This year I decided to break with Christmas tradition and do something scandalous, at least in our family. I’m going to buy actual gifts.
Yes, genuinely selected, paid for on a maxed-out credit card with excessively high interest rates and wrapped in my own inimitably terrible style with parts of the box peeking through, so that on Christmas morning I can experience all the joy and angst of the holiday when I hear my daughters, sons-in-laws, wife and/or dog emit a yuletide groan or growl that suggests, “Why did you waste your money on this?!? I wanted a gift card!”
Who cares? I’m doing it for my own satisfaction because it’s Christmas and I want to give something meaningful just like the Three Wisemen did for Baby Jesus.
It’s been decades since I wandered from boutique to boutique and department store to department store in search of the perfect gift. (Do any of those places still exist or does everyone shop online nowadays?)
Those socks are worn. Toss them because I’ve selected some all-purpose hosiery at Dollar General.
I have everything my family and friends need — sweaters, pajamas, slippers, neckties and even tie clips! I bet you thought they didn’t exist.
It’s back to the future. No more gift cards, no more cash envelopes, no more lottery tickets. I’m buying real, down-to-earth gifts like they did during the era when kids gave their fathers a tie every Christmas even if they didn’t wear ties. No gift receipts either. There’s no exchanges this year.
Somehow I got away from picking out presents and resorted to the lazy practice of gift cards because so many people were returning what I bought, grumbling publicly, breaking down in tears and threatening me. Were my selections that bad? Shouldn’t they have been appreciative or at least PRETENDED to be appreciative?
Did Mary and Joseph complain about the gold, frankincense and myrrh? Did Joseph say, “Let’s keep the gold but exchange the other stuff”? No way.
During the Great Depression, my father got an orange in his stocking and maybe some walnuts if it was a good year. He didn’t say, “Mom, I wanted a tangerine and ballpark peanuts.” He was grateful. (With the GOP tax plan and the Connecticut tax increases, all of us are going to be getting oranges this year.)
For most of my childhood, I received practical gifts from aunts, uncles and grandparents, which included underwear, socks, scarves, gloves — the stuff you either outgrew or wore out during the year.
I often wanted to ask, “Why did you give me this lousy pair of mittens?” However, I sucked it up and smiled. Otherwise, my father would have given me the back of his hand. Years later, I realized a lot of thought and effort went into those scarves and mittens, which were bought or made by relatives struggling to get by.
The consumer culture has made us more concerned with getting … than giving. As a result, our gift-giving has become as robotic and thoughtless as applying for a credit card at Walmart.
I want my gifts to proclaim, “I value you as a human being, a friend, a wife, a dog, a coworker, a fellow creature of the universe, which is why I put exactly four minutes of thought into buying you a Christmas present from the sales rack at T.J. Maxx.” (Just kidding.)
I got a real-life lesson in appreciation recently when my wife showed me a gift she once received from a dear friend who recently died. It was a Scotch whiskey tumbler from Chivas Regal that had gotten a lot of use.
My wife cherishes that glass even though she doesn’t drink Chivas. She keeps it in a place of honor in all its simplicity and unpretentiousness and humility because a friend she loved gave her a used whiskey glass and because this friend she loved didn’t have money to go to Neiman Marcus … even during the semi-annual sale.
Learn to love the gifts you get, even if they’re not the gifts you want. Christmas is more about giving than getting. It’s about the attitude of gratitude and humble generosity and love for others. So in the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!”