The holiday season is again upon us, and the Christmas-haters are running wild in the streets, whining and complaining and generally making the rest of us miserable.   Everywhere I turn I see nothing but sour faces, grim expressions, and bloodshot, raging eyes.

I just don't get it.

How can anyone hate Christmas?

Christmas and Halloween are my two favorite holidays, because both involve the giving of stuff. To me. For free. And, while I would certainly never turn my nose up at any national holiday that encourages the mass consumption of large quantities of complimentary M&Ms, I still have to say that Christmas kicks Halloween’s ass in the “Best Holiday Ever” category, because the value of the stuff that is given to me tends to be much higher and usually also includes a sizeable check from my dad. Except for the one year he charitized us. That was a terrible Christmas. Instead of giving us our usual sum on Christmas morning, he proudly informed my sisters and me that he had donated the money in our names to a homeless shelter. It was a nice idea and all, but the icy reception his announcement received certainly dissuaded him from ever doing something like that again.

Last Friday I picked up my Christmas tree at Mahoney’s Nursery, which always marks the official beginning of The Leslie Talbot Holiday Shopping Season. I set up my tree on Friday night (it’s a lovely one this year, all green and fluffy, perfectly shaped in a nice triangular configuration), decorated it on Saturday, and spent the rest of my snowy weekend gazing in admiration at the golden lights twinkling from the branches as I inhaled the fragrant pine aroma in glowing holiday bliss.

On Monday, I began shopping.

Oh, not gift shopping. Gift shopping for me does not commence until December 20th at the earliest. No, as far as I am concerned, the three weeks leading up to December 20th are for Leslie Shopping.

I used to lie to myself and pretend I was going shopping for family gifts in early December, but that just made me feel all selfish and evil when I’d arrive home with a bag full of Ann Taylor sweaters that mysteriously fit only me. So, nowadays, I’ve just taken to factoring the Leslie Shopping into my holiday gift-buying plans. I feel less guilty and no one is the wiser.

I subscribe to the “one for you, at least two for me” Guidelines For Holiday Cheer. Meaning, for every holiday-related task I complete, I get to indulge in at least two completely frivolous activities that benefit only me. For example, I bought two boxes of Christmas cards yesterday. That entitled me to two new sweaters, a wool skirt, and a pair of black tights, none of which were on sale. The Christmas tree I bought on Friday merited a nice cold bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and the suspension of my self imposed drinking-at-home ban for the duration of the holiday season. Oh, and “holiday related” is a very loosely defined term. I count “shoveling snow” as a “holiday related activity” because of the song White Christmas.  Thus, spending all morning Sunday digging my car out of a snow bank allowed me an uninterrupted afternoon of lying around and watching TiVo while I polished off the last of the Veuve (okay, okay, I opened a second bottle; I can’t get anything over on you guys, can I?)

The rationale behind my holiday shopping philosophy is twofold. In the first place, I function most effectively under pressure. So, if you ever find yourself on my Christmas list, pray to the Baby Jesus that I hold out until Christmas Eve to hit the mall, because that’s when you’re likely to get the most expensive gift. I’ll be so pressed for time I’ll totally chuck my per-person spending limit just to finish before midnight.

In the second place, even though I like buying stuff -- especially for myself -- I actually hate the physical task of shopping, so anything I can do to make the experience more tolerable is, as far as I am concerned, perfectly justifiable. I’m like the Navy SEAL of shoppers. I identify my objective, swoop into the store, buy it, and swoop out with a minimum of disruption to my life. If I get the item home and it doesn’t fit, or it looks bad, I’ll just return it or give it to someone I don’t like. I absolutely refuse to shop with anyone, because the minute I’m done in a store I’m out of there. I can case a Banana Republic in sixty seconds flat, decide if there is anything there that merits my attention, snatch up my prize, and vacate the premises with nary a hair out of place. I certainly can’t be bothered standing around yawning while my friend agonizes whether a particular pair of pants makes her ass look too big, and watching someone sift through the half-price racks for bargains is nothing but an exercise in torture for me (my impatience with bargain shopping is a contributing factor to my current status among the Nouveau Poor). Nope. In and out, that’s my motto, and woe to anyone who tries to slow me down.

You sales clerks out there should take particular note. I realize it is the Powers that Be in the retail world who have decided it is more important to deploy you on the sales floor instead of behind the cash registers where you belong, but you all need to do a much better job of reading my “stay the hell away from me until I need something” expression when I enter your establishment.

A few other helpful hints.

- Do not ever ask me if I want a gift box, particularly prior to December 20th. If I need a gift box I will request one. I certainly do not want to draw attention to the fact that I am, in fact, buying an item for myself by refusing said gift box. That just makes those in line behind me scornful and resentful and contributes to the already rampant Bad Holiday Karma swirling about us.

- On the rare occasion when I have no choice but to try something on in your Dressing Room of Shame and Distorted Mirrors, please do not hover outside the door asking every five seconds if I need a different size. If I need a different size I will stick my head out and holler for you. So, yes, remain close by. But keep quiet.

- Yes, I saw the sign that said if I buy three bras I get the third one free. I went to college. I can read. Why the need to remind me of this as you are in the process of ringing up my purchase? Do you really think I would have the temerity to hold up the line so as to rush back and grab two more off the rack? Yes, I’m sure some people would do just that. But take my word for it. They’ll try that around me just once. That’ll be the end of it.

- No, I do not want to apply for your credit card while there are twenty people standing behind me, forced to line up in front of a single register because all of your colleagues are too busy pestering other people in the dressing rooms and on the sales floor to come man the other two (empty) registers next to you. I already have too many credit cards and have no interest in being loudly declined in front of twenty angry strangers who already resent me for slowing them down anyway.  Here’s my debit card. Ch-ching!

- The woman who ignores the queue and steps up to the front of the counter to “just ask a quick question?” It’s never a “quick question.” It’s a nefarious ploy to cut the line and monopolize your attention for the next twenty minutes while she attempts a) a complicated exchange requiring multiple calls to the credit department; b) a fruitless search for an item that went out of stock three years ago; c) a smartly-executed diversion tactic to cover for the crack shoplifting team ransacking the hosiery counter while your attention is elsewhere. In any case, do not fall for it. Send her to the back of the line where she belongs. Your job -- nay, your very livelihood -- is at stake!

This year I am in a particularly expansive Christmas mood. Maybe it’s the early snowfall. Maybe it’s the wonderful tree smell wafting through my apartment. Maybe it’s the smug knowledge I won’t have to suffer through another dreadful Be-Seen-Or-Be-Fired holiday bash at a certain Very Large And Very Evil Mutual Fund Company.

Or maybe it’s because I’m (technically) still unemployed and I don’t have to meet very high gift expectations from my loved ones.

Nah. More likely it’s that I'm broke, starving, and everyone feels really, really sorry for me this year. And that can only mean one thing:

More stuff. For me. Free.
Let Nothing Me Dismay