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merry madness – does christmas have to mean mayhem?

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Welcome to Christmas, the home of retail hell. Forget “merry” and “jolly” – the best words to describe retail shopping during Christmas are “run in and get the hell out!” Fluorescent lights, a shit-load of customers with their trollies overloaded with red and green napkins, bon-bons and other Christmas paraphernalia, and undoubtedly a snotty-nosed child squished underneath all of it. If the child isn’t having a tantrum yet then they will be very soon and the mother will join in when she discovers that the 12 pack of toilet paper on special has sold out. The carols playing on loop are the ticking time bomb, “Santa Claus is coming to town” and the family need that 12 pack of toilet paper to accommodate all of the visiting relatives and the crap that comes with them.

As a supermarket check-out chick, swiping your groceries through and smiling politely when listening to yet another customer complaint is just a part of my job. During Christmas time – dubbed “the silly season” for a good reason – tension is amplified and the supermarket environment becomes an arena for customers to test their prehistoric bear-fighting skills, a near fight to the death for the last sacred box of frozen croissants. Hiding under the counter during these times is a good option for one’s own safety.

I know that working in a supermarket gives me a biased perception of customers during Christmas time. Perhaps if I did some volunteer work I would see the giving and kindred side of humanity rather than monkey-hysteria where customers are desperate to fulfil a sort of TV advertisement fantasy.

But I mean really, who ever has a Christmas like that? Where everyone is good-looking, smiley and relaxed? The celebrity chef always does all the work in these scenarios. Without working up a sweat or even complaining “nobody appreciates me” they present a big, plump turkey while everyone else is getting cactus off expensive champers. The perfect Christmas in TV land.

But I’m not going to get all Grinchy about commercialism, because everyone’s seen a few episodes of The Gruen Transfer and we are more than conscious about its influences over us, and the truth is we’re harder to advertise to then ever before. But why do we still buy so much stuff? Why do we go so batty when the Christmas tree goes up?

What we tend to forget is that Christmas is a vulnerable time, a reminder of the hard year we’ve had, a reminder of the life we want and may not have. Mostly it’s a reflection of the amount of pressure we put on ourselves.

While at work serving a customer loaded with 14 varieties of chocolate I think back to Alain De Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy and what he says about materialism: “we are enticed [to buy] through the sly association of superfluous objects with our other, forgotten needs.” All items we buy are essentially linked to a value, such as the customer buying a diabetic amount of chocolate sees it as sharing, a form of love and friendship with friends and family. Christmas is confusing because our values are mixed up in the process of buying and spending. De Botton asks us to question whether this is the best way to express our values – the stress of trying to have a perfect Christmas will never be so if you’re too tense to enjoy it.

As Christmas comes around it doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that you don’t have to join in at the supermarket arena, that you can be kind to the check-out chick and walk out of the store humming “money can’t buy me love.” And really, wouldn’t that feel nicer?

Shannon McKeogh is a 21 year old Melbourne-based writer. Her favourite Christmas memories involves saving a turtle (dubbed Mr Turtle) and watching the annual Queen Christmas message – just joking. Shannon has a non-professional blog at

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