Ruby Pendergrast came to realize what Christmas was all about when she was nineteen years of age. It was Christmas Eve the day the truth dawned on her and she was working at one of those drugstore chains that you see in just about every town. Half an hour before closing time, a crazy mob of people rushed into the store to do what they should have done long before then: finish their Christmas shopping.
You can tell how unimaginative and desperate a person is by the things they choose to buy in the final moments before the shops close. Ruby saw boxes of stale chocolates and tins of bland cookies fly off the shelves. She watched as people threw cheap earrings into their baskets and settle for bottles of perfume they couldn’t even be bothered to stop and test. She shook her head as people paid for bath salts tacky knick knacks.
“Christmas is nothing but buying people things they neither need or want,” she said after she had counted her till at the end of her shift.
Gone were the days when Christmas was just about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, or about enjoying time with loved ones. Now it was all about shopping. The person who bought the most, spent the most, received the most, baked the most, or decorated the most was considered the winner.
“I hope I don’t get a box of chocolates,” Ruby then said as she headed home. “I’d be happy just sitting around playing cards with everyone.”
Six years later, with a M.B.A. paid for by all those shifts at the drugstore, Ruby found that nothing had changed. People were still willing to buy anything if it meant crossing another name off of their list.
“If you can’t beat ’em, then you might as well join ’em,” Ruby declared.
So she rented a kiosk at the mall, put up a huge sign that read: The Gift of Time in big letters, followed underneath in smaller letters: the best gift you’ll ever give.
“What’s this?” people asked as they approached her kiosk.
“Do you see all of these gift bags that I have lined up here? For just five dollars apiece, I’ll fill each with a certificate stamped with the official Gift of Time logo. On this certificate will be a place for you to write down the special way you promise to spend time with the recipient. Maybe you’ll spend an afternoon playing board games with them, or agree to watch a romantic movie with them, or finally take them up on their request to go jogging together. At the end of the day, nothing is better than spending time with the ones we love.”
People from miles around came and gobbled up her gift bags as though it was 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Soon, all the major network morning talk shows were clamouring to have her on as a guest.
“Couldn’t people just make up their own gift bags?” an astute reporter asked.
“Yes, but 25% of my profits go to charity, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Ruby didn’t completely eliminate the commercialization of Christmas, but she did get a lot more people to spend quality time together and in the end, the memories they created will always be priceless.