Give as Good as You Get

She starts Christmas shopping six months in advance; he begins his hunt with six hours to go. She’s thoughtful and deliberate; he’s wacky and random. How does the marriage of two markedly different Christmas shoppers stay merry and bright come holiday time? Kathryn and Colin Harrison unwrap their secrets.

Photo by Shannon Fagan

Kathryn's story: “Hey!” My 11-year-old daughter bounded out of the kitchen, swinging a miniature pocket watch from a chain. “What’s this? Whose is it?” It was hers, and I told her so, but not that it was intended for her Christmas stocking. I had bought it between errands, then dropped it into the groceries, which I had asked her to unload and put away, having forgotten the tiny purchase that had settled to the bottom of the bag. One hundred and three days remained until December 25.

“Why did you buy me a present?” she asked. “Why on a nothing day like today?”

“I saw it, and I knew you’d love it,” I replied.

She skipped around me, singing, “I do, I do!”

She kissed my cheek and the watch itself. It was a beautiful piece: the case filigreed and daintily faux-tarnished; the sweep of its second hand no thicker than an eyelash. I was sorry to lose this one; it was a find. I had already been anticipating the look on my daughter’s face when she discovered it in her stocking. It was the type of gift that powerfully reinforces the existence of Santa Claus, in the way a store-bought toy never can.

For me there has always been comfort, joy, and excitement to be found in Christmas shopping. And, truly, I’m never not Christmas shopping—not in June, not in January. Why would I limit such an activity to an official season kicked off by the inauspiciously named Black Friday?

Whenever an opportunity presents itself—that empty hour, say, between one appointment and the next—I meander through department stores, boutiques, flea markets. It doesn’t matter which. I enjoy the illicit squandering of time that would be better spent on completing a pressing chore. A benign addiction, Christmas shopping saves me, sometimes, from buying what I don’t need for myself. But I can’t claim it as a virtue. The impulse is selfish and has been ever since I learned that in buying a gift I also purchase the fantasy it inspires.