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What Working in Retail on Christmas Eve Taught Me About the True Meaning of Christmas

A lot of things have changed in my life since starting college, but one constant since the morning after I graduated high school is that I have worked at the same TJ Maxx during winter and summer vacations—including on Christmas Eve. Each year, it’s thankfully only been until 6:30 since the store closes at 6, but still. Not having a job for months and then working on the one day most people have off has been strange, to say the least.

The morning before my first Christmas Eve shift in 2018 wasn’t the best. I hadn’t even really finished getting my own Christmas presents, and my parents were mad that I wasn’t done packing since we were driving to Connecticut to celebrate with more family as soon as I was done. On top of that, one of my friends from BU couldn’t go home for break until the end of December and I live nearby, so she was going to come with my family to Connecticut.

Everyone was meeting me at the store when I finished and I felt bad for delaying our drive there. I also didn’t have a ton of experience as a cashier at that point—I usually worked on the floor but they needed more people—so I was worried about doing it for a whole shift. I walked in there unsure of how I would get through the next five hours of constant conversation with customers.

Forgetting about everything in between, exactly a year later, I was back to work exactly the same shift. I walked in the double doors feeling guilty for delaying our drive to Connecticut again (even though my parents didn’t want me to miss work). I was better at the register by that point, but I still was used to working on the floor most of the time—not for that shift. When I came in, all eleven registers had cashiers, so there wasn’t anywhere for me to go. I spent the first thirty minutes of my shift putting the sensors and hangers away from the cashiers that had a register.

After finally getting on the register, it was much the same as last year, except for one thing. My cashiering over the summer wasn’t enough. I had never done a tax-exempt return and today was the day. I asked for help, but not before the customer yelled at the coordinator that I was useless.

But I wouldn’t be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to have this experience. Of course, there are worse jobs and I didn’t even have to work late, but I feel like I really was able to see Christmas for what it is in 21st century America. Kids begging their parents for toys, gift cards selling like candy, people celebrating, others upset and stressed. The atmosphere was the polar opposite of the quiet summer nights on the floor I’d often work, which could sometimes get lonely. This was anything but.

The stress of trying to not upset people (which I clearly failed in the second year) and taking customer after customer forced me to forget about my own life. The managers intricately decorated the break room and brought in festive snacks. Nothing beats the feeling thirty minutes after closing when the store was clean and we were allowed to leave. I can only describe it as how the holidays felt as a little kid. We all cheered and it felt like we accomplished something.

I was able to enjoy the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas more, and ironically after spending hours in a department store, the material aspect of the holiday truly didn’t matter to me. Seeing so many people preparing to celebrate and just being around so many people in general—even if at times the stress was evident—allowed me to rediscover how Christmas felt as a kid in a whole new way.

Christmas is a somewhat debated topic from its religious origins to its consumerist present, but it’s also a beautiful time. Working in retail amplified the good and the bad and allowed me to see it for what it is.

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Olivia is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences studying marine science. She loves the ocean and summer more than anything and wants to live somewhere warmer one day even though she's spent her whole life in Massachusetts. She also likes music, night runs, and writing pointless things.
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