Sometime around the year I turned 15, my parents realized that they didn’t need to give all five of us kids Christmas presents anymore. For my whole life, they took all of us on a giant road trip to our house in Florida each year at Christmas and paid for meals, movies, and just general amazingness. So around 15, we all started getting $25 to Starbucks. And on Christmas morning, instead of sitting around opening gifts, we would all walk the 1.5 miles to Starbucks and use our fresh gift cards to buy some frappucinos. It was glorious.
Since then, I’ve learned that this is kind-of abnormal and that other families still give everyone Christmas gifts. It’s been an awkward decade of guessing and learning. But one thing stays the same: I still get a Starbucks card from my mom each year.
This is limited knowledge, for sure, alas, what I know about Christmas presents:
1. I always struggle with the “Who?” question. Who is buying me a gift? Do I have to buy them one? Should I give my mailman a gift? My hair stylist? My next door neighbor? Can I just give them all cookies and call it a day? I think that on December 1st, everyone should shoot out an email to the list of people they are buying gifts for. It will be awkward because lots of people won’t be reciprocated, but at least it’s all out in the open.
2. Then there is the money thing. If I craft you a pretty card, but it says wonderful things, does that really mean as much as a $50 gift? You would say yes, probably, but just to be nice. You want my nice words as much as you wanted the flavored popcorn your office gets you every year. I get it, no need to apologize.
3. Though this post might not seem like it, my love language is gifts. I love to give them to just about everyone. But as far as receiving goes? I only care about one gift every year: the one from my husband. And poor guy. It’s so much pressure. It needs to encompass a lot: sentiment, fanciness, thoughtfulness, etc. It needs to meet my champagne taste and make me cry at the same time. I’m ashamed to say it’s been a fight-starter on more than one occasion. But with his gracious effort and my unrelenting need to feel appreciated, I’m more than confident in his gift-giving skills. (Sidenote: he bought my gift in September this year.)
4. The gift receipt. As someone who prides themselves on giving good gifts, the concept of this is a little like a slap in the face. But it’s also a little necessary. Who am I to say that I didn’t get your size correct or that you like the color mustard yellow? Gift receipts feel like you’re saying, “I bought this, but know that there’s at least a 50/50 chance you won’t like it.” We’re essentially creating chores for one another and sometimes I wonder if we should just all hand one another $50 and call it good?
5. My mother-in-law buys me socks every year. She buys more than that, but there are always socks. And honestly, they are consistently the best pair that I own. Paula, please never stop buying me socks.
6. When I was little, I would page through the Sears catalog and circle things I wanted. Easy Bake ovens. A Little Mermaid barbie. Roller-skates that had The Lion King on them. My brain was fueled by the need for stuff. And my parents obliged (until the wonderful year of the Starbucks transition). But 6 months later, I had broken half the things or just didn’t care about them anymore. Doesn’t this bullet point feel like it’s transitioning somewhere? It’s not. I just wanted to tell you to not give your kids a bunch of stuff. Because they will break it and not care about it soon.
7. I truly do think that gift giving, especially at Christmas, is driven by consumerism. This whole tradition has been formulated by marketing professionals, and I think it is more than a little sad. BUT, because my seventh point always is a little brighter, I do have some positive things to say about this. I appreciate giving gifts in this season because it helps me to notice the people I love. Sometimes we get really focused on the day to day and forget to look at each other and see how we’ve grown. Little things, like a new hobby, a new interest in Thai food or rap music, or new discomforts that weren’t there before … noticing those little things is a great act of love. It means we’re paying attention to each other and saying, “I see you and I want to grow with you.” Giving gifts is a way, albeit a forced one, to take the time to notice the little things and express your continual presence in someone’s life.