Christmas is a great time to earn extra cash in retail and at least you won't be spending

Holidays are coming, holidays are coming. For many, Coca-Cola's TV advert heralds Christmas as much as its red-suited Santa embodies it but sadly, for many of us, the jingle is a lie.

Holidays ain't coming for all of us. Christmas can be one of the most expensive and loneliest times of year, and retail work is a good solution. But finding casual work over Christmas can be tricky: for many businesses, Christmas is a season of rest. This is not the case in retail. The UK's biggest employer, with an annual turnover of 260bn, enjoys its biggest boom filling the gap under the tree, and it's also the easiest work to find and apply for. Simply spot a shop you like, go in and hand in your CV.

Most of that work is to be found under the fluorescent lights of supermarkets, stacking shelves to an in-house radio soundtrack. But there are some retail jobs out there that can help you make the most of the Christmas period, get you extra cash and jaw-dropping staff discounts, to boot.

The best way to avoid the spiritual entropy of the supermarkets is to get a job in the boutiques and department stores in town centres, rather than the industrial estates outside it. The biggest retail hub in the UK is, of course, London's West End. Nothing says it's Christmas like people-spotting in the lights and hubbub of Oxford Street, getting lost in the dark back alleys of Soho, or promenading on the footpaths of Regent Street.

And there are plenty of jobs on offer. When streets were pedestrianised last Saturday, half a million shoppers are thought to have turned up. Over the six-week Christmas period, 40 million shoppers will hit the West End, spending close to a billion pounds. Almost 400,000 people work in the West End all year round, and with such an almighty influx, many of the area's 600 shops look to recruit through December.

"There is always an annual increase in demand in the shops for seasonal employees," says Jace Tyrrell at the New West End Company, the organisation responsible for managing retail in the area.

Last month, Denise Von Horzen took a Christmas job at Whittard of Chelsea, the specialist tea and coffee store. Originally from the Netherlands, Von Horzen wanted to take time out before doing her MA in business studies to spend time with her boyfriend.

"I thought I'd try something completely different," she says. "At home I'd worked in an office, so while I was in London I wanted to have fun and be around people." Von Horzen has been working at the company's stores on the King's Road and Lower Regent Street.

"The atmosphere is really nice, you feel really comfortable," she says. "And it amazes me how much the people here know about different teas and coffees, they're really enthusiastic." One of the bonuses of working in a specialist boutique rather than the generic sprawl of the supermarkets is that it gives you a chance to get to know what you're selling. "I really like the teas," she says. "It's nice to learn something about them. And the ground coffee smells really amazing in the shop," says Von Horzen.

It's not just smaller specialist boutiques, but bigger stores that can feed your interests as well as your bank balance, too. John Lewis is not known as the raciest shop in the country, but this winter it is taking on extra lingerie advisers, to help confused and bashful husbands and boyfriends pick out naughtie nighties and slinky stockings for their loved ones.

Lingerie can be a loving, sensual gift, but many men, confronted with row upon row of breasts and buttocks, are put off. "When they come in they look like a deer in headlights," says Maria Walker, who has worked at John Lewis for nine years. "They think they'll be looked at as some kind of weirdo."

To draw men into the store, John Lewis is running special lingerie days for male buyers on 13 and 20 December, with beer and football, Wii and whisky tasting. One of the advisers on those days will be Yvonne La Caille, who joined John Lewis last month and is working as a lingerie adviser until the new year.

For her, the biggest boon has been the sense of fun in a department where the aim is to help customers relax. "It's very vibrant," she says. "The team in lingerie is very personable and approachable. Christmas can be a stressful time, with people rushing in, but doing it with a good team, it's really fun."

F or Christmas retail jobs online, go to www.inretail.co.uk. For smaller retailers in your area, do a local search on Gumtree at www.gumtree.com

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