It’s been many years since I wrote a letter to Santa. It’s also been many years since I absolutely had to have whatever it was I thought I really needed to have.
My bride finds it difficult to buy presents for me because I can never tell her anything specific. I try to be happy with what I have, which is not to say I’m not materialistic. While I don’t have a list of items I’d really love to have, I do have a list of places I’d really love to see. Alas, traveling costs more than the typical birthday or Christmas gift.
Recognizing this, a few years ago Lu arranged a wonderful trip as a combination birthday-anniversary-Christmas gift. We would take a train ride from Atlanta to New Orleans, board a riverboat for a cruise on the Mississippi, spend a few days in the “Big Easy”, and ride the train back to Atlanta. I was thrilled with the idea.
Then along came Katrina. The plan was scrapped and is still sitting on the back burner.
It’s been a long time since I was absolutely thrilled with a gift I’ve received. One exception would be the scrapbook my daughter put together a few years ago. I know she put hours of work into it and more money than she should have, but it had “I love you Dad” written on every page – not in writing that could be read by others, but visible through the careful planning on the part of my little girl.
I’ve often stated that many of today’s problems can be attributed to air conditioning and television, but now that I think about it, credit cards have to be right near the top.
The economic problems the world is facing today are due, in large part, to people being over-extended. They bought – on credit – much more than they could afford. But the problems I’m thinking of are more aligned with the term ‘instant gratification’.
With a pocketful of plastic, we can go and buy most anything we want as soon as we decide we want it. Years ago, before the widespread availability of credit cards, most stores offered lay-away plans. The customer would select an item and make a down-payment. The merchant would put the item in a box in a back room and label it so it wouldn’t be sold to someone else.
On a weekly basis, the customer would go to the store and make a payment. When the total of the payments equaled the purchase price, the item was handed over to the customer.
This process required discipline on both parties. The buyer had to be positively certain that he or she truly wanted the item; a commitment was being made and the payment schedule had to be followed precisely. If payments were missed, the merchant had the right to sell the item to someone else.
In the meantime, the merchant had to wait for the money. Anyone who has worked in the retail industry knows the importance of ‘turning’ inventory. Things need to be sold so that the cash is available to buy more things to sell. Waiting for a customer to finally pay off the lay-away reduces the number of ‘turns’. Thus, allowing lay-aways was purely a matter of customer service.
With credit cards, merchants no longer have to offer lay-aways (although some still do). People no longer give careful thought before making a purchase.
What does all this have to do with a letter to Santa? It’s simple. If I go out and buy what I want as soon as I decide I want it, I have nothing to put on my Christmas list. Nor do the people for whom I buy gifts. No one really knows what their friends and relatives want.
Therefore, we go out and buy talking fish to hang on the wall of the family room.
With all of this in mind, I will now write my letter to Santa.
Please don’t let anyone buy me a talking fish or any other stupid ‘waste of good money’ novelty items. Instead, tell them to go to the God’s Global Barnyard website and buy some animals for people in developing countries. If it makes them feel better, they can do it in my name. Then they can send me a card telling me that they got my goat!
Oh, and have a Merry Christmas