Merry Shop-mas

'Tis the season of peace and good sales to all.

My curmudgeon self has flown the coop as surely as Scrooge's heart was transformed by visits from the three spirits of Christmas. No more scowling in disapproval as my brother and sister shoppers max out credit cards in their effort to purchase peace, joy and contentment. I am now blessed with a vision so pure and right that it cannot be denied.

'Twas the night of Thanksgiving, and all through the house, only the cat was stirring when I bolted upright. Three feet from my bed a spirit hovered. I was so terrified; I dodged under the covers. But to my ear came sweet, comforting tones, so I was sure I had nothing to fear.

"You must buy much this season," the vision cooed, "for the more you spend, the more joy you will find."

Bolder now, I questioned my visitor, "How can this be? The giving of stuff has little to do with the meaning of Christmas. I know this to be true."

By now, the spirit was getting impatient, and the next thing I heard was, "Listen, twit, I don't have time to fool around. I've got thousands of non-buyers to visit before this night is over, and I don't have time to waste in philosophical debates. Just read the advertising inserts you'll find in newspapers between now and Dec. 25, then purchase lots of stuff. It's your only hope of redemption, you frugal freakazoid."

"But I only earn a pittance as a freelance writer," I protested. "We don't even earn as much as janitors at Wal-Mart."

My objections were of no avail. As the spirit slowly dissolved, its parting words left an echo in the room: "Buy. Buy. You will see unimagined blessings in proportion to the money you spend. Trust me on this."

The next morning, I hit the stores armed with dozens of ads. I was overcome with an unexpected feeling of well-being and calm. The spirit was right! My true purpose was to scatter money among merchants who waited hopefully for this seasonal infusion of life-lifting lucre.

First stop: Circuit City. What a phantasmagoria of delightful technological gadgets awaited my eager eyes! Computers and televisions, telephones and cameras, DVD players and games! "Yes! Yes!" I cried. My eyes filled with tears as I realized how wrong-headed I'd been in my disdain for these modern wonders.

I spotted it out of the corner of my now dry eyes: the most spectacular, flat panel, plasma, high-definition television monitor imaginable. The sleek, sexy lines called out to me, and I knew in the depths of my soul this purchase would bestow a plethora of holiday blessings. The ad even promised an "enhanced viewing experience," which was a wonderful thing since I was about to spend $8,000 on this technological marvel.

I knew I would have to convince my husband to remodel our modest living room so Pammi Plaz could fit. (I'd already named my purchase--and why not? Pammi would play a commanding role in our family so a name seemed a suitable sign of respect.)

I envisioned nights curled up in front of Pammi as we munched on delectable, gourmet treats I'd whipped up on my new, touch-sensitive, electronic stove costing a mere $4,500 and sporting the newest shade of eggplant. What joy! What togetherness! And all it took was thousands of dollars!

Had I known sooner how easy it was to purchase happiness, I never would have counseled restraint. No longer! My spirit visitor had set me free. I was prepared to gleefully join legions of shoppers smart enough to camp out in front of stores for hours, in the crisp winter air, waiting for the doors of paradise to open and allow us entry into the hallowed halls of merchandise.

As thoughts whirled through my head, I realized I'd spent too much time dawdling in this electronic palace where the faint smell of metal and plastic commingled with the sweet sweat of shoppers seeking the best deal. On to Toys "R" Us.

Walking through the doors of this most awesome of toy emporiums, I realized how blessed we are: Thousands of square feet devoted to toys for tots and teens and even (dare I admit it) adults! Thrills in every aisle. Bright colors and plastic wonders promising fun-filled hours overflow shelves at every turn.

What a glorious sight awaited me as I lit upon the area of toy trucks. I chose a Hummer wagon for only $50. This gift was certain to bring an outburst of surprised joy from young Billy when he ripped into his gifts on that special morn.

For Billy's older brother Bobby, I settled on a radio-controlled monster truck. What fun! I imagined the two boys on Christmas morning eagerly trying to smash the other's toy truck while making exaggerated "vroom vroom" sounds as their parents lovingly looked on.

But what about young Barbie? What could I possibly get this precocious lass? Why, look: A darling computer just for kids. For only $50, I could purchase a cute little item with 60 activities! That would keep her busy and out of mischief.

I was pleased with myself as I loaded the purchases in my soon-to-be replaced Toyota. (SUVs beckoned; more room for more stuff!) So far, I'd spent thousands of dollars and could feel the blessings starting to flow.

Relaxing at home, I poured myself an Armagnac and gave thanks to the merciful sprite who showed me the light. This Christmas would overflow with comfort and joy, because the Spirit of Spending took pity on my misguided self. From curmudgeon to contented consumer overnight. What a glorious Christmas awaits.