Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Christmas bullies

Anna came home from work quite worked up and upset. Anna works at Oxfam in Headingley and has done for two years. She absolutely loves it.

This happens from time to time and it is usually related to shoplifting. Anna is a very moral person and the idea of shoplifting from a charity shop is one she simply can not get her head around.

"What sort of person does that?"

Today it was something different. They have been threatened. A letter was delivered (now with the police for forensics) which said: "This is a very polite but very serious reminder not to display Christmas cards until November 1st. We will put superglue into your locks if you do. Peace and goodwill." The organisation calls itself The Movement for the Containment of Christmas.

This is not an idle threat. They have already glued the locks of the Mind (mental Health) charity shop in the same parade of shops.

Peace and goodwill?

This has made the newspapers. In the Yorkshire Post the headline was Christmas Crackers: vigilantes target shops for selling festive cards and in the Guardian it was dealt with under the headline Yule be sorry: threat to August sellers of Christmas cards. Witty huh?

I have mixed feelings about this. Under other circumstances I might consider joining The Movement for the Containment of Christmas. I can't count the number of times I have railed at canned carols in September. What does it do to the mental health of the shop workers to have Rudolph the red-nosed raindeer on a constant loop for three months? Similarly I can't buy into the forced and false atmosphere of Victorian-style frosted windows in October or signs in restauarants exhorting us to book our Christmas meals in July. So no arguments from me on Christmas creep.

However, I think this campaign has chosen the wrong target in charity shops. Many charity shop workers are volunteers and some are vulnerable people. It is quite wrong to upset and frighten people like these who work in charity shops because they believe they can make a difference.

Shops like Oxfam do an incredible job and it would be wicked to disrupt the service they provide. This is not one of the big department store chains where you might argue that Christmas creep is a cynical marketing ploy.

Oxfam provides a service to those who often need to budget and spread the cost of Christmas. Buying cards at this time of year is part of that budgeting process for the elderly and the less well off and what are such shops to do when the big high street stores start selling Christmas stock?

The Mind Shop manager who did not wish her name to be known said "We have removed our current Christmas cards sales display for the moment. This is great pity as we have been selling off last year's stock and making £70 a week for the charity." So a £70 per week loss together with the £100 to replace the lock. This is a charity shop. They can't afford that sort of money. Oxfam and the PDSA are continuing to sell cards.

There are plenty of big stores in town for this organisation to consider but it seems to me that they have security and small charity shops don't. That probably says something about the underlying ethic of this campaign: nobody likes a bully.