Find the true spirit of the season close to home

Some Christmas shoppers are enlightened to the emotional, physical and spiritual benefits of shopping locally.

I didn’t reach enlightenment until I hit rock bottom, when my Christmas spirit hit the ground with a thud, and I sought a civil alternative to the madness that is Christmas shopping.

My rock bottom happened on the last Saturday before Christmas in London several children ago. My brother and I set out to do our shopping at Selfridges department store on Oxford Street. We had that one day to blitz our short-but-important Christmas list: a purse for my mom, a watch for my sister, and God-knows-what for my dad.

We knew we could get it all at Selfridges—the greatest department store in all the world.

We expected there would be crowds, but hey, we were used to crowds—we’d been living in London for two whole years. We could handle crowds.

We made a plan to divide and conquer: my brother would buy the watch for my sister, I would choose the purse for my mom, and we would both keep an eye out for a gift for my dad. We’d be in and out in less than an hour, leaving us plenty of time for a spot of sausage and mash and a pint of lager at the nearest pub. Job done.

I can tell you now that in a city that boasts twice as many residents as the entire province of British Columbia, shopping on the last Saturday before Christmas at the greatest department store in all the world is not recommended, especially for two overconfident Canadians who grew up in small-town Alberta.

Coming out of the Underground tube station into the exhaust-filled air of Oxford Street, any festive chatter we shared during transit was silenced in awe and fear of what lay ahead.

I was immediately surrounded by a jumble of pedestrians in dark winter coats. The crowd was so dense I could only look down at the square-foot of sidewalk beneath my feet.

My brother and I instinctively linked arms, as much to ensure we didn’t lose each other as for solidarity: two bodies could battle the endless flood of oncoming foot traffic better than one.

Luckily (or not, as was the case) the current of people we joined was going our way — into Selfridges. We followed the herd of overdressed, wild-eyed shoppers into the already packed store.

There was no dividing—I don’t know if I would have ever seen my brother again—nor was there much conquering.

We broke free of the mass to join a hysterical group of 50 people yapping at once at the lone watch salesman. When the salesman finally attended to us, he was so far along the counter we had to shout our request to be heard above the mob.

He picked out the watch, we paid for it, he gave us the watch, we shouted a thank you he did not hear, and we ran out of the store straight to the pub around the corner to settle our nerves. Madness.

My Christmas spirit returned the year my husband and I decided to give only locally made products as gifts — our first slow Christmas in the Cowichan Valley.

TeaFarm was the first stop on our first day of Christmas shopping. We spent three hours tasting tea, eating Pearl Chocolates, and having a delightful conversation with owners Victor Vesely and his talented wife Margit Nellemann.

So calm, such quality, and so refreshingly opposite to that day in London. We were hooked.

Buy local—period.

Maeve Maguire is a technical writer who lives and works in Maple Bay and writes monthly in the News Leader Pictorial. Visit her blog www.cowichandale.com, or email her at maeve@describewriting.com.

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