When you’re a child, let’s face it, Christmas is all about Santa and the gifts. What is he going to bring you? Boys wondered if they were going to get that air-soft rifle they’d been dreaming of…No childhood could be complete until a boy’s mother worried that he’d shoot his eye out. Ladies, I bet when each of you was a young girl, you didn’t hesitate to tell people what you wanted for Christmas when they asked you. There was none of that, “Oh, I don’t know,” stuff. It was more like, “I don’t care that Barbie has the equivalent of a 13 inch wasp-waist, and I’ll probably break off one of her legs when I try to put on her ultra-suede cowboy pants so she can rustle up some cattle on her dusty mare, I’ll just DIE if I don’t get Cowgirl Barbie this year.” When you opened that last box and Cowgirl Barbie was inside, it was like you’d died and gone to heaven.
As soon as we leave the Santa stage, however, things change. Maybe that’s because Santa just LOVES to buy us presents. He LIVES for gift giving (It also doesn’t hurt that he lives in a compound fully stocked with free labor). All he requires is that we are “good” each year. (His idea of good is pretty generous.) Of course, he’ll always appreciate a few cookies and some milk, but he’ll still leave us presents even if we forget the cookies. Other people… now that’s different. Friends and relatives might buy us gifts, but they usually appreciate receiving a nice gift, too. And let’s not even discuss the gifts that come with strings or messages attached, “I’m buying you this set of POTS so you can COOK more often.” We might as well call these MESSAGE PRESENTS because actually, the gift giver is using Christmas as a vehicle to hit you over the head with some personal criticism that you’ve apparently not been able to absorb before.
My mom frequently trots out the story of how my dad got her an electric can opener for Christmas one year. The message was either, “Cook my dinner” or, “Hey, you might not like it, but I sure do like gadgets!” I don’t think that’s the only thing he got her, but really… an electric can opener? And oh, by the way, she already had one.
Eons ago, when I was barely out of high school, my first boyfriend gave me a Message Present. He was one of those annoying Scandinavians who says the weather is “great” when it’s barely touching the double digits on the Fahrenheit temperature scale. I was (and still am) cold almost all the time. He decided I needed a down coat. Never mind that this is the least romantic gift you can give someone, it’s WARM, dammit, and when I got it, I could Stop Mentioning That I was Cold. And maybe like winter. Yeah, RIGHT.
And this leads right into another kind of present: The Even Trade
I found out I was getting The Coat that year, because my thoughtful boyfriend decided he wanted me to go shopping for, and purchase this coat for myself. He thought I should pick it out, but why did he have to go with me? I should go and pick it out, buy it, and then tell him how much it was, and he would give me the money for it. Oh, and wrap it for myself, and bring it over his house when we celebrated Christmas Eve with his family.
So I got myself a coat, and then I thought, Jeez, this thing is 100.00 – what am I going to get him? I sewed a lot at the time, so I decided to make him a wool shirt. I bought the materials and made the shirt (which came out rather nice, if I do say so myself) but I couldn’t bring myself to give him just that because I knew he had spent more on me. (Actually, I had spent more on me.) I had to Make it an Even Trade. I dragged my mom with me to the mall on Christmas Eve so I could buy a few more things. I almost didn’t care what I bought, as long as I bought enough. And you know, I didn’t really want to see him anymore, but how could I tell him? It was Christmas, for God’s sake. Just make it an even trade.
There are presents that make you squirm with guilt, such as my Corsage Story. Although it wasn’t a Christmas present, I think this story is worthy of inclusion here. When I was in high school, my mom made me a GIANT corsage for my 16th birthday. Corsages had been THE thing when I was 6, 7, and 8 years old. Girls walked around sporting corsages loaded with various candies, a different candy for whatever age you were turning. But by the time I was 16, that fad was looooonnng gone. Unfortunately, my mom must have remembered me mentioning it years before because on the morning of my birthday, she presented me with this corsage. It was about as big as a grapefruit, and loaded with white peppermint life saver candies springing out through the loops of blue and white checked ribbon. It really was cute, but it was BIG. And she wanted me to wear it to school. Why hadn’t she made this for me YEARS ago? I would have loved it then. I was embarrassed to wear it. We had an argument about it that morning before I got on the bus, and that corsage hung on a hook in my closet for years before I could bring myself to throw it out. Years. I talked to my mom about this recently. She claims she doesn’t remember the episode, but I do, and I’ll remember it till I die. My wish for you is that you never receive a gift that makes you squirm that much.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that you will GIVE a gift that makes you squirm, such as when I gave my cousin a puzzle car when he was about 5 years old. Here we were, cousins, grandparents, etc assembled for the holiday, and he opened this present, took one look at it, and his lip started to quiver. Someone asked, “What’s the matter, don’t you like it?” and he yelled, “I HATE it.” “You hate it? Why?” and he said, “LOOK at it!” I suspect he hated it because he was a bit too old for that sort of present, and he thought I was making a statement that he was a “baby.” In reality, at that time, I just had no idea what to get for a boy that age. We still haven’t lived it down, though. Just mention the words “I HATE it, LOOK at it!” in my family and everyone knows EXACTLY what we’re talking about.
I know everyone had present horror stories, so please, I invite you to share them!
Here’s a quick story to end this on a positive note: Today, is Friday. My little friend at school had a good week. She did not get written up or sent to the office all week, so in the morning, I told her that if she had another good day today, I wanted to give her a little present at the end of the day. Well, she came down to the office at the end of the day, and I gave her two Mint Ghiradelli Chocolate squares. She said, “Thank you SOOOOOO much,” and stuffed them in her pocket. That present trumps all of the above.