The shopping adventures of Christmas past stand out in my memory as magical times.
Mom and Dad would pile us into the station wagon and we’d head off to Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark, as Macy’s there was formerly known.
Once inside, the focus was always the decorations not the merchandise. Dad, who’d stocked shelves there in men’s haberdashery as a young lad growing up, said visiting Bamberger’s during the Christmas season was the next best thing to going to Radio City. Mom, the thriftier of the two, often referred to it as “priceless.”
Thinking back, I realize that’s because we never really shopped very much there. We gawked at the splendid sights, stood in never ending lines where we met a lot of strangers who became friends just by talking about the wonderful things we were seeing.
We never minded exiting without packages because to us, the special air of Christmas that filled the store from top to bottom was more wonderful than buying things. And sharing it with your family and hundreds of other families, was most wonderful of all.
I still vividly recall display cabinets lined with Christmas trees that glowed with lights, tinsel and “snow.”
If memory serves, the stores were decorated after Thanksgiving and Bamberger’s featured special displays devoted to Christmas that seemed to take over a whole floor of the big old building on Market Street.
And wonder of wonder, they often focused on the actual meaning of the season.
Terms like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Welcome Now the Prince of Peace,” actually appeared on banners over displays with religious themes. I distinctly recall a huge exhibit that brought the Sistine Chapel to life right inside that store on Market Street although, that might have been during Spring, where “The Glory of Easter” was actually trumpeted throughout the store.
Nowadays, the marketplace gears up in July and starts zooming down the road to Christmas. Manic shoppers shove their way to the stuff on Black Friday and beyond leaving the bloom totally off the rose in a mercantile sense by the time you reach December.
And so it was on the ninth of December when we went to Manhattan for our annual Christmas excursion which always includes a stop at St. Patrick’s followed by a walk down Fifth Avenue window shopping. This year, commercially speaking, we found a whole lot of “Holiday” instead of Christmas in trendy shades of green and brown.
Don’t get me wrong: we did find the heart of the season in St. Patrick’s Cathedral where an empty crib in the large and lovely crèche waits for the bambino to come. We drew inspiration from a major exhibit of Scripture – Christian, Jewish and Islamic – at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Bryant Park.
But we struck out with a “warm the cockles of your heart” store experience that usually figures in to these annual excursions.
A night later we would find it in a big box store off the turnpike. As in Christmases past, there was nothing on the shelves.
We had trekked again – this time to Ikea, the Swedish home goods store in Elizabeth Port, to sample their “Jule Board” buffet. I didn’t hold out much hope for a Christmas experience. The relatively small section of Christmas goods that we’d seen on an earlier visit had dwindled to nothing.
Up stairs in the restaurant, a three-piece band was playing songs of the season, not carols.
We got in the long and ever growing line for the buffet and noticed, out of the corner of our eyes, a group of five young men standing just behind us. They couldn’t wait for the buffet to begin and began to pillage a dessert table, taking direct aim at a fancy pastry known as a ‘Princess Cake.’
They noticed us watching them and struck up a conversation with us that would last throughout the dinner. All pharmacy students from Rutgers University, they were definitely there for all you can eat.
But, gathered from around the country and foreign lands, it soon became clear that Joshua, Alex, Bhabin, Shawn and Vincent were seeking the same kind of spirit we’d hoped to find in New York the day before: the kind where you wait in line and talk to the folks next to you; where the cell phones stay in your pocket and you don’t even think of texting or checking messages. Where you strike up a real conversation and learn something about them and share a sense of being part of the human family so important to this season.
We had the feeling they were missing their real families and saw eating with two adopted “aunties” as a pretty good alternative. We shared stories about our backgrounds, about Christmases past and present, about food and most importantly, we shared stories about our families and suddenly…it was Christmas where you least expect it.[[In-content Ad]]