Scrambling towards the holidays

Here in the United States, we have three major holidays between the end of November and the beginning of January: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Christmas and New Year’s have fixed calendar dates and are exactly one week apart. The trickier holiday is Thanksgiving which Americans celebrate on the fourth Thursday of November, a date range of between the 22nd to the 28th. Obviously, the later in the month Thanksgiving falls, the fewer shopping and preparation days there are before Christmas. This year, Thanksgiving was November 27th, allowing for the second fewest number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Retailers are keenly aware of that fact as people are scrambling towards the holidays. Thanksgiving does not fall on November 22th again until 2018.

The weather has mostly cooperated to this point. No blizzards, no ice storms, no extended period of sub-zero Arctic air settling in, so traveling to retail establishments is mostly unimpeded. Parking lots are staying filled with shoppers racing to complete their lists, checking them twice, and trying to stuff over-sized SUVs into parking spots that are too small for mopeds. Never mind that the driver spent twenty minutes trying to park because that closer spot saved him or her a minute or two of walking. College chemistry and physics courses should show videos of quickly moving shoppers in crowded stores to visualize kinetic theory and optimal packing theory. Many retailers hope that sales meet or exceed expectations despite fewer shopping days. Increasing revenue from online shopping is apparently cannibalizing Black Friday sales, and my hope is it ends Thanksgiving day sales.

In addition to the scrambling to get shopping, decorating, baking, and housecleaning tasks completed in a shorter time, there is the end-of-year scramble beginning in mid-November. Most businesses in the United States align their fiscal years to the calendar year. There are some businesses that start their fiscal year in February, March or June to avoid completing their year-end accounting while in the throes of a peak time for business. Strategy meetings, budget requests, accounts receivables collections, sales and earnings forecasts, staffing requisitions and other business centric critical tasks require large amounts of time, caffeine, analgesics, and antacids for completion. Even those best laid plans go awry when a C-level or D-level executive asks “Can’t we just…?” while pondering a project timeline. My consulting collaborator would say those executives have a befuddled facial expression much “like a dog looking at a phonograph“. Those three little words, “can’t we just”, take about a second to say but they will add days to project completion even though the deadline is immovable. No wonder people celebrate New Year’s with particular fervor (and sometimes with copious quantities of adult libations).

My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filling with tales and pictures of this year’s baking and decorating accomplishments. I consider baking successful if the smoke detector did not go off, I did not use a fire extinguisher or first aid kit, nothing dented or broke, I only swore in English, and the result was edible. Nearly everyone posting is working full-time, and many have kids still at home, yet they found time to make lefse, krumkake, pirakkas and other delicious but time-consuming seasonal delicacies. Christmas trees lovingly decorated with heirloom ornaments and some recent additions from Hallmark adorn living rooms despite a pet’s best attempts at turning the tree into an oversize chew toy. Scrumptious cakes, pies, pastries and treats with all the calories magically removed (or so we wish) pose seductively on counter tops and tables. It is all inspiring and wonderful, so thank you for sharing!

As you are scrambling towards the holidays, take a couple of moments to breathe and to collect your thoughts. You deserve the break because you earned it. If you are lucky enough to have a special someone, give that person a long and meaningful hug, and for that precious interval, leave the scrambling to quarterbacks and eggs.

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