternal truth that it is the giving, not the gift, that counts. The caring and love that goes into selecting a present for a spouse, family member, friend or coworker, however humble your resources, is the life-changing spirit behind the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to the little baby in Bethlehem.

My Christmas wish, fantasy though it may be, is that no child wakes up on Dec. 25 and is forgotten or feels unloved.

Ken Ripley, a resident of Spring Hope, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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