A year ago at Christmastime I was wearing shorts and grading papers outside on the patio. Now, I had to dig in the closet and bring out my corduroy pants, gloves and other warm gear. One part of the holiday season I was ready to embrace again was decorating. At one time I was like Chevy Chase in the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," I tended to go overboard big time.
In China,there were not too many signs of the season since it is predominantly a Buddhist country. Most of the glitter was confined to the hotels that cater to foreigners. That's ironic since the majority of the decorations sold in our country probably are manufactured in Asia.
But once the first blast of serious snow hit in early December, I found the desire to decorate outside quickly waned and my holiday spirit was better served by a warm fire inside!
Then there's the driving. In China we were not permitted to operate a motor vehicle. That was probably a good thing since there are many scary sights on the foreign roads. It seems the Chinese motorists did not receive a lot of driving lessons. In America, we're big on driver education courses in high school or assorted schools. But I noticed once the prime time shopping season hit here, the harried quickly forget their training.
Of course, serious shoppers are not afraid to do steady amounts of driving to secure everything on that shopping list. When cars aren't stacked up entering the mall or on the major roads, the driving frequently reflects people in a hurry. I've seen some swerves and crazy moves I doubt even a professional stunt driving would try! As the first major snow blanketed Western New York, a lot of people were driving much too fast for the conditions. I guess an accident is a minor inconvenience compared to missing out on valuable shopping time The season of giving probably is prime time for insurance agents as well as retailers.
At Christmastime, the one aspect that I was especially struck by is the obvious stress level. Some shoppers definitely make no effort to disguise how they're coping with the season. In checkout lines, you can hear steady sighs or see signs of fidgeting as the buyers exhibit how anxious they are to get on to the next destination. I overheard one mom detailing her frantic hunt for the latest hot toys. I smiled at recalling my own experiences with that "Christmas crisis" in the past. Thankfully my kids are in their 20s now.
Since I've been away from the last minute rush several years, I also found the retail hours amazing. It was a big deal when Ames and Kmart were the first stores to ever open on Thanksgiving. Now if stores don't start Black Friday the evening before they're not considered competitive. And when I notice that stores like Macy's were open to 2 a.m., I seriously wondered who would be picking out a present at that hour?
When it comes to food, many of the delicacies we take for granted in the U.S. cannot be readily found in mainland China. How many times have you consumed turkey between Christmas and New Year's? But in China it is very difficult to find ... and expensive.
On Thanksgiving, though, some American colleagues and I were willing to overpay just to simulate a little bit of home overseas.
How about sugar treats? In the holiday season, there's hardly a home or business that doesn't have a goodie tray out for visitors. Believe it or not, a simple chocolate chip cookie was difficult to locate in Zhuhai, China where I taught. Once a colleague making a day trip to Hong Kong asked me if there was anything I wanted her to bring back. She was amazed when my answer was some chocolate chip cookies!
Another thing I've gotten back in the habit of is listening to weather forecasts carefully again to plan my travels. My usual hour commute home from SUNY Fredonia has stretched into two or three hours a number of times. Plus, my main route - the Thruway - has already been shut down several times.
For all the faults and quirks of winter and the holiday season, I'm happy to be part of the Western New York lifestyle again.
But check with me in the spring to hear my feelings about winter after I've experienced a few more long commutes and I've cleared off the sidewalk and car a few dozen times thanks to the snow!
Mike Igoe is an assistant professor of journalism in the communication department of Fredonia State University.