I was listening to the show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” on Maine Public the other day when the topic of “FaceTiming with Santa” came up. This involves apps that allow children to interact with jolly old St. Nick through the marvels of modern technology, i.e., online.

Sigh.

It’s bad enough when parents are glued to their phones while they’re out and about with their children. Now the phone is going to be the kids’ Santa experience?

Not that all in-person, face-to-face meetings between youngsters and the big guy are memories worth their tinsel. My own “First Santa” photograph shows me in tears.

Who can forget the department store Santa scene in “A Christmas Story,” in which a malevolent elf drags the children to the bearded one, who terrifies them? Then a second malevolent elf shoves the screaming kiddos down a slide.

Still, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

I was brought up in a time when children ran around the neighborhood until dark, playing physical games that sometimes ended up causing bloody noses and scraped knees. My parents’ generation was even tougher.

We tackled Christmas in the real world. We had no choice.

Now we are increasingly virtual. I’m as bad as everyone else. Most of my gifts were ordered online, although a number of them were from Maine companies. It’s easier and less time-consuming.

Plus, I don’t like crowds.

Then I found myself smack-dab in the middle of one. I’d gone to Target to pick up stuff like paper towels, then decided I needed holiday candy. This was stocked in the Christmas area, which, of course, was wall-to-wall people. Several times I found myself unable to turn my carriage in any direction. Though I wasn’t in a huge hurry, I was annoyed.

Really, Liz, I said to myself. Can’t you be peaceful and joyful for five minutes?

As I stood waiting for somebody to move so I could pass, I tried to practice patience.

Ah. That’s one of the virtues we don’t get to hone if we FaceTime with Santa or order online.

I think being pleasant to others when you want to scream with frustration is a beneficial skill.

It’s also important to know how to interact with strangers in a public setting. If I hadn’t said, “excuse me,” several times during my time in the Christmas area, I’d still be there right now.

The art of living in the real, bricks-and-mortar world is not coming naturally to our young people. As an educator, I am hearing this (and seeing it) all the time. It’s not healthy.

I understand the urge to remove oneself from the world all too well. I’m an introvert. If I don’t have regular quiet, alone time, I wither. Technology gives me a way to communicate without disrupting my solitude too much. Texting, e-mailing, Facebook messaging — it’s all good.

But I have a solid core of real-world skills. Though I was a shy child, I wasn’t allowed to use that as an excuse to hide in my room. My father owned an Arnold Bread franchise, and when I went to work with him I was expected to be sociable with the people we met on his route. Luckily, Dad was such an extrovert that what I had to do, mostly, was just laugh at his jokes.

It’s different today. Some parents enable their children, to try to shelter them from the “slings and arrows” of life. And there are now so many ways to do just that.

But our interactions with others are a huge part of what it means to be human. I am nostalgic for the way Christmas used to be.

My father would wait until the last minute to buy presents for Mom. (She bought the gifts for everyone else.) We lived in a suburb of Fall River, Massachusetts, and I’d go with him into the city to shop downtown. He would buy an article of clothing, a piece of jewelry and something decorative, like a candy dish. The streets, all lit and decorated for Christmas, would be filled with other shoppers hurrying to finish their holiday errands. There would be lines of people waiting to check out. It was one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Malls started to spring up when I was a teenager in the 1970s. I thought they were cool at first, but as an adult found them tiresome. I turned to catalogs, and, finally, the Internet.

But as I stood surrounded by other shoppers at Target, I thought, “This isn’t so bad, after all.” Oh, yes, Christmas is fully commercialized, and isn’t that horrible? But, let’s admit it, shopping is one of our holiday traditions.

Jostling in a narrow candy aisle with 10 other people is not only a good way to practice your civility skills, it is 100% in the spirit of the season.

Nobody was rude. No fisticuffs broke out. Sing “Joy to the World!”

 

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected].


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