As the shoppers rush home with their treasures, I’ll stay out of the fray.
Rick Bragg Early Christmas Shopping
Credit: John Cuneo

Something must have happened to make me this way. I must have wandered away from my mother in a crowded Kmart long ago and been swept away in a crush of wild-eyed, frenzied shoppers before my mom reclaimed me somewhere between the ladies' unmentionables and the layaway.

Anyway, I've never understood last-minute Christmas shoppers, though I admit I've mostly witnessed them from afar. I don't like to get too close. I wonder if they might be a little crazy to wait so late. It just seems strange to me to see a checkout line a quarter-mile long of sniffling, red-faced, impatient people and think, "Man, I need to go get right in the middle of that."

I know we all sometimes forget essential things—like pecan-crusted cheese logs or 5-gallon buckets of caramel corn—that slip our minds in the holiday rush. It just ain't Christmas without jalapeño cheese straws from T.J.Maxx or a slab of fruitcake from the day-old bread store on U.S. 431.

But I know people who relish going out in the storm, who wait till the last second because they like battling for the last three-quarters of a parking spot at Target and must engage in at least one yelling cuss fight outside the Dollar Tree with a woman with a weeping toddler on her hip, a peppermint latte on her breath, and a return slip in her teeth.

Men, I believe, are the worst. They behave as if the holiday were a thing that just occurred to them at 7:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve. You'll see them standing in line at Walgreens, a little bewildered, holding an assortment of sugar-free chocolates and a Chia Pet.

These are not bad people. These are good, brave souls. They are just drawn to it. And if you are one of them, well, you know who you are.

I understand the idea, the notion of Bob Cratchit frolicking through a busy London street gazing in windows full of plump geese, hearing carols in the air, and smelling roasted chestnuts. But I've never met Bob as I slogged through the rain from my parking spot in Cambodia, searching for holiday-themed Pringles and the last lonely roll of tape. So I swing to the other extreme.

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By July 4, I'm usually adding the final items to my gift list. And by mid-August, it will all be done, though it is hard to find any decent Christmas wrapping paper next to the marked-down flip-flops and sunblock. If there's any other required shopping, it will be over by Labor Day. I refuse to wade out into the madness of October to put the finishing touches on my holiday preparations. I'm done so early that I've been known to hand out presents that are covered in a thin film of dust.

But I can't say I haven't picked up an occasional last-minute item. I mean, they don't erect that teetering tower of butter cookies at the CVS Pharmacy till almost Halloween.