Bazaar behavior

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THE Christmas shopping season, we note for the benefit of anyone just in from Mars, is now in full swing. We've been sampling a particular slice of the holiday shopping pie: local New England craft fairs and bazaars. The temptations are different here. In the great big glossy department stores, the struggle is often with basic overindulgence. Why buy small instead of big? Show them you love them. And help stimulate the economy at the same time.

If we aren't careful, the gift-giving turns into a sort of arms race in which fancy packages are the weapons for reconquering the affections of friends and family. As if that were needed.

At craft fairs, where everything is all homemade sincerity, it's different. It's for a good cause, it's authentic, not just crass commerce. One argues the case for this or that clever doodad, without which the home - one's own, or worse, one's kinfolk's - suddenly seems incomplete.

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Then common sense returns, and one emerges, empty-handed for the moment, from the overheated church basement into the early-winter crispness outside. At the gazebo on the town common, toddlers wrapped up like little Christmas bundles themselves in their colorful snowsuits line up to sit on the lap of the man in red and convey to him their wish lists. Some of the cars driving by have Christmas trees lashed to their roofs.

The pressure to get it all done, to be ready for Christmas, is all but palpable.

But the travelers to Bethlehem, we suspect, weren't fully prepared for that first Christmas, either. They were on their way to do something else, but Christmas caught them where they were.

Fear not, shoppers. The important gift has already been given.

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