December 13, 2013, 08:43pm
How-to: Christmas shopping
In my family, I am the one who is "good with Christmas presents." Why is that? Well, it's not really that hard...
Commercialism is stupid, and it's sad that something as kind as being generous to loved ones could be co-opted. Please do not fall into the trap of consumerism, where buying/getting takes over your life - Okay, I've said that, so we don't have to bring it up again. Really, that's a whole other discussion.
The thing with birthday and Christmas presents (or any other similar holiday) isn't the commercial aspect, it's taking time to show someone that you cared and are thinking about them, and maybe have paid attention to a word or two that they have said all year. Money doesn't matter; it really is "the thought" that counts. But just what does that mean, exactly?
Most people use the phrase whenever they get a crappy gift, like: "Well, he gave me an old toaster filled with dog feces, but it's the thought that counts!" That's the wrong way to use it. The phrase also often pops up with poorly-made handmade gifts. "This sweater has three arms. But it's the thought that counts!" What it means is, "The thought put into this gift is worth far more than whether the gift is useful, delightful, likable, or broken. The fact that somebody cared enough to do something for me is more heartwarming than anything else." So yes, receiving a lump of smashed coal CAN be a sweet gesture, because the thought behind it is what counts. Maybe they really worried that you couldn't stay warm this winter, and decided to supply your stove a little bit. So whatever gift you receive, don't just act grateful, BE grateful. That person put a lot of thought into it because they love you.
But just because YOU have to be grateful for what other people do doesn't mean that you can get away with being lazy! Remember, it's a love-thing. Thought and all. So, every family has at least one member who's really good at gift-giving. But they also usually aren't very rich or handy. So, how do they do it?
It's simple: They PAY ATTENTION.
Most people talk about stuff they like, whether it's their job, a hobby, their favorite TV show, a particular sport, cooking, travel, or cat burglary. If you pay more than a smidgen of attention to your loved ones, you will have a pretty good picture of what they like. Now, here's the kicker, and it's where most people get tripped up: You will be tempted to build an image of your loved ones that may or may not conform to real life. Try not to do that, try to judge based on the data on-hand. If someone seems to like bad movies, find out which ones and why. It could be that they laugh at corny Cold War-era sci-fi from the '50s, so buying them a different kind of bad movie like Zombie Strippers would be in bad taste. Or it could be that they do NOT like "mad movies" at all, they just have terrible taste. Find out what their taste is, and pander to it. Someone who loves Twilight and Michael Bay's Transformers is not likely to enjoy Blood Freak, a 1970s low-budget movie about a guy who takes drugs and turns into a blood-drinking turkey monster. It's hard to keep track, I know, but look at it this way - If someone likes football, you had better find out WHICH team he supports, right? Likewise, if somebody likes cartoons, he might not want Fritz the Cat or La Blue Girl.
Also remember, if someone liked something ten years ago but hasn't said a word about it since, they might not still be into it. Remember how you felt on your sixteenth birthday when Aunt Mabel got you a pink bunny suit? Please try not to do that to anybody else.
But what if the gift is something that they already own? Well, it just shows that you know what they like. This is also why you should keep the receipt.
What about money and gift cards? Those are good, as they give the recipient freedom to choose what he or she likes, and they are a good solution if you simply do not see somebody very often, or you have no clue what they want or don't want. But be warned, gift cards can look callous. They often fall into the category of, "I don't listen to you enough to know what you like, so here's some money." But fear not, this is easy to My advice is to include a card with a personalized message. This changes everything - it shifts from "I dunno, here's some cash," to, "I love you and think of you all the time. I hope you can put this to good use!"
By now, you may be asking, "Why are you telling me this? Isn’t this all just common sense?" Well, I retort that "common sense" was an invention of European white males. Check and mate!
This isn't "common sense," because "common sense" is different for everybody. Try to think of the way your family thinks. If you look at someone and say "Gee, my sister is WEIRD because she likes weird stuff," you need to stop yourself and ask, "Well, what DOES she like? And why?" You just might find that her reasoning isn't weird; it's merely different from your own. And that's the thing - people are different. Not everybody will want something that you personally would want for yourself. Trust me on this one.
Handmade gifts are fine, provided they look like they took a modicum of effort. Money isn't the issue, care is. If you just glued some cardboard together, crumpled it up, and threw it at your aunt, what would she say? If you cooked inedible dog-food cookies, would your family really want that? Effort makes handmade gifts transcend anything store-bought, but that effort still needs to be there. Also, try not to handmake the exact same item for everybody - that comes off looking like you didn't care, you just needed to unload some excess stock. Besides, what if a gift is appropriate for most members of your family, but not all of them? If you come from a Roman Catholic family, please do not send a handmade rosary to the lone Presbyterian.
Inexpensive gifts are fine, and in fact recommended, though it must be obvious that you put some thought into it. I have to say this again: It's about the thought, not the money. If something cheap communicates "I love you," then go for it! Just make sure that it does not communicate, "I don't care about you, you worthless crapbag."
Can you get away with not buying a gift? Actually, yes, you can quite easily. And you can be thoughtful, too! If you are going to be the odd one out this year, then take extra effort to be warm, loving, generous, cheerful, jolly, and overall Christmasy. Make up for your breach of holiday etiquette as best you can! Just make sure that you don't do it by being judgmental toward everybody who does go Christmas shopping. Remember, you want to make other people feel good, not just inflate your own ego.
So, if it's the thought that counts, is there such a thing as a bad gift?
Well, yes. Let me give you a few illustrations:
-One relative gave my family dog food for Christmas five years after the dog died. This is an example of not paying attention to see what may have changed recently.
-One relative of mine is deathly allergic to peanuts. One year, my dad made homemade peanut brittle and sent it to everybody as their Christmas present. This was A Bad Idea.
-One friend said to me, "You like anime, so I got you an anime!" So I laughed, and we all sat down to watch it, sight unseen. This was A Bad Idea.
-One friend said to me, "You collect toys, so I found you a toy!" It was a very pretty princess in pink.
-One time my dad surprised my mom on her birthday by re-wrapping all of her presents from the previous year and giving them to her again because "You loved them so much the first time!" I think this also happened once on The Cosby Show.
-I recenty moved near San Francisco. Somebody got me a rainbow-colored shirt with the justification that it was expensive. I cannot wear this shirt without getting assaulted. This was A Bad Idea.
In the above examples applying to me, I was gracious because it is the thought that counts, and they were trying to be thoughtful. But I personally try my best not to misfire that badly. Sure, it doesn't always work, but it's something! Remember, these holidays aren't about how much money you spend OR how much you can protest commercialism. It's quite possible to give someone a wonderful Christmas without buying them anything, but it's also easy to make it horrible even if you've spent a small fortune. The point is to demonstrate that you love people, and that you pay enough attention to what they say and do that you aren't really strangers. THAT is why every family has one person who is "good with Christmas presents." It's just because that person pays attention, and puts a lot of thought into it.
Now, enjoy! Merry Christmas...hanukwanzadiwalimadan!
SPECIAL BONUS: Tough Cases
PROBLEM: "I don't know what to get him! He never says what he wants!"
ANSWER: You could always ask him directly what kinds of things he is interested in. Or, failing that, ask people close to him. They may have a different perspective.
PROBLEM: "I don't know what to do, she always buys what she wants, so I can't surprise her."
ANSWER: This is where you might have to be creative. Usually you can tell if someone wants something but has not gotten around to snagging it yet. OR... you could just try to grab something slightly off their radar, but that they would like. Or you could be practical. EVERYONE needs kitchen equipment, and EVERYONE forgets something basic and necessary. You can snoop through their cupboards next visit.
PROBLEM: You think that they would just LOVE a vase, or painting, or tablecloth, or other in-house decoration.
ANSWER: Look at how they decorate, not what you think is pretty. Maybe you like wrought iron, but Aunt Mabel likes lacy doilies. This helps avoid the "Eyesore that we hide unless she comes to visit" problem.