I hate dealing with gifts. Now that my peers and I are old enough to bypass birthday gifts for each other (who wants to be reminded of how old we’re getting), the only gift-giving occasion of contention is Christmas.

First off the bat . . . I don’t like receiving gifts. Why? I’m notoriously difficult to shop for; I myself don’t even know what I want until I see it. I don’t know what’s in existence out there that would be something I like. There’s no hope that anyone else could know what I would like.

I do appreciate the motivation people have in buying me gifts: it’s an indication that they care about me, as a friend, family member, or someone who serves as a convenient airport shuttle. Obligation? A karmic popularity contest. “You like me? You really . . . like me?”

However, I do take gleeful pleasure in opening gifts. There’s the challenge of undoing the wrapping paper to leave as much of it intact as possible, so that it can be re-used. (Kind of like Roald Dahl and his walnuts.) Fool that I am, I like opening quantities of little presents rather than one or two big ones. (I am also easily impressed by virgin wrapping paper, unscarred by previous scotch-tape.) There’s the element of surprise: what is it under the psychedelic coat of paper, the opaque rustling tissue? Maybe . . . just, maybe it’s something that I’ll actually find useful, and like. . .

But alas. I receive lots of tepid gifts; I am impossible to please.

These gifts become an inconvenience: how do I dispose of them? I don’t want them to take up space, cluttering the house, collecting dust. I’m really big on recycling gifts. To whom can I pass it on, someone who would appreciate it more than I, someone who would get more use out of it than me? If no one in my personal circle is a good recipient candidate, off it goes into some charitable bin (Toys for Tots, Second Harvest, etc.)
Really, I don’t want a summer sausage cheese log or sweater or DVD starring Keanu Reeves.

This is not a pitch for the more liquid gift cards. (Joe figured out that the reason why retailers have been doing such a big push on gift cards, is because by law, retailers don’t have to give you money back if you wanted to cash them in, whereas with paper gift certificates, they do.) I’m almost just as picky about the retailers I patronize.

I reckon that giving gift cards is such a cop-out, just as candles, scarf-mitten sets, and photo frames (unless it comes with an Annie Leibovitz portrait of the recipient), are cop-out gifts: there’s no thought or consideration whatsoever as to the recipient’s inclinations. It implies a lack of sincerity, although probably not maliciously so. For most people, preparing for the holidays is hectic, chaotic and stressful, can’t afford the time to analyze what to get for the difficult people, just grab a dozen generically-inoffensive-one-size fits-all-genders-and-ages gifts and go already.

Generally, the best gifts are those that are homemade, because the sentiment and effort involved adds so much value to the gift. So what if the sweater is an eye-straining shade of green? It’s not just the yarn, Grandma knitted so much time into it. Wear it proud, it’s unique, no one else has one like it. (The best gift I’ve gotten in a decade was this year when my dad hand-drew a picture of Snoopy and Woodstock parading with a cake and banner, and faxed it to me, because he’d almost forgotten my birthday, and there wasn’t enough time to buy a card and mail it to me.)

Bottom line: I’d rather not receive gifts.

The Chinese way of gift-giving is so much more simple, elegant and effective: Red envelopes, with whatever denomination of funds you deem worthy of bestowing. It eliminates the second-guessing and the strategizing against retail pricing schemes. (Haven’t we all bought something a second time when it went on sale, and returned the first item to get the price difference back?) There’s no person or no occasion for which money won’t work. The only lines you’d have to deal with would be at the ATM machine. Red envelopes are also their own instant festive gift wrap.

Giving is always more fun than receiving. I like giving more than receiving. Originally, it was about making people’s eyes light up with delight. Now it’s all about imposing my annoying ideology on people (mouwah ha ha!), and sticking THEM with the issue of returns.
I’ve given folks reusable canvas bags, with a note explaining that they could get 3 to 5 cents off their purchases if they bothered to bring it to the supermarket with them each time.
Or being sort of practical: a sheet of colorful stamps, beyond the flags, you can get 20 units of first class postage emblazoned with Bugs Bunny or underwater sea life or a long dead Hollywood persona. Although as more people start to pay their bills online, and no one writes letters any more, stamps may be on their way to extinction, just like public pay phones.

For people who are worth the extravagance, it would be tickets to a show or a gift certificate for some sort of experience (a spa treatment, an extravagant meal involving male neckwear, indoor rock climbing) Something potentially memorable and entertaining, and won’t clutter up their closet with un-use or duplication.

For kids, it’s books. The kids I know get more than enough clothes and toys from other sources: I give books to balance it out. I’m looking forward to providing my nieces and nephews with entire sets of Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume when they get there in a few years, readingwise.

In general though, I only buy gifts for people if I see something I think they’ll appreciate. If I can’t think of anything or find anything that would truly knock their socks off, they’re not getting anything from me. Until Easter perhaps. I’m not about to fob them off with a candle or a DVD of last year’s most forgettable box office hit.

I finally figured out what to get for Joe, having had no ideas at all, stone cold blanked out. Up until yesterday. Thank goodness for last-minute inspiration.

Gift dilemma: Is it tacky to give a used book or used CD as a gift? I personally wouldn’t have a problem with someone giving me used editions of something: if it reads the same, sounds the same, and if it saved the donor some money, great! But that’s me. What do other people think? Would they worry about cooties from the pages touched by fingers that had perhaps been dipped in arsenic or anthrax?

I actually enjoy wrapping gifts, in part because I find it easy. There’s also creativity and challenge involved. How to make this almost-too small piece of paper fit around the present? How to use as little scotch tape as possible?

If I’m wrapping presents at my in-laws’, I have access to an abundance of vintage wrapping paper and ribbon: it makes me feel giddy at how much reuse we’re getting out of it. I don’t like rosettes, they tend to make for inefficient stacking. I just tie up the package with ribbon, parcel style. And then at the end, it’s gratifying for me to look at the huge pile of dazzling, rainbow hued pile of presents I’ve wrapped. A heap of unfathomable mystery for the recipients, until they are unwrapped and measured against expectations.

Happy holidays, all.

3 thoughts on “Gifts

  1. That’s why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Giving thanks, eating, and two days off–what more could you ask for? And no marketing-driven, peer-pressure obligatory gifting. 🙂

    But I like Christmas too.

  2. OK C2,

    I’ve put you down on the gift list for a DVD of Keanu wearing a sweater while eating a summer sausage-cheese log! Perhaps that is redundant; I pretty much think of him already as a cheese log…


  3. Annie Leibovitz!

    I’m more of a Ruth Bernhard kinda weirdo. but then she’s kinda local. um, at least for now — all 90+ years of her…


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