When I was a kid, every winter, the school system would hold a wrapping paper (or chocolate) fundraiser. It wasn't really compulsory, but you'd kind of be guilted into doing it, even though the teachers really would have preferred to just do their real jobs and teach.
I was terrible at it. I really hated it, and I hated going door-to-door, asking people if they wanted to buy any wrapping paper. When I did make a sale, I was usually more surprised than anything, and it was just a distraction from the fact that I was walking around my neighborhood, and sometimes other neighborhoods, trying to get anyone to buy this wrapping paper. I'd be walking around for a couple hours at a time, wishing that I could just stay home and watch TV or play with Legos or read.
When the fundraiser was over, and the rolls of paper had arrived for distribution, I'd get embarrassed by how little I'd sold. I'd maybe have 8 or 10 rolls, not realizing that most of the kids that had sold so many rolls that their parents had to come pick it up, had done so specifically because their parents took the order form to work and passed it around the office or store. They were well-to-do kids, but I had no idea what that meant. All I knew was that I'd bring the wrapping paper home, I'd have to walk it to the neighbor that had bought some from me, and then I'd go home and have hot chocolate.
If I was really lucky, I might have sold enough to cash in for a prize or something. That almost never happened, but there were two times that I can remember that I pulled that off: one time, I was able to cash in for a CD. I had recently gone nuts over the Beatles, and so I scoured the list for anything from them. I came up a little dry, but I did find a copy of John Lennon's greatest hits from his solo career. This is probably the first time that I jumped into a record without having any idea what it sounded like, and I remember being disappointed because it didn't sound like the Beatles. It sounded... darker. Deeper, only because it was harder to understand. "Mind Games" sounded like it went on forever. "Give Peace a Chance" mentioned Hare Krishna, and what was that? "Love Is Real" confused me, because it was some sort of a love song that sounded like it came creeping out of some sad and lonely place, and then disappeared again, with a coda that was just as despondent as the song made me feel. And "Cold Turkey" really made me uncomfortable.
There was only one other prize that I remember getting. It was a pen with a digital clock in it. It was pink and yellow, and shaped like an elongated teardrop, and it had a lanyard on it. I guess it was probably something you were supposed to use for timing things and writing down the results, and I imagine that occurred to me, but mostly I just carried it everywhere. Effectively useless, I had it on me at all times, and I remember hanging onto it and poking at the clock buttons while sitting in the back of the family van, as we drove all over Lewistown looking at the different lights. I made up some sort of story, some sort of fantasy that involved a very contrived and involved backstory, for the pen, and it became a sort of luck charm for me, long after the battery died out because I'd pushed the buttons and timed and re-timed everything I could think of. Probably the death knell of the thing was when the ink finally dried up--for me, this was quite some time, because I hated using pens when I was growing up.
Seeing strings of lights, and mentions of the holidays, and videos about magic snowmen that may or may not exist, dredge all this up, unbidden. And, with the realization that this may likely be an extremely quiet and solitudinous season in a city not known for snow, I may need to find a pen, or begin listening to solo John Lennon again.