It doesn’t have to be like that. There are plenty of places to shop that are quiet, even peaceful, on Christmas Eve. You can get your shopping done without wrecking your nerves. How do I know? I visited a dozen retail outlets on Christmas Eve between 10 a.m. and four p.m. Here’s what I found.
First, you’ll have to give up on the idea of finding the perfect present for anyone – but by Christmas Eve, you probably already have. Tell yourself firmly that it’s the thought that counts, and try one or more of these places.
- The movies: Lots of theater chains sell passes. Give someone the gift of a good time.
- Fast food restaurants also sell gift certificates – just be sure to hit them outside of mealtimes.
- Thrift stores are not typically full of Christmas shoppers – the parking lot was almost empty at the one I checked out. Of course, it takes a little time to find the good stuff, but it’s always there somewhere – and, as in other businesses, you can just buy a gift certificate if you’re in a hurry.
- Hardware stores are not just for people who want power tools for Christmas. I found a tabletop fountain and silk tree to add a little serenity to our house, and I also saw framed artwork, poinsettias, and, of course, lots of gadgets.
- Pet supply stores are a good place to find things for your friends’ favorite animals – and the one I visited also sold beautiful cat-themed cards that could be framed for the wall. And there was only one other customer in the whole place.
- At a specialty food store, you can find plenty to fill up a gift basket.
- Travel agencies are almost deserted on Christmas Eve. You don’t have to buy someone tickets to Paris (though that would be nice). These places also sell handy things, like money belts and inflatable pillows, that make traveling easier.
- Hair salons aren’t busy either. If you can buy someone a certificate for a haircut or manicure without insulting them, go ahead. And bear in mind, getting yourself a haircut can also be a gift to the people around you.
- Our local library is open only till 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but it’s quiet as ever, and sells postcards, mugs, and tote bags.
- Video stores can be crowded at this time, but they’re open late, and they sell as well as rent.
- Gas stations are, at this point, only for the really desperate. But they do sell sunglasses, wireless accessories, lottery tickets, flowers, candy, and fire logs. (Those last three sound more like Valentine’s Day gifts, actually. Remember that a couple of months later.) If someone really needs it and won’t be offended by the gesture, think of getting a gift card for a tank of gas.
- Finally, don’t forget your computer, where gift certificates, e-books, and music files can be bought and delivered by e-mail.
And then, you can say proudly, along with the late Stan Rogers: “At last I’m ready for Christmas, with nearly two hours to go!”
Jane Wangersky is the author of In Small Packages: Gifts You Can Mail at Canada's Lowest Postal Rates, available for $3.75 at http://www.smallpackages.ca
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