‘Tis the season when I start avoiding malls. Except this coming Saturday (Nov. 14), when I have to bring M. to Plaza Frontenac so he and the rest of his Music Makers from the St. Louis Children’s Choirs can serenade shoppers from 11 to 11:30 a.m. I’m curious if they’ll do their holiday songs — but probably they will, as Santa will already have made his official entrance over at St. Louis Mills Mall the day before (Nov. 13). Yes, you read that right — Santa comes on NOVEMBER 13!!!! You can hardly bash the event, a fundraiser/tree lighting for the Salvation Army, but it’s two weeks before Thanksgiving, for crying out loud.

So if you’re already in the mood for Santa (and S. is — he asked yesterday, as we were taking down the Halloween decoration, why we couldn’t put up the Christmas tree), you can see him Friday at 4:30 p.m. near the play area. There’ll be door prizes, cookies and hot chocolate, and a holiday show by The Muny Kids.

But naturally Saturday’s show will be better, because M. is in it! It’s also tied to a nonprofit — the Arts and Education Council’s St. Louis on Sale event — and the organization’s card-carrying members receive 20 percent discounts at certain shops over the course of nine days.  Membership is $50, and depending on how much shopping you plan to do (and not all the shops are in malls, incidentally) joining could be worth your while.  And it’s for a good cause: The council supports dozens and dozens of arts groups (St. Louis Children’s Choirs among them) with grants of various amounts.

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My husband’s bummed (or at least he SAYS he’s bummed) that he missed out entirely on Christmas shopping this year.  And it’s true — in years past I gave him a section of our list, only to learn on Dec. 24 that he’d not gotten around to it yet.  So, although I’m the type who shops early, I was also forced to be the type who shopped late.

There are a couple strategies for this.  One neighbor goes out during the last week before Christmas nightly after the kids are in bed — she sets out around 9 p.m. on power-shopping odysseys that last until 11:30 p.m. or later; she can tell rattle off the closing times of every big-box and department store around.  This year she took her teenage daughter along one night together as a bonding experience.

Another friend and her husband put on their holiday best at around noon on Christmas Eve and head out for the malls to see what the last-minute sales are — and then they go straight to their daughter’s house for the family celebration.   (If you’re this type of shopper, check out the article in from a couple of days ago in the Post-Dispatch about the most family-friendly malls in the metro area.)  Their favorite place for last-minute deals?  Plaza Frontenac.
My preferred method is to avoid the malls and go to a neighborhood where there are plenty of diverse shops within walking distance of each other and some nice Christmas decorations to boot: I usually choose The Loop, although downtown is starting to fit this description more and more.   You have to be flexible — you might not find the specific items on your list, but you’ll definitely find something for the people on your list. Examples from years past included an Axis of Evil fingerpuppet set for my brother (Phoenix Rising), a one-eyed stuffed alien toy for a sci-fi-loving girlfriend (Star Clipper) and a couple of subversive t-shirts (RinaWear).

This year I’ve let the hubby talk me into something new: end-of-year car shopping.  For the first time ever, I’m actually paying attention to those cheesy ads where the cars have big red bows on top.  So far the kids aren’t impressed; they’d rather be chilling in the family restroom out at West County Center.