Halloween is in the rear-view mirror, and Remembrance Day is coming up, which can only mean one thing: Christmas is on the way. Ads with holiday music playing in the background have been airing for several weeks, Christmas decorations have been co-existing with Halloween ones for almost as long, egg nog and mandarin oranges — those traditional Christmas staples — are back on the shelves, and it can only be a matter of days before shopping malls begin playing non-stop Christmas music.
Not even movie theatres are safe. This week sees the opening of the new film Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke — better known as the Mother of Dragons from Game of Thrones — as a woman who gets a job in a store where it’s all-Christmas, all the time. To anyone who loves Christmas, this might seem like a dream job. Dear reader, I can assure you that it is not.
When I moved to Great Britain in 1992 I soon got a job as a clerk at British Home Stores (BHS), a nationwide department store that was as ubiquitous on Britain’s high streets as Marks and Spencer, and almost as well-loved (alas, the chain has folded, a fate which might soon be shared by Marks and Sparks). BHS sold everything from bedding and bathroom accessories to clothing and chinaware, and I found myself working in the housewares section of the BHS store in Chester, where I learned how to fold a fitted sheet like no one’s business, do a decent Liverpool accent courtesy of my many Liverpudlian co-workers, and play endless games of “I’m going to guess where you’re from based on your accent!” with customers who — as soon as I spoke — realized I was not from those parts and were determined to figure out where I had come from. An amazing number of people pegged me as Canadian right away; other guesses were Scottish, Irish, American, and (the mind boggles) Australian.
When, in fall 1993, employees were asked if they wanted to spend a couple of months working in the store’s special Christmas section, my hand shot up. I love Christmas with all the fervour of the Grinch after he has his epiphany at the tip-top of Mount Crumpit and his heart grows three sizes, so it was a no-brainer. Non-stop Christmas for two months, plus no folding up fitted sheets that customers had taken out of the package, inspected, and then decided against buying! Win!!
Goes to show how wrong you can be.
It wasn’t too bad for the first couple of weeks. Then the novelty wore off, and I looked at the calendar and realized there were still six weeks to go until Christmas. Six more weeks of listening to the Christmas music playing over the store’s PA system, which competed non-stop with the tinny Christmas music emanating from various items for sale in the Christmas section. By far the worst offender was a china cookie jar in the shape of a snowman which — if I recall correctly, although I try not to think about it if I can help it — played a particularly egregious version of “Jingle Bells” when you lifted the snowman’s hat.
This was, of course, by far the most popular item in the Christmas section, so “Jingle Bells” rang out constantly. Every time I had to restock the shelf I fantasized about “accidentally” tripping and shattering an armful of the jars, and I think my co-workers were as relieved as me when they sold out, and we could say — barely restraining a huge grin as we did so, and trying to sound sincere — “So sorry, no, we won’t be getting more in, such a shame, I agree.”
By the time Dec. 24 arrived I was almost — almost — looking forward to getting back to folding fitted sheets, which had the saving grace of not playing “Jingle Bells” when you tried to put them back in the package. “Be careful what you wish for” says the old adage. Truer words were never spoken.