CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If you're lucky enough to have your Christmas shopping finished, visiting the mall or a grocery store during the holidays can be a pleasant experience, kind of like going to the zoo, if you think about all the interesting wildlife you encounter stalking the aisles.
Shopping becomes dog eat dog, survival of the fittest. And it can get ugly.
But if you can stay above the fray — or at least surface every once in a while — you can find moments of joy.
Even on the day before Christmas, I can find that commerce, if I don't need to purchase anything important, brings me a loopy sort of happiness.
Last year, late on the eve of Christmas Eve at our local Kroger store, I saw a parking lot fairly teeming for a Sunday night. Where I might usually be driving one of four cars on the lot, that night, mine was one of dozens.
The best way I could describe the atmosphere was "bustling." It was relatively crowded, but the patrons knew they were doing something crazy on a midnight grocery run, so there was this convivial sense of the absurd in the air.
I couldn't stop smiling at people and they couldn't stop laughing at themselves when I'd remark, "Wow, this place is really hopping." (One woman's response: "All of the cool people are here.")
I found my usual purchases — milk, bread, juice, and, in a nod to the season, a bottle of full-fat eggnog — and was on my way.
Given the hour, I think it was safe to say "Happy Christmas" to everyone I encountered on the way out.
Holiday music was playing on the radio the next day at the Donut Connection in Kanawha City when I swung by to pick up some coffee and donuts for the newsroom.
I was chatty and amped up and ready to share cheer. Luckily, the nice lady behind the counter seemed happy to have a happy customer, so the vibe stayed intact. I even got a nice candy-striped bag with which to lug my bounty.
It took the better part of an hour to get settled and down to business once I got to work.
One of my favorite parts of Christmas Eve is the effort by our reporters who take their leave after filing their stories to wish their colleagues a Merry Christmas.
It's a little thing, and I'm not sure what it is, but the gesture always adds some kind of special magic to the day.
So to those of you running a little behind, you have five more shopping days. I hope you manage to find something to laugh about along the way.
Contact writer Philip Maramba at phi...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1703.