Several years ago, I had the distinct misfortune of dating a woman who loved to loudly declare that Christmas was "way too commercial." Despite being an atheist progeny of the Cabbage Patch '80s (rather than a god-fearing leftover of some Little House on the Prairie era, in which a yard of pink gingham was considered a "major Christmas score"), she took no greater holiday pleasure than in smugly proclaiming her nuanced and highly original theory at the slightest glimpse of seasonal spirit. But when Christmas morning came and I told her I had chosen not to compound our societal problems by buying her a gift, it was clear I had run up against the tender wall that buffers annoying self-righteousness and the undeniable impulses of wanton materialism.

The moral of this story: Everyone likes gifts. (People who say they don't like gifts just don't like saying "thank you," a character defect that they manipulate into a transparent charade of selflessness.) The other moral here: Once you are out of high school, you are way too old to complain about something as intellectually dull as the commercialization of Christmas.*

As you read this article, you are genital-deep in our nation's sacred Shopping Season, which extends well past Christmas, as post-holiday sales, exchanges and returns, gift card cash-ins, and impulse purchases made with the compulsive shopper's "just one more hit" mentality flood retail centers and keep seasonal workers employed well into February.

(If your digital wristwatch says that you're reading this on Friday, November 23, not only will your evening news team surely lead off with a hard-hitting story about local shoppers lining up early to officially kick off the Christmas season, but you might hear mention of the "culture-jamming" "holiday," Buy Nothing Day—observed every year on the day after Thanksgiving. The festive aims of Buy Nothing Day are made evident by its [rather bossy] moniker, but interested parties can learn more in the new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?) [See our review of What Would Jesus Buy? on pg. 57.]

Here at the Mercury, we firmly believe that the retail experience can be exhilarating, on the condition that you remove the stick from your ass and exercise a little creativity. If the idea of holiday shopping conjures up nightmarish visions of hitting the mall to buy Mom a pump-squirt bottle of lavender body lotion for the eighth year running, then this Mercury's for you. If you're dreading a trip to Jantzen Beach to get the husband a pair of those "comfy pants" he loves so much, be sure to read this paper before hopping on the freeway.

This special shopping issue of the Portland Mercury is designed to reinvigorate that love affair you once had with the phrase "charge it," and to jumpstart your heedless holiday buying frenzy. To do so, we've hit the Portland streets to see how far a $10 shopping budget will take us (with some imagination, a Hamilton is surprisingly elastic). Then, before we turn you loose, we've rounded up some of our favorite stores that will definitely break you out of any shopping rut you may be experiencing. So get out there and spend a buck or two. Not only is it your divine right, it's also your patriotic duty.

*An important note to our readers who don't believe in Christmas and reject the whole divine birth/"no room at the manger" concept: We're right there with you. For the sake of this article, feel free to replace the word "Christmas" with "That Sweet Day in Winter on Which We Receive Many Gifts and Get Drunk Before Lunch." By any measure, this is the Shopping Issue, not the Baby Jesus Issue, although in this day and age, it's nearly impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other.