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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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In defense of the last-minute shopper

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

You people who finished your Christmas shopping long ago tend to look down on last-minute gift buyers.

Don’t deny it.

You smugly tsk-tsk them for their poor planning or worse, accuse them of laziness or lack of character. You wonder aloud how any respectable person could wait until the week before Christmas to get up and do what needs to be done.

“Why, I never,” you mutter in your superior way.

That’s right, you never.

But have you ever considered that maybe you just don’t understand last-minute shoppers?

Perhaps there is more to the story than meets the eye.

So let’s try to get inside the mind of the last-minute shopper. It’s a tale of deadlines, denial and the patient wait for yule inspiration.

First, let’s acknowledge a simple truth. Some of us are not cut out for multi-store retail marathons or hours spent searching for things to order online.

“I absolutely hate shopping,” said Kristina Morehouse, who teaches at Gonzaga University.

She is not alone.

But wishes and candy canes won’t take care of your gift list. So even reluctant consumers need to give Santa some help.

That’s where the last-minute shopper can discover his or her true identity.

Sometimes waiting until the eleventh hour is all about a desire to get it right.

You see, some of us have on our lists people for whom it is hard to shop. They seemingly possess everything they want. Moreover, they apparently have zero interest in acquiring new stuff.

Year after year, we get them something we know won’t thrill them. And each year we vow next Christmas will be different. We’ll come up with something great, something that will surprise and delight.

So the last-minute shopper sits and waits for the perfect idea. And waits. And waits.

Weeks go by.

But sometimes inspiration never comes. Which brings us to a seldom acknowledged aspect of all this.

Some last-minute shoppers secretly enjoy the urgency of the moment. You might say they revel in it.

Like a tightly guarded leading scorer in the final seconds of a close basketball game or a poised quarterback guiding a potentially winning drive as the clock ticks down, they actually savor the pressure.

The full weight of holiday anxiety and gift-selecting tension is about to come crashing down? Bring it on.

You can almost hear a play-by-play announcer describing the last-minute shopper’s every move.

“She finally found a place to park and now she is striding purposefully into the mall. What’s that? Is that a smile? Yes! She wants it to come down to her making a big play here at the end. She wants it all on her shoulders! How about that, folks?”

Of course, there is no guarantee gifts acquired in such a manner will be big hits next Sunday. But one might argue it’s as good a system as buying ho-hum presents in September.

All right, not all last-minute shopping falls under the heading of deadline heroics.

Some of it really is a product of putting it off and then putting it off some more. Listen to Kate Hudson, who works for Visit Spokane, the convention and tourism agency.

“I procrastinate every year, stress myself out,” she said. “Then tell myself I’ll do better next year. It’s a vicious cycle that usually comes with a dash of self-loathing.”

But let’s look on the bright side. In the right circumstances, last-minute Christmas shopping can be a seasonal highlight.

Consider Mary Bird’s situation. When her parents were living, the Sandpoint High School teacher used to travel to Colorado for Christmas. Her siblings would also head there, from all across the country.

As buying presents in Colorado seemed easier than packing or shipping gifts, a group shopping outing inevitably would take place shortly before Christmas.

“I always thought it was a fun, yet challenging experience. I’d get to spend time with my brothers and sister and we could drop major hints to each other about what we really wanted for Christmas.”

So would it be heresy to suggest that at least some last-minute shoppers might be the people most imbued with the holiday spirit?

Think about it. Early-in-the-season shoppers tend to get credit for being organized and efficient. They are lauded for getting the best crack at hard-to-come-by items. But what if, at heart, some of them view gift buying as a chore they are eager to be done with?

How holly jolly is that?

OK, nobody is suggesting that it makes sense to leave everything until Christmas Eve.

It’s one thing to rely on the incentive of deadline stress to get you out there, filling shopping bags. But if you need to acquire and then mail presents to distant friends and relatives, getting a reasonably early start simply makes sense.

And if your local gift list is long and complicated, you might not want to delay.

Still, some of us might consider rethinking the notion that last-minute shoppers are somehow morally inferior or, at best, tiresome drama queens.

If they have waited because they are sincerely hoping and praying for a flash of inspiration, maybe they are the most thoughtful gift-givers of all.

Just throwing that out there.

In any event, if you’re really stuck for ideas, you can always ask around.

Andrew Swanson, manager at Bulldog Liquor & Wine on the North Side, took a stab at it.

“A bottle of liquor or wine is usually welcome,” he said.

There you go.

Merry Christmas.

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