Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making love - Giving Gifts That Don't Suck

I love sweater tees.

I have simultaneous exuberance and loathing in my heart when it comes to Christmas gifts. Giving, receiving, buying, wrapping, exchanging, returning – it does not matter. There are few things in life that cause anxiety like Christmas gifts.

The Gift of Gift Giving

It may be hereditary, this holiday humbuggery that befalls me. Last weekend my father and I wandered aimlessly through stores as we sought out obligatory gifts for the ones we care for. We finally settled upon a few items that fit the people on our list – candy and trinkets, mostly. As we drove home, we agreed that the whole gift giving concept was flawed.

We are so fixed on the act of giving, we forget that the gifts we impart should actually have meaning. And that is where I fail. I can think of great things for people throughout the year, but when it comes time for Christmas shopping, I am vapid. I wander stores in a daze of lights, people exuding peculiar odors, and the impending doom of an empty-handed Christmas.

My grandmother, on the other hand, is so caught up in the gift giving conspiracy that she calculates, down to the penny, how much she gives each of her grandchildren each Christmas. We all get at least one gift, then, for the older among us, cash. The gifts are, at times, the most asinine trinkets and trivial bobbles ever dreamed of. In the past, I've told her,

“Grandma, just give me money. I don't need any gifts this year.”

But she insists that if everyone doesn't have a physical gift to open on Christmas, we'll feel left out, and probably cry ourselves to sleep while visions of familial guilt dance in our heads. So we get our gifts on Christmas. Regardless of their limited utility, I appreciate the gesture. She wants us to feel loved. While we may not always love the gift, I do love the love behind the gift.

What Do YOU Want For Christmas?

Don't ask me what I want. I know you have the urge, but restrain yourself. If I were to compile a Christmas list, it'd consist of the following:

A hand-held, digital audio recorder
About a dozen music albums
A few films, mostly underground or silver screen
A new pair of brown dress shoes
An FM transmitter compatible with my Blackberry
Multiple bottles of top shelf Bourbon
The Pabst Brewing Company


With all of these Christmas wishes, there are specific models, styles, and specifications to my desires. I have an esoteric love of non-mainstream indie music, I love older films, and am pickier about my shoes than most women are. The technology that I want, I want the specific models that I have researched and determined to be the best item for the job. Worst of all, most of the things on my ramshackled Christmas list are expensive.

When I attempt to explain any of these requests, it generally elicits an annoyed or bewildered look and the person buys the closest thing to my desired item. They find the most inexpensive equivalent, slap a bow on it and hope for the best. Upon opening it, I smile, feign excitement, and then try to figure out how I can buy the one I want without making anyone feel bad.

Upon proofreading this, I realize that I may come across as an ungrateful prick. That is not my intention. Nor am I trying to sound like a Scrooge. I am merely trying to avoid the quagmire of awkward gifting that inevitably occurs this time of year.

Seasonal Origami

Would you expect a cross-eyed five year old to successfully wrap gifts without using three rolls of tape and a healthy dose of saliva to keep everything adhered?

Then why is it that every year, regardless of my vehement protestation, I am forced to create these works of ephemeral abstract art that will inevitably be ripped to shreds by the recipient.

I am not in any way comparing myself with a visually impaired child who is 1/5th my age. I am, however, comparing my ability and desire to wrap gifts with that of a preschooler.

I prefer newspapers and electric tape, garbage bags and zip ties. Or the old 'Close your eyes and hold out your hands!' routine.

Making Love

There are exceptions to my disdain for gift giving. When I receive a homemade gift, my Grinchian heart grows three sizes. Whether it be culinary treats, fashionable yarnwear, or refabricated trinketry, I appreciate the thought that goes into a gift that is from the hands and heart of the giver.

My other grandmother gives out Christmas cookies every year. She must bake 500 cookies, from sugar cookies to turtles to traditional German anise cakes. I love them all, and they never last more than a week. One of my favorite cookies from oma's kitchen are the sugar cookies. There is something about those powdery morsels, slathered with pastel frosting and shaped like reindeer, Santa Clauses', and Christmas bells, that make my mouth water at the thought of them.

But after I was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, my grandmother decided that she was going to give me a healthier option for Christmas. So now, nestled in with all the other carb-filled delights in my Christmas package, I am chagrined to find my sugar cookies naked as Jesus in the manger – Not a bit of frosting on the poor little angels and stars.

Although I've tried to explain it to her, grandma has yet to grasp the concept of carbohydrates versus sugars. The cookie is chock full of carbohydrates, so is just as deleterious to my health without frosting than it is with the creamy delight. Do not spare me the savory experience of my youth, in an attempt to keep me healthy! They're cookies! Frosting or not, they will still raise my bloodsugar levels, so let them raise in peace.

Again, I am grateful every time my grandmother sends those barren cookies my way. As I crunch into the lacking treat, I smile. Grandma, in her own misguided way, is showing me she cares.

The Never-Ending Scarf

The all time best homemade gift I've received is a scarf from my wife. It has to be the only one of its design, and that is why I value it above every other neck protector I own.

Annie learned to crochet, specifically for this project, and set to work on a scarf for her beau. She chose a multicolored yarn that transitioned from red to orange to green, reflecting the autumnal ambiance that she knew I loved. Annie labored over the needle and lambswool for days, fervently looping and tugging, ensuring that every miniscule know was even and tight. My giraffe neck deserved only the best, and that was what she set out to deliver.

Somewhere along the way, Annie forgot to look up and check her progress. Before she realized it, she had created a scarf that was 15 fee long, but only 3 inches wide. More a snakes blanket than a human's scarf, Annie was nonplussed. But she was not defeated. In a move of pure ingenuity, Annie folded the scarf in half and proceeded to attach the two segments along the edge. The end result was a beautiful, thick scarf that has provided warmth and comfort to my neck for several years.

'Tis the Season

I know I shouldn't fight the inevitable. People are going to give me gifts. I want to show people my appreciation and reciprocate with my own trinkets of seasonal cheer. I will bear the anxiety of this tradition in stride, and, with any luck, I'll get better at it.

So don't feel bad if I give you a crummy gift. I really did try. And don't worry about giving me a crummy gift. I'll love you all the same for it.

And then I'll give it to Goodwill.


  1. Yes, Oma loves you and wants you to take care of your diabetes....however, everyone's cookies are as naked as the Baby Jesus....she is trying to simplfy her cookie making and not frost them. So maybe next year, you could visit her and help her make them like the old days so they can be frosted...:)

  2. Hi Chris
    I have a few years on ya, but you hammered around my nails pretty well.
    The English teacher/editor here reminds you that to bring forth a response from someone is to "elicit." "Illicit" is an adjective useful to describe such things as sex on the sly. Saying that there is correct and incorrect diction in old or young slang expressions may seem oxymoronic, but crammed and "chock" full are synonymous. "Chalk" is an antique substance once used to write on chalkboards and sidewalks. "Chock" is also a block placed before or after a car/truck/airplane wheel to prevent rolling away.
    Love to read what you write, my friend.

  3. Jim, You caught what I've long seen as my biggest flaw - proofreading!

    Maybe I need to send my copy to you before posting. You can bloody up the copy and save me the embarrassment of an 'illicit' mistake.

    Thanks for reading, and keeping me in line.