Getting the Most Value from Your Holiday Season

Getting the Most Value from Your Holiday Season
December 2, 2013 Joseph Paris
holiday

The Thanksgiving Day feast is barely digested – yet there is still a week or so of leftovers remaining.  I remember, as a child growing-up in Endicott, New York, always marveling at the variety of dishes that could be made from the remnants.  With so many leftovers from every dish served during the prior day’s feast; gastronomically speaking, the day after Thanksgiving was very much like Thanksgiving Day itself – the only major difference being; instead of watching football games we would go Holiday Shopping.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was time for hot, open turkey sandwiches where you have a slice of bread and put some turkey on it (some slices, some pieces, or whatever solid bits were available) and pour the remainder of the hot gravy over it – what a delight.  This was usually the end of the gravy and also the end of the dominance of the turkey as the primary ingredient of the meal.  From this point on, turkey was going to command lesser and lesser roles – along with a decreasing ability to identify the part of the dish that was turkey – until finally and most blessedly, the “coup de grâce”, some form of turkey soup.

By the time you read this, Black Friday and the first weekend after Thanksgiving will have passed – and you probably did quite a bit of Holiday Shopping already.  But I have two questions to pose:

1.  What is value – in your eyes – this Holiday Season?

And

2.  Are your actions aligned with your values? Let me share with you some of my Holiday experiences as I was growing-up.

… Perhaps we can call them “The Ghosts of Christmases Past

On Shopping:

Of course, we had “Black Friday” during my younger years (back when it actually was on Friday) – and I remember enjoying it a great deal.  We would go out as a family, maybe meet some friends along the way, and do some shopping.  But the excitement was not so much about the shopping as it was about the wonder of it all – looking at all the decorations, listening to the Christmas Music being piped in from everywhere, hearing Christmas Carolers, and the ubiquitous jingling of the bells of the Salvation Army volunteers (when they were actually in uniform) – and of course eating more food.  If we timed it right, the lines would not be too long and we would have the chance to sit on Santa Claus’ lap.  Certainly there were crowds, but there was civility – and everyone was smiling.

It was not the “full-contact sport” that is the Black Friday shopping that takes place today – where the Gladiators of the football field we watched on television on Thanksgiving Day are replaced by the uncivilized masses that are whipped into a frantic “feeding frenzy” of shameless consumerism.  I am not sure when people in the States (this does not happen elsewhere) made the transition from being thankful one day and joyous the next – to feigning thankfulness and letting their inner-Barbarian loose the next.

I don’t believe it was for the better, and I refuse to participate.Road and Rail Toy

In all of my Christmases growing up, I cannot remember a single Christmas which was other than enjoyable or one where I was disappointed in the gifts I received.  But also, I can only remember two gifts when I was a lad that “stand-out” and are uniquely worthy of remembrance; the first being a combination Tyco Race-Track and HO-Gauge Railroad set, and the second being a GI-Joe Jeep set (my Brother got the GI-Joe Headquarters).

GI Joe Headquarters The other gifts over the years were appreciated then as they are now, but they don’t “stand-out”.  There were Lego sets, and Matchbox cars, and Tonka Trucks.  And there was always underwear, socks and pajamas.  But none that really stand-out and became cherished memories (or any real memory of note).

One of the things that bothers me today is how “disposable” everything seems to be.  When I received a toy, it was built to last – and was expected to last.  It seems the expectation today is that the gifts are not meant to last.  Sometimes they don’t make it through Christmas Day – and that seems to be acceptable.GI Joe Jeep

What are your thoughts?  What are your expectations?

On Memories:

Some memories of the Holiday Season that I have – being at home in Endicott;

My first memory is that we called it the Christmas Season and not the Holiday Season.  We had Christmas Parties at school.  There were Christmas Trees and Mangers in front of the Town Hall.  We even had a Christmas Play at school.  When I was in 2nd Grade, we did “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and I played the “Boss Elf” – and perhaps this set me on my professional course.

Now, I “get” why the change was made to expunge “Christmas” from the lexicon in the sake of “Political Correctness” and not wanting to offend anyone, but I am not certain the change was for the better.

Most of you will not know, but Endicott was the birthplace of Endicott-Johnson (once, the biggest manufacturer of shoes in the world – and retailing under the “Father & Son” brand).  But its biggest claim to fame is that it was also the birthplace of International Business Machines (IBM) with the main headquarters of IBM and its primary manufacturing facilities being on North Street (Plant #1).  A block away from IBM’s Headquarters, North Street intersected with the main shopping district centered around Washington Avenue (or simply called, “The Ave”).

When I was younger, The Ave would have Christmas Decorations from one end to the other.  And the Holiday Season would kick-off with a Christmas Parade that ran the length of it – complete with floats, the Marching Bands from local High Schools and finishing with the arrival of Santa Claus.  Afterwards, Santa could be found at Burt’s Department Store.  Santa’s Throne was nothing lavish; in fact, quite modest.  But it was a lot of fun to sit on his lap, spill all of your secrets, and plead your case nonetheless – always promising to “do better next year, but please give me what I would like this year.”

The Christmas Parade still happens, but there are no decorations to speak-of – and although Santa Claus still ends the parade, there are no department stores on The Ave anymore (just a few small shops), and no throne upon which he can sit, and no anxious children waiting to spill their guts and plea-bargain.

My father worked for IBM in Owego New York (not too far from Endicott).  For every year that I remember when I was younger, IBM would host a Christmas Party for all of its workers.  There would be magic shows, food and other entertainment – and of course, Santa Clause would be there.  IBM even passed-out presents, each individually gift-wrapped and handed out according to age and sex, for the children of its employees.  It was pretty cool.

At home, my parents would decorate the house – complete with all the trimmings inside and out.  My Father risked life and limb to hanging Christmas lights from house (as would I, later, when we had our own home).  There was always a really nice Christmas Tree (almost always a “Douglas Fir”).  It wasn’t as opulent as Norman Rockwell might illustrate; but the home was nice, comfortable, inviting, and inspired the feelings of the Christmas Season.

My Mom would make batches upon batches of Christmas cookies; Sugar Cookies (cut in the shape of holiday figures), Chocolate Chip Cookies (still a favorite), Peanut Butter Cookies, Hershey Kiss Cookies, and all manner of treats.

Some of the most enjoyable moments of the Christmas Season were the opportunities to watch all of the great Christmas Specials – the “Classics” like; Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy – and of course, that classic of classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas (and the cool jazz played throughout)… And I cannot forget the Movie Classics like; Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (the one with George C Scott) – and most of all, A Christmas Story, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

As my brother and I got a bit older, there was also the annual “Great Christmas Present Hunt”.  Throughout the month of December, we would impatiently wait for our parents to leave the house – then, with a level of success that varied from year to year – we would proceed to scour the place in search of the presents which we just knew our parents must have bought.

On Christmas Eve, the family would get together for a semi-formal dinner – almost always lobster tails would be the main course.  We kids would get dressed “business casual” (as is known by adult standards) and my father would wear a white turtleneck and sport-coat.  After dinner, we would open the gifts between the family members and watch a Christmas Movie – but always, we wanted to get to sleep because Christmas Day would have brought a visit by Santa.  It was always difficult to go to sleep Christmas Eve, and we would always awaken early to see the cookies and milk left for Santa half-eaten and half-drank.  Then we would fall asleep among the presents, all festively wrapped, and peacefully await the morning when we could unwrap them.

But we didn’t wait too long!  We would be the first ones to wake.  And if by some magic, we always woke-up more alert than on any other day of the year – ready to tear into the gifts.  Our parents would become awake soon afterwards (coincidence?) and, after a short period of time for them to get their orientation to the day – perhaps find a camera or have a coffee – the opening of the gifts from Santa would begin.  Unlike some folks, but I suspect like most (and regardless of how impetuous we might be feeling), we would open our gifts in turn – so that each of us could appreciate what was being given, and what was being received.  But we didn’t admire too long, after all, there were still more gifts!

After the gifts were opened and at least during the time I was growing up, we (reluctantly) would go to Christmas Mass.  As the oldest child in the family, we started to forego Mass more often when I was around 15, so this memory (and many of the others) might not resonate as well with my younger brother and even younger sister.

The rest of Christmas Day was always a bit of a blur.  Depending on the circumstances and the weather, we would either play with our gifts inside or out.  And the day would end with a Turkey Dinner.

… That is, unless we went to Scranton, Pennsylvania to visit the relatives;

I remember enjoying the Lionel Model Train set that my Uncle Eddie set-up under the Christmas Tree every year.  Of course, it was a model of the “Pennsylvania Railroad”.

My Brother Christopher and I would have to share Uncle Eddie’s bed while he slept on the spare single bed in another bedroom.  The reason I remember it is that Eddie was a big man, and I mean BIG.  His mattress was old and would have this crater in the middle that went clear to the floor.  And it did not matter that both my brother and I would each fall asleep with one arm and one leg hanging off the bed in order to balance ourselves and keep from falling off the cliff or into the crater – we would both end-up in an entangled heap in the middle of the crater by morning – yuk.

Eddie would also pile his plate with a heap of food – making a crater (nearly as big as the one in his bed) in the middle of his mashed potatoes and filled it to overflowing with gravy.  And God-forbid if you got between him and the turkey legs.

Grandpa never said much – but liked to eat fat.

Silver Christmas TreeOne of the best moments of our visit was when we would go to my Uncle Scotty and Aunt Adeline’s house.  She always knew how to make the best Italian food and was not afraid to show off her skills.  She would make the most awesome Ravioli’s with Marinara Sauce – and the supplies of cookies and hard-candies were endless.  My Aunt Betty was almost always there too.

The one thing I really remember at Scotty and Adeline’s was that they had this artificial silver Christmas Tree that was made out of metal (at least I think it was metal, maybe aluminum, and not plastic).  It stood about four or five foot tall and they would hang only round blue glass ornaments on it.  It was illuminated it by having a spotlight turned on it and a rotating multi-colored filter in front of the spotlight – and amazingly enough, I found a picture of one just like it using Google.

Seligenstadt03At the tail-end of our Holiday trip to Scranton, we would visit Uncle Jake and Uncle Orlando (who just passed away a couple of weeks ago) at the “Paris Family Compound”, which contained the homes of Betty, Orlando, and Jake.  We usually found ourselves at Orlando’s house; where Anisette was always the beverage of choice – sometimes with coffee, but usually straight-up.  There, Jake (who was intolerant of everything, near as I can tell), Orlando (who was always laughing and sharing whatever he had – hoping you would leave soon) and my Father (the youngest of eight by several years, but always the “adult”) would talk grown-up nonsense for a long time.  But it was fine by me because Orlando was in the United States Navy from near the end of WWII through the Korean War, until finally retiring at the beginning of the Vietnam War.  His house was full of cool artifacts from all over the world and he could always tell the coolest and most colorful stories (it’s probably from where I got my traveling bone).

… Our Holidays today – in Germany.

Seligenstadt01

My family and I moved to Seligenstadt Germany almost four years ago – and although the town where we live is very similar in population to Endicott in Upstate New York, it is also very different indeed.  The entire experience here in Germany reminds me of living in 50’s and 60’s America.

This is especially apparent during Christmas.Seligenstadt02

The first thing that a person will notice is the pace – it is a relaxed pace without any “frenzy”.

There is no competition for gifts.  In fact, there is a de-emphasis on gift giving.  Instead, there is an emphasis on celebrating and enjoyment.

People still go out to shop, but they tend to go to one of the many Christmas Markets (called “Weihnachtsmarkts” or also “Adventmarkts”) that spring-up in almost every town and only during the Western Christian Holy Season of Advent.

I have included a few pictures I have taken to help give you an idea to what I am referring.

An informal count of the stands will reveal that there is at least one food and beverage stand for every stand that sells goods.  The goods that are being sold (and that are being purchased as gifts in general) are modest and of a personal nature – and most of the food and beverages are simple and warm.  There is far less bier and far more “Gluhwein” (a personal seasonal favourite) being consumed.

Seligenstadt04But mostly, the season is hectic in that there is a lot of visiting with friends and family.  There are a lot of laughs, story-telling, reminiscing.  With my fellow “Ex-Pats”, there is a lot of “comparing here to there” and stories of how “the Germans are the funniest people in the world – they just don’t know it.”  We would not have it any other way.

And with the Germans, they are simply nice and comfortable – and friendly – to be around.

Now, this is the point I am trying to make in my article and what I would like you to consider.

Gifts of merchandise are short-lived and will barely be remembered

… Whereas gifts made of memories live forever – and even increase in value over time.

Seligenstadt

So I would like you to reconsider the two questions I posed at the beginning of this article

1.       What is value – in your eyes – this Holiday Season?

And

2.       Are your actions aligned with your values?

Happy Holidays – and Merry Christmas – to all of you!

ParisJoseph-bw
Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence. 

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 40,000 members.

Connect with him on LinkedIn

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