Come Friday night, it’s to bed early for me.

That is because Saturday is a very important day.

I’ll be up at 4 a.m. and out the door by 5:15, heading to Skowhegan.

There, I will pick up my sister at 5:45 a.m. and we’ll drive 15 minutes to Madison for the annual Renys Early Bird Sale, as we have done for the last few years.

It’s dark out and we’re the only ones on the road, sipping coffee and taking in the crisp November air.

For us, it’s the beginning of preparations for the holiday season.

We’re typically among the first to arrive in the sleepy downtown, where Renys is lit up like a Christmas tree, its front door open and a handful of shoppers meandering in.

Everything in the store from 6-9 a.m. is a certain percentage off the regular price, which, as anyone who shops at Renys knows, is pretty darned reasonable anyway. My sister, Jane, typically has checked out the store a week prior, designating items she plans to buy at the sale.

We pick out gifts for Christmas, but also stock up on items such as maple syrup, which Jane uses a lot for cooking and which, while pricey, is much less so with the knockoff.

Part of the fun is running into people we see there every year. Everyone seems happy and on a mission.

I can’t speak for my sister, but I’m a sucker for the holidays, and the first Saturday in November marks the day my creative juices start simmering in that regard. In fact, I always mark the date on my calendar at the beginning of the year.

It’s as much an excuse to have a girls’ morning out as it is about getting a shopping rake-off at Renys, which also holds the sale Saturday at its 16 other stores statewide. We catch up on the week’s happenings, share news and start plotting for the holidays.

Nov. 4 also marks the start of hunting season for out-of-staters after it has begun a week earlier for Maine residents. Craft fair season is pretty much in full swing by Nov. 4, and I’m told that while some people are out hunting early that day, their family members who don’t hunt hit the craft fairs.

Those fairs have become a big deal everywhere and are held at churches, schools, community centers and other places.

Last year, Jane and I invited a friend to the Renys sale, and on a whim we drove afterward to North Anson for the annual craft fair at Carrabec High School, hosted by the Anson-North Anson Snowmobile Club. It was our first time at the fair, which is huge and features a wide variety of crafts.

I remember thinking at last year’s fair that it seemed a little early to be immersing myself in everything holiday-related, but as we know, time flies by faster as the years go by and Nov. 4 is really only seven short weeks from Christmas.

I figure the more I can get done prior to that, the more time I get to enjoy the season.

My friend Evalyn does most of her shopping year-round for that very reason, though she also is smart and takes advantage of sales, which saves her a bundle.

I like to leave some shopping for the heart of the holiday season, as there’s nothing like being in the midst of the holiday frenzy, but there’s a lot to be said for just enjoying the peace and calm, music and magic.

With all that’s off balance in the world these days, life’s too short to miss out on the good stuff.

For me, it’s simple things, like spending time with my sister and sharing annual traditions.

Things that, ironically, money can’t buy.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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