Children join in last-minute Christmas shopping

Dec. 24, 2013 @ 08:20 AM

It was two days before Christmas, and the would-be gifts were stacked and displayed with care. The crowds were held back at the door, a long rope of cash-clutching shoppers jittery with adrenaline, until it came time for the store to open.

Then the barrier (just one person) stepped aside, and they flowed in, and a merry kind of mayhem commenced.

The scene didn’t take place at a big-box retail store on one of the last shopping days before Christmas. Everyone in line was a kid, ready to hand over play money in exchange for gifts at Theresa Gloster’s annual Christmas Store.

Gloster, of Lenoir, hosts a Christmas shopping day for children in the community each year. They are given play money and use it to purchase gifts for their family members (Gloster also encourages them to buy something for a member of the community who will spend Christmas alone). Some of the gifts are newly purchased, and some are gently used; all are neatly arranged and carefully displayed.

“This is not a yard sale,” Gloster said. “This is a Christmas party.”

During a shopping break, kids use the same play money to “buy” hot dogs, chips and drinks. And when the spending is through, they can take their gifts over to the wrapping table to have them covered in crinkling paper and topped with bows.  

Gloster, inspired by an article in Ebony magazine about a similar celebration, has been hosting the Christmas shopping day for the past several years. It’s usually held in her yard, but with a forecast of rain this year, she decided to move it to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Lenoir.

The event is only lightly advertised; news mostly spreads through word of mouth. But any child, Gloster said, is welcome to attend.

On Monday, children burst into the room and ran to their table of choice, snatching up packs of nail polish and lip balms; gloves and ear muffs; necklaces for their moms. They toted around their Snuggies and bath sets and sweaters, some of them older and some of them barely matching the height of the folding tables.

Some were impulse buyers, immediately handing over a stack of bills for a pair of glittery Uggs. Others held onto their dollars until the last minute, slowly examining items and then regretfully setting them back.

The event gives kids a chance to buy gifts for their loved ones, but there’s an educational, value-of-a-dollar aspect to it as well, Gloster said. Each miniature shopper gets a chance to see how their parents feel each year, parsing through the piles of toys and evaluating how far the money they're holding will go.

It’s also fun – for the observers, anyway – to see what kids view as the perfect present for each family member: The pink, heart-shaped necklace or pair of pumps or gold-tinseled wreath for Mom; the bedazzled sweater or mini-cooler for Grandma; the brightly packaged doll for an older sister.

Before selecting all those gifts, Gloster gathered the kids together in the MLK Center gym. They clustered on the bleachers and sang Christmas carols – “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” all the classics.

That festivity is really the point of the whole event, Gloster said.

“It’s just about having a good time and staying in the feeling of Christmas,” she said.