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A Slice of the Pie: The Stocking Spree – Rediscovering the holiday with spirit

Melissa Wagoner – A Slice of the Pie

I’ve always had a soft spot for Christmas stockings. This, in large part, is thanks to my mother who is an impeccable gift giver. She always knows exactly the right thing or – as was the case with our Christmas socks, many right things – to buy. 

Cheap polyester, scratchy on the inside, fuzzy on the outside, the stockings themselves held little appeal. It was what was inside that counted. Nail polish, Chapstick, tiny toys and – my father’s contribution – a lottery ticket – they were always fully loaded, stuffed like sausage in a casing, so heavy they could no longer be hung by the chimney, but rather lay, seams straining against the hearth on the floor.

When I left home for college it was these annual treats I missed almost more than anything else. And my mom, somehow sensing my longing, tried to keep it up, packing the same special items inside a shoebox to be opened on Christmas day. 

But there was always something missing, they simply didn’t have the same magic or the celebratory feel.

When my husband and I got married and began building our own Christmas traditions, it wasn’t presents under the tree that I wanted to spend our meager Christmas budget on, it was stockings. I wanted to recapture my childhood. I wanted to bring back the magic of Christmas. 

Starting with the purchase of those same cheap, red and white polyester socks, we contemplated how we should fill them. After all, we didn’t have children, so Santa wouldn’t be making a stop. Filling them was entirely up to us. 

Which is how we first hit upon the idea of an ingenious game – the Stocking Shopping Spree. It goes a little something like this: participants are each allotted the same budget of $20 to spend on the other person in any way s/he sees fit. But the money must be spent in the same store, at the same time, without the other person catching sight. 

For years the Spree took place, by random choice, at World Market, often on Christmas Eve, with the two of us darting around end caps, ducking behind furniture and secretly sneaking items into our baskets, while the other shoppers and store staff were none-the-wiser. 

Then our kids came along, and we roped them into the game, first as co-conspirators, then with a budget of their own – $10 to spend on each parent and sister. 

But when COVID hit, things just didn’t feel the same. 

The thought of standing in long lines with dozens of other shoppers inside an enormous unventilated store made my skin crawl. Plus, I had spent the year reevaluating how I should spend my money and where, realizing the impact that shopping in small stores has on the people I love.

So, we made a change. We moved the Spree to the streets of Silverton. Same rules, same budget. Now, instead of a limit of one store from which to pick the perfect item, we were limited to one town. 

And so, last year, despite the rain we headed out, bundled in jackets and gloves. We split up, took off in different directions, each parent taking the hand of one or two kids. We perused shelves and bins, peered in lighted windows, going back for an item we’d seen before but wanted to see again.

The kids carefully chose gifts, paying for them with cash stuffed inside zippered pockets. The clerks smiled and thanked them, some calling them by name, laughing as they caught on to our game.

When the night was over, we came together again, buying hot chocolate for the long walk home, the kids bubbling with the excitement of the secrets they now held. 

I realized something. While our Stocking Spree, provided me with a bit of the magic I craved, it was amidst a global pandemic, that I truly discovered the Christmas spirit. 

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