We can bring Christmas cheer to retail workers without ever saying the words, “Merry Christmas.”
For the average store clerk, retail reality can turn Christmas dreams into nightmares.
Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas?
Here’s my take on the first three lines:
Christmas time is here.
Happiness and cheer
Earlier and earlier every year.
Now that Halloween and Thanksgiving have passed, the retail market is in full holiday mode. Wall Street is scrambling to gather statistics on Black Friday revenue. Boxes line store aisles, the latest gizmos, gadgets and gotta-haves fill the shelves, and Christmas music blares over PA systems. By the time December 25 arrives, we find we can hardly stand the songs we’ve longed to hear all year. And – “can’t you please wait at least until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas music?” customers grumble on Facebook. It’s officially the Christmas season and we’re already tired of Christmas.
If we’re tired of Christmas fanfare, think of what it must be for those who work in retail.
- My daughter worked one season in a mall accessed eyewear gallery. By the end of the season, she said, she never wanted to hear Michael Jackson’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” again.
- A Facebook friend described it this way: “The same songs over and over for two months. At first it’s pleasant, a reminder of the season, but it creeps into your mind, festers, until jingles that once brought you delight haunt your restless mind as you fold yet another cashmere sweater marked up 600% of its actual value. You listen to yet another customer demand that you accept an expired coupon, demand discounts out of thin air, and while your customer service smile is frozen on your face you hear that deplorable “bumpity bump bump bumpity bump~”. Is it on the store speaker or just in your head? It doesn’t matter. It will never end. Even when you think it’s over, you know that snowman will always be back again someday.”
- A close friend of mine owns a sportswear shop. From October to December, she sews letters onto varsity jackets. It’s a good year if she can finish before 5 p.m on December 24th so she can attend Christmas Eve service. Christmas Day is spent cooking for her family and recovering from the grueling twelve-hour days.
- Kohl’s Department store opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and stayed open for 24 hours. As we pulled into the parking lot at 8 a.m. Black Friday morning, I thought of how tired the workers must be. What a bummer of a way to end Thanksgiving by having to work all night.
How sad that those in retail have to view the idyllic scene of Christmas through the haze of relentless work, repetitive songs with empty promises, and crabby customers who seem anything but happy about the best time of the year.
We need to wish the retailer Merry Christmas.
Black Friday may have already passed but it’s not too late to bring Christmas cheer into the lives of retail workers. Here’s a starter list of how you can help store clerks find a bit of Christmas cheer.
- Smile. It’s a good start. Do it even if you don’t feel like it.
- Make small talk. Ask, “How are YOU?” Ask how their day has gone. Wish them a relaxing evening when they can put their feet up. Show compassion for their long hours and crazy schedule.
- Listen. If they talk, listen to them. If they share a personal difficulty, ask if you can put them on your personal prayer list.
- Don’t complain. Not one time about anything – the store’s temperature, long lines, or the loud music. Stuff it. If you have an issue, take it to customer service and apologize for having to bring it up.
- Do unseen acts of kindness. Put a shirt back on its hanger and on the rack. Push down the overflowing wet towels in the bathroom trash bin. Park your own cart. Restock the clothes you tried on. Front a shelf by pulling items closer to the edge. If you change your mind and don’t want an item, take the trouble to put it back in its proper place. Yes, it’s the employees’ job. Yes, it’s a sacrifice of time out of your busy schedule. But we’re talking grace. They are already working as hard as they can. Make their lives easier so they can enjoy Christmas too.
- Don’t demand preferential treatment. You’re not the only customer.
- Say thank you. Every time. Smile when you say it.
- Look for grace moments. How can you show the grace and mercy of Christ in an extreme way to a weary clerk?
One year, we asked a clerk we had come to know how her day was going. “Terrible,” she said. “I could sure use a cup of coffee.” My husband went across the street to a local fast food joint, bought some coffee, and returned to stand in her line. As we approached her register with no groceries on the conveyer belt, she said absently without connecting with us, “May I help you?
Jack said. “I hope I can help you” and held out the coffee. The woman cried. In retrospect, it was such a small thing. It took ten extra minutes and a couple of dollars. Her reaction was worth the expense of time and money. It made her day and made our day too.
Sharing Christmas cheer with your local department store clerk is all about grace.
We communicate the true meaning of Christmas when we show kindness to people who don’t deserve kindness and when we look beyond their faults and our own agendas to meet their needs.
Just like Jesus did that first Christmas Day.