The Art of Gifting

Ahh ’tis the season… the season for thinking you had way more money socked away for Christmas than you actually do, the season for a vacation you planned back in August when the idea of a single income and limited funds was far from your mind (oops), and the time for reflection of how it is you got to precisely where you are today. Sometimes it’s wonderful, sometimes it’s something we’d rather shove into and lock in a trunk.

I come from a line of people (ok…women) who are list-makers. This counts for all manner of life items such as groceries, to-do, phone contacts (my mom still keeps a hand-written personal phone book), and Christmas lists. Over time, the latter has evolved into blessed Amazon and that has made our lives so much easier. I’ll get to that in a minute.

It’s taken a while to catch on, the Amazon list. A few years ago, we had to explain to mom that no, you don’t print it out and go shopping with it (there were quite a few repeat gifts that year) and this year, it was the glory of the Add to List button. Unfortunately, one sister apparently didn’t get that email and instead on her wish list are a bunch of non-hyperlinked URLs without description, price, or quantity. Sigh.

Each person who has come and gone from our family Christmas traditions has at some point or another marveled at the efficiency of the lists. Some treasure them, for you know exactly what the person wants! You know how much it is! You can have it delivered to your house for free! And others… well… ignore them completely.

This brings us to my PSA for life: Gift giving is not about the giver. Simple, right? I have a friend who is strictly list and I have a friend who is 99% completely list-averse. It’s become comical over the years how the buzz among friends is all about Amazon while this one friend remains silent. When the lists are finally complete and URLs passed around, her song rings out, “Oh, I have you taken care of already”, which is always met with a somewhat loud exhale by the recipient. To the tune of, “what’s the point of making a list if you’re just going to ignore it?” and before you call us ungrateful jerks, let me explain.

It’s wonderful that my friend wants to support the small shops that surround her neighborhood, and that her generosity in giving pushes her past our unofficial individual pre-assigned budgets per person, but as I asked my mom when she reminded me of basically those same points, “what good is a generous spirit if she disregards the recipient?”… It’s not that we put time into lists and man I wish I could get that time back. It’s that my friend gives us the gifts she wants us to have, not the (our type or style) gifts that best suit the giftee. We inevitably feel bad about it because she’s spent good money and each year we discuss how to let her know that her generosity is so appreciated but… and there is no way to say this… we almost never use or wear what she gives us. Is it because she doesn’t know us well enough to buy accurately? I don’t think so, I think it’s because she sees something she likes and that’s about as far as it goes. Sadly, she has mentioned many times previously that she thinks she’s a fantastic gift-giver. She is a wonderful, generous person but there is some misguidance in her giving, to be sure. But what are you supposed to say? Probably nothing, but if it was me I would not want to think that my $35 gifts were being wasted (or given away, or re-gifted, or written about in a blog).

Dylan grew up poor where presents were few but meaningful. And now at this point in life, he has enough and what he doesn’t have, he will eventually buy. I feel the same way. In that spirit, we are going to approach my family about changing the way we gift each other next year. In theory, the adults will trade names and buy for just one person, but still buy gifts for each of the kids. I asked my mom and one sister about it, both agreed it was time but my other sister is a wild card. I brought it up years ago to her and she refused, saying she prefers to buy for everyone. Time has passed, others have mentioned it, and it seems like it might actually happen next year.

This keeps things a little more financially “fair” since we’re all in very different positions, but it also takes the focus out of buying buying buying just so something is given. Dylan’s been particularly irate about the spending because it’s just what you do and I get that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before now, but that’s what our adult Christmas has kind of been. There are some meaningful, thoughtful presents in there too but if I’m honest, that can be a byproduct. Mom will always buy for everyone but that’s because she’s mom. And she sticks to a strict per-person budget, which admittedly, does sort of suck the fun out of it in some ways and puts it more into a checked box event. Rarely on Christmas morning do people watch the others to see what they get, it wasn’t until my sisters had kids that we did that. It was just kind of… fun and compulsory. Much, I suppose, like the present-buying itself.

Anyway, that makes Dylan very hard to buy for. Partly because he won’t tell anyone what he wants and partly because he’s not a collector of things for things’ sake (funny enough, my mom is the exact same way). He and I are doing stockings and I’m going to fill his with meats, cheeses, mustards, and treats from World Market because they are amazing there, I got him a gift card for something, and I’m going to reload his time at a really cool gaming place here in town called Ignite. Mostly, it’s not stuff. It’s time. Time spent on hobbies and ways he enjoys his quieter moments. It’s the only way I know how to give to him without him feeling resentful or uncomfortable about receiving. He says he has my present somewhere here in our apartment already and I’m not to go looking for it, but we never agreed on a budget nor did I give him any ideas so hopefully whatever it is doesn’t put mine to shame. Hmm, apparently you can’t really escape the twinge of obligation, it would seem.

So now that that’s off my chest and out of the way (see? I too gave you a present I wanted you to have but that you didn’t want. Haa haa!) I will take a look outside at the second snowfall of the season, tap this snoring dog at my feet, make myself a Tom & Jerry, and settle in to some Great British Bake Off. Have a lovely evening, friends. And if I don’t talk to you soon, Merry Christmas!

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